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

7.2.1 Minimal re-analysis
7.2.2 Significant re-analysis
7.2.3 Meta-analysis

7.3 Nature of the data

7.3.1 Rigidity of the data
7.3.2 Nature of the enquiry
7.3.3 Ingenuity of the social researcher

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

7.5 Examining data sources

7.5.1 Political pressure on published statistics
7.5.2 Selective reporting of statistics
7.5.3 Alternative theoretical conceptualisations

7.6 Methodological approaches

7.6.1 Positivism and secondary analysis
7.6.2.Phenomenology and secondary analysis
7.6.3.Critical approach to secondary analysis

7.7 Summary and conclusion

7.1 Introduction
Secondary data analysis here refers to the process of undertaking research using already-assembled databases or archives. These may be statistical databases, such as official statistics, or survey archives or non-statistical data sets such as oral or documentary history archives. The principle is the same: the use of extant data to explore a new thesis.

This is different from undertaking a literary review (see Section 1.14.12), which provides the context for a study.

Similarly, it is important to draw a distinction between looking up available statistics and undertaking further analysis of statistical sources, which is one aspect of secondary data analysis.

Catherine Hakim (1982) defined secondary data analysis as 'any further analysis of an existing data set which presents interpretations, conclusions, or knowledge additional to, or different from, those presented in the first report on the inquiry as a whole and its main results'.

Secondary analyses thus include:

  • studies reporting more condensed data;
  • studies reporting more detailed data;
  • studies focusing on a specific sub-topic or social group;
  • studies angled towards a specific policy issue;
  • analyses based on an alternative conceptual framework or theory;
  • analyses using more sophisticated analytic techniques.

Secondary data analysis is also referred to as secondary method or as desk research.


Next 7.2 Extent of re-analysis of secondary data