‘Desk research’ is based on data gathered elsewhere and made available. Sometimes it may generate all the information that is required, particularly in the initial stages of collecting information.
There are six general sources of desk research. These are:
Computerised databases. A computer database can be a source of information on a wide variety of topics. The problem is not the scarcity of information but the amount and reliability of it. Finding exactly what you want from the vast amount of data available takes time and skill in working with search engines.
Associations. Almost every business, service or charity belongs to some sort of trade association which, as part of its normal activities, keeps records which may be of use in market research. For example, the Charity Commission with which UK charities have to be registered provides consolidated information about donations. Information from associations is often available to non-members for a modest charge. Trade unions may also provide useful secondary data.
Government agencies. Government agencies — local, national and international — produce demographic data, sales data, employment data, import and export data, and special reports on industries and markets. For example, the Office for National Statistics website contains a useful index of statistical bulletins to help you find topics of interest, and other governments offer similar indexes, as do some international agencies.
Syndicated services. Information on almost every conceivable topic is produced for sale by market research services. Again, a wide variety of sources are available, but a good starting place in the UK is the Market Research Society’s Knowledge Centre, which is available online. Once more, the equivalent societies in other countries are a good starting-point for your search.
Libraries. Librarians are trained in the retrieval of specific information and can help you to find what you need, on paper or electronically. Many libraries offer inter-library loan services.
The media. The general news media, daily newspapers, television and trade press are rich sources of information. Reading is an effective way of keeping abreast of developments in business and management in general, and in your sector in particular. There are media covering most industries, professions and sectors from advertising and aromatherapy through to zip-fasteners and zoology, all of which can yield useful information to managers working in relevant organisations.
Secondary data is typically used to enrich the context in which market research takes place. You need to know who produced the data, why, how and when. This knowledge will help you to estimate the relevance of the data for your decision.
For example, if you want to rely on government information to help you analyse foreign markets, you need to be aware that the statistics about different countries may have been gathered with a different purpose in mind.
Further, they may not have been collected using methodologies that are consistent from country to country, nor may they all have been collected at the same time. All these factors could have an effect on the validity and comparability of the data.
An example of this is the way data on inflation is analysed in different countries. In the UK the inflation rate is calculated excluding the price of cigarettes; in Ireland the rate includes the price of cigarettes. Thus, an increase in government duty at budget time in Ireland can radically alter the headline rate of inflation.
Next week we'll look at the role of Primary Data...
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