Orientation Observation In-depth interviews Document analysis and semiology Conversation and discourse analysis Secondary Data Surveys Experiments Ethics Research outcomes



Social Research Glossary

About Researching the Real World



© Lee Harvey 2012–2020

Page updated 29 April, 2020

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2020, Researching the Real World, available at
All rights belong to author.


A Guide to Methodology

7. Secondary data

7.1 Introduction to secondary analysis
7.2 Extent of re-analysis of secondary data

7.3 Nature of the data

7.4 Data sources

7.4.1 Statistical sources Introduction Government official statistics The Office for National Statistics Government Statistical Service Admiistrative Data Research Network The British Social Attitudes Survey The Crime Survey for England and Wales Social Trends Local official statistics Unofficial statistics

7.4.2 Data and historical archives
7.4.3 Big data

7.5 Examining data sources
7.6 Methodological approaches

7.7 Summary and conclusion

7.4 Data Sources
There are two broad types of secondary sources.

First, statistical data available in various formats from published summaries through, detailed tables (often available to download on-line) to complete databases.

Second, data in the form of archives, such as newspaper archives, local history archives, depositories of survey data (including completed questionnaires), in-depth interview transcripts or recordings, diaries and so on.

The following discussion focuses on sources in the United Kingdom.


7.4.1 Statistical sources Introduction

Most countries produce published statistics about the social world ranging from health and mortality, through economic data, business and manufacturing, crime, immigration and the environment. As an example, statistical sources available in the United Kingdom will be outlined, bearing in mind that these sources change over time as organisations change their status and names, loose their funding, are merged and adapt their mission and function.

Published statistics available in the United Kingdom are compiled by both government and non-government organisations. These statistics are wide-ranging and cover most of the general topic areas of interest to social scientists. They are, therefore, a useful resource that the social researcher should not ignore.

Secondary statistical data derives from two types of activities. First, administrative records, such as data collected from hospitals about different causes of mortality. Second, social surveys such as the General Household Survey, periodic political attitude surveys and one-off surveys undertaken by government and academic researchers.

Data generated by administrative procedures have been the least attractive to social researchers because they are almost always based on standard definitions and classifications of, for example, unemployment, crimes, strikes, and so on. These do not necessarily correspond to the categories that sociologists would apply and thus are not designed to address sociological questions. This clearly raises issues of validity.

Although administrative records tend to be insensitive to the concerns of sociologists, the same does not apply to surveys and censuses. Survey data is collected independently of administrative processes and provides a different perspective.

Statistics produced by the government to help it in the day-to-day running of the country are often called 'official statistics' (see Section For convenience, any other statistical sources will be referred to as 'unofficial'. There are a variety of such sources. These include statistics produced by independent organisations such as opinion pollsters; media monitoring organisations; pressure groups such as Friends of the Earth and the automobile organisations; trade unions; higher education institutions; as well as independent research units.

This should not be taken to mean that 'unofficial' are any less correct than official statistics. The distinction is simply that official statistics are the ones that 'officially' the government agencies collect and use.

There are many sources of statistical data and it would take too much space to document them all; instead a selection will be identified with appropriate links to external websites.


Next Government official statistics