When you are curious about something, how do you learn new things? Maybe you Google the subject or post a question in an online community. Or maybe you research your question in a library to find credible, high-quality sources. Or maybe, depending on your question, you survey your friends for their opinions or interview people who may know more about the subject than you do.
Working with existing written sources is called secondary research. Primary research involves collecting information yourself.
What is Primary Research?
Primary research is the process of collecting original data and information directly from the source or subject being studied. It involves conducting new research, often with a specific research question or objective in mind. Primary research can take various forms such as surveys, interviews, experiments, observations, and focus groups. This type of research can be used to gather both qualitative and quantitative data and can be conducted in a variety of settings, including in the field or in a laboratory. The data collected through primary research is often used to inform decision-making, develop new products or services, or further academic research.
Primary research skills are useful in every career. Think about a job that you have worked at or a future job that you would like to have. What are some questions that might come up in your job? How could you use primary research to answer those questions?
As you progress in your academic studies, you’ll encounter some new approaches to primary research. Qualitative and quantitative research are both used in a variety of fields to answer research questions. The scientific method, which you may have learned in high school, is also an important approach to learning and testing knowledge. What follows is a brief overview of these three research methods.
What is Qualitative Research?
What can we learn from people? Qualitative research is a method of inquiry that focuses on exploring and understanding the subjective experiences and perspectives of individuals or groups. It involves collecting and analyzing data in the form of words, images, or other non-numerical forms, and seeks to uncover deeper insights into the meaning and context of human behavior and social phenomena.
Qualitative research methods include interviews, focus groups, observations, and document analysis. These methods allow researchers to gather rich and detailed information about people’s attitudes, beliefs, values, and experiences, and to gain an in-depth understanding of complex social processes and relationships.
Qualitative research is used in a wide range of fields, including social sciences, psychology, education, healthcare, business, and marketing. It can be used to explore a variety of research questions, such as:
- How do people experience and cope with chronic illness?
- What are the factors that influence students’ academic achievement?
- What are the barriers to effective communication in healthcare?
- How do consumers perceive and respond to advertising messages?
Qualitative research is particularly useful when the research question involves exploring the meanings and interpretations that people give to their experiences, or when the research context is complex and multifaceted. It can also be used to generate hypotheses and ideas for further research, and to inform the development of interventions or policies that are more responsive to people’s needs and perspectives.
What is Quantitative Research?
What can we learn from data? Quantitative research is a method of inquiry that focuses on collecting and analyzing numerical data to answer research questions and test hypotheses. It involves the use of statistical analysis to draw objective and generalizable conclusions about populations and phenomena.
Quantitative research methods include surveys, experiments, and statistical analysis of secondary data. These methods allow researchers to measure and quantify variables, such as attitudes, behaviors, and outcomes, and to test the relationships between them.
Quantitative research is used in a wide range of fields, including social sciences, psychology, education, healthcare, business, and marketing. It can be used to explore a variety of research questions, such as:
- What is the prevalence of a particular health condition in a population?
- What is the effect of a new medication on patient outcomes?
- What is the relationship between socio-economic status and educational attainment?
- What is the impact of advertising on consumer behavior?
Quantitative research is particularly useful when the research question involves measuring and comparing variables, or when the research context is relatively straightforward and can be operationalized in terms of numerical data. It can also be used to inform evidence-based policies and interventions that are more effective and efficient in achieving desired outcomes.
What is the Scientific Method?
What can we learn from testing a hypothesis? The scientific method is a systematic approach to acquiring knowledge and understanding of the natural world through empirical observation, experimentation, and analysis. It is a set of guidelines that scientists follow to ensure the accuracy, reliability, and reproducibility of their findings. The scientific method typically involves the following steps:
- Observation: Scientists observe and describe a phenomenon in the natural world, gathering as much data as possible.
- Question: Based on their observations, scientists form a question that they want to answer through their research.
- Hypothesis: Scientists propose a hypothesis, which is a testable explanation for the observed phenomenon.
- Prediction: Scientists use the hypothesis to make predictions about what should happen in future experiments or observations.
- Experimentation: Scientists design and conduct experiments to test their hypothesis and collect data.
