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 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 Unofficial statistics
Unofficial statistics are even more wide-ranging than government statistics and it is not feasible to list all the available statistics from non-government sources in this overview.

Some unofficial statistics are produced on a regular basis, such as the media viewing figures while others are one-off surveys for a specific purpose. Unofficial statistics appear within publications and reports of various bodies such as monitoring bodies, trade unions, charities and so on.

The annual reporting of GSCE results by the examining bodies is one form of unofficial statistics. A study exploring the impact of fostering on education achievement used these data. The study reported by the BBC (2015) used the GCSE results for 640,000 teenagers in England in 2013. Of these about 14,000 were deemed to be 'in need' but living at home with birth parents and 6,000 were in care. Results showed that fostered children did better at GCSE than 'in need' children at home but neither group did as well as the general population of teenagers. The researchers suggested that a stable environment aided educational achievement and that the care system acted as a protective factor educationally.

Some unofficial statistics are available in data archives such as the Economic and Social Science Research Council Data Archive at Essex University, now the UK Data Archive.

In the main, locating published unofficial statistics involves detective work in the library or online. Once you have ocated one unofficial source this often leads on to others. However, this can be time-consuming and often frustrating, albeit that the Internet has made this much easier. Nonetheless it is necessary to go to a repository such as a major reference library to access the data. This may not be possible in the time you have available.

The important thing in using published statistics is not to try to locate all the possible sources but to make sense of the ones that you do find.

For example, Ian Gregory-Smith et al. (2013, p. F114) undertook a study of the number of women in the Boards of the UKs top listed companies.

The data used here are obtained from a proprietary source created by Manifest Information Services for the purpose of providing proxy voting advice. The data span 1996–2011 and cover all companies that have been listed on the FTSE350 during that period. Even when a company falls out of the index, it continues to be followed. The data provide a particularly rich picture of the comings and goings in the boardroom. The start and end date of each director's period of office is recorded, as is a variety of information describing the personal characteristics and the financial reward received in each year by all directors—whether executive or non-executive. Additional information concerning company performance in each year is obtained from DataStream.

Amongst other things, the research revealed that the percentage of women on the Board of the FTSE350 companies increased from a tiny 2.2% in 1996 to 8.19% in 2010. Further, the chances of a retiring board member being replaced by a woman over the period was tiny but more likely if the previous incumbent had been female (p=0.136) than male (p.=0.075).


Next 7.4.2 Data and historical archives