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What is Primary Research and How do I get Started?

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Primary research is any type of research that you collect yourself. Examples include surveys, interviews, observations, and ethnographic research. A good researcher knows how to use both primary and secondary sources in their writing and to integrate them in a cohesive fashion.

Conducting primary research is a useful skill to acquire as it can greatly supplement your research in secondary sources, such as journals, magazines, or books. You can also use it as the focus of your writing project. Primary research is an excellent skill to learn as it can be useful in a variety of settings including business, personal, and academic.

But I’m not an expert!

With some careful planning, primary research can be done by anyone, even students new to writing at the university level. The information provided on this page will help you get started.

What types of projects or activities benefit from primary research?

When you are working on a local problem that may not have been addressed before and little research is there to back it up.

Example: You are conducting research on a proposed smoking ban in Lafayette, IN. Little information has been published about the topic other than a few editorials and letters to the editor in the local paper. You can conduct primary research in the form of surveying individuals in the surrounding community and local decision makers to gain more information.

When you are working on writing about a specific group of people or a specific person.

Example: If you are writing about the activities of the Purdue Football team one of the best ways to learn about the team is to go talk to them and observe their behavior.

When you are working on a topic that is relatively new or original and few publications exist on the subject.

For example, if you wanted to write on the connection between the Purdue University Glee Club performance locations and estimated attendance of events, you would have to determine this yourself through primary research methods.

You can also use primary research to confirm or dispute national results with local trends.

For example, if you are writing about people’s opinions on Social Security reform, you could conduct a local survey and see how your local results compare to a nationwide survey conducted by the New York Times.

What types of primary research can be done?

Many types of primary research exist. This guide is designed to provide you with an overview of primary research that is often done in writing classes.

Interviews: Interviews are one-on-one or small group question and answer sessions. Interviews will provide a lot of information from a small number of people and are useful when you want to get an expert or knowledgeable opinion on a subject.

Surveys: Surveys are a form of questioning that is more rigid than interviews and that involve larger groups of people. Surveys will provide a limited amount of information from a large group of people and are useful when you want to learn what a larger population thinks.

Observations: Observations involve taking organized notes about occurrences in the world. Observations provide you insight about specific people, events, or locales and are useful when you want to learn more about an event without the biased viewpoint of an interview.

Analysis: Analysis involves collecting data and organizing it in some fashion based on criteria you develop. They are useful when you want to find some trend or pattern. A type of analysis would be to record commercials on three major television networks and analyze gender roles.

Where do I start?

Consider the following questions when beginning to think about conducting primary research:

  • What do I want to discover?
  • How do I plan on discovering it? (This is called your research methods or methodology)
  • Who am I going to talk to/observe/survey? (These people are called your subjects or participants)
  • How am I going to be able to gain access to these groups or individuals?
  • What are my biases about this topic?
  • How can I make sure my biases are not reflected in my research methods?
  • What do I expect to discover?