The Research: Primary vs. Secondary

As a scientist, I do research. The first thing the word “research” brings to mind is probably experimental research. But this is only one method under the broader umbrella term of empirical research, which can include other methods like surveys, for example.

Another way of dividing up research into different kinds is into primary and secondary. In primary research, you collect original data; you’re discovering something no one else has ever known (you hope!). In secondary research, you are going through data that has already been collected. Maybe you are looking for something specific, or maybe you want to do a (formal, statistical) meta-analysis. (This doesn’t mean that every time you do a Google search, you’re doing secondary research--but secondary research might employ an Internet search now and then. More likely, I’ll use PsycINFO or MEDLINE.)

I do a lot of secondary research in prepping my courses. For example, when I created my lecture on synesthesia, I did a lot of secondary research--searching for studies, reading and analyzing them, and synthesizing the information in a systematic, coherent way. (At least, I hope it’s coherent! ;-)

I also do some primary research. It’s not something that I’m required to do in my role as Faculty Lecturer (but it can be a lot of fun to do). In fact, the University makes it hard for contract academic staff to do primary research: we are not allowed to apply for research grants. As you can imagine, having no money makes it kinda hard to do research. Unless: a) you’re rich, b) you have a sugar daddy, or c) a publishing company comes to you with a bunch of free stuff and asks if you’re interested in using it to do a study.

Late last year, I had the opportunity for option c). In the next few posts, I’ll describe the steps in the research process, ending up with a summary of my results.

Why aren’t you studying?


Find It