- Data analysis: Scientists analyze the data they have collected to determine whether their hypothesis is supported or not.
- Conclusion: Based on their analysis, scientists draw conclusions about their hypothesis, and communicate their findings to the scientific community.
- Replication: Other scientists attempt to replicate the experiment and confirm or refute the initial findings.
This process is iterative, meaning that scientists may repeat certain steps or modify their approach based on new observations or data. Through this process of experimentation and analysis, scientists are able to make increasingly accurate and reliable observations about the natural world.
Think back to what you have already learned about the types of research questions that are common in your field. Which type of primary research—qualitative or quantitative—do you think you’ll most often use in your future workplace? Can you think of some examples of research questions that you might use primary research to answer?
We’ve just scratched the surface when it comes to research methods. If you are interested in learning more, check out this Creative Commons licensed textbook: Social Science Research: Principles, Methods, and Practices by Anol Bhattercherjee. In your major, you may take a research methods course that focuses on the types of research done in your field. Here are some examples of courses at CWI (taken from the CWI 2023/2024 Catalog):
PSYC 190 Writing for the Social Sciences (3 Credits, Fall/Spring)
This course is for students majoring in the social sciences, in order to teach an understanding of scientific reading and writing. Upon completion of this course, students will be better prepared for future writing and research intensive courses within their major. An emphasis will be placed on collaboration, information literacy, comprehension, synthesis of empirical research, and the use of APA style to document and write. PREREQ: ENGL 101 or equivalent placement score. (3 lecture hours, 0 lab hours, 3 credits)
SCIE 225 Essential Principles of Scientific Research
(1 Credit, Varies)
This course is designed for Biology and Chemistry majors who have an interest in Biomedical Research. The course will serve as a prerequisite for participation in the CWI INBRE Summer Research Fellowship and will also benefit any student who hopes to engage in scientific research during their academic or professional career. This course will allow students to explore research conducted by local scientists; students will read and discuss scientific journal articles and attend presentations by research scientists. The culmination of the course will be the completion of a research fellowship application. This course meets for the equivalent of one contact hour per week. There are no prerequisites, except an interest in scientific research. (1 lecture hours, 0 lab hours, 1 credits)
ENGL 211 Literary Analysis (3 Credits, Fall/Spring)
This course refines literary analysis skills with emphasis on critical approaches and methods. Students will learn techniques in literary research and apply researched, critical perspectives to a variety of texts. PREREQ: ENGL 102, ENGL 190, ENGL 191, or PERM/INST. (3 lecture hours, 0 lab hours, 3 credits)
PHIL 211 Philosophical Writing (3 Credits, Spring)
This course provides a detailed examination of a small number of focused philosophical topics, with an emphasis on improving students as readers and writers of philosophical texts and developing their ability to communicate philosophical ideas in formal academic writing supported by research. (3 lecture hours, 0 lab hours, 3 credits)
HIST 190 Introduction to the Study of History (3 Credits, Fall/Spring)
Using a major historical theme as a foundation, students will examine the philosophy of history, historiography, and methods of historical research. One component of the course will be researching and writing a historical paper. The historical content of the course will vary. Required of all History majors. (3 lecture hours, 0 lab hours, 3 credits)
CRIJ 190 Writing for Criminal Justice (3 Credits, Fall)
This course is for Criminal Justice majors who want to gain a more in-depth understanding of the technical writing that is commonly used in the criminal justice field. Upon completion of this course, students will be better prepared for future writing opportunities within their major, as well as writing demands of the workplace. PREREQ: ENGL 101 or equivalent placement score. PRE/COREQ: ENGL 102 or equivalent placement score. (3 lecture hours, 0 lab hours, 3 credits)
SOC 280 Sociological Research
(3 Credits, Fall)
This course is an introduction to the design of sociological research methods and the systematic analysis of social data. Students will learn how to move from a general question to formulate a researchable question with measurable hypotheses as well as how to design and execute a research project. This course will cover quantitative and qualitative methodological and analytical techniques used in sociology. Students will confront the conceptual and ethical issues encountered while conducting sociological research. (3 lecture hours, 0 lab hours, 3 credits)