Secondary sources

Secondary sources are works of synthesis and interpretation based upon primary sources and the work of other authors. They may take a variety of forms. The authors of secondary sources develop their interpretations and narratives of events based on primary sources, that is, documents and other evidence created by participants or eyewitnesses. For example, secondary sources of market penetration of an organization are data collected already for accountancy and operational purposes. Total industry sales may already been collected and published by some external body such as the government, trade association as secondary source of information.

A company who wants to know the users of its products may have following secondary sources:

  • Published reports
  • Government statistics
  • Scientific and technical Abstracts
  • Company's financial statements
  • Banks reports
  • Trade AOP's

However, besides its advantages it has certain disadvantages as follows:

  • Problem of being defined differently
  • More prone to error
  • Copy right problem

Data from secondary sources can be used differently such as:

  • To create new ideas
  • To compare two statistics
  • Where direct collection of data is impossible

Secondary source of collecting data is cheaper and more quickly available than primary source data, but likely to need processing before it is useful.

To evaluate the secondary source for collecting data, we should keep following questions in our mind:

  • Who collected the data?
  • For whom was the data collected?
  • What was the purpose of the research?
  • When was the data collected?
  • How was the data collected?
  • How was the data analyzed?
  • How does the data compare with similar information from different sources?

There are many advantages and disadvantages of secondary sources of information.


  • Time savings
  • Relevance
  • Availability
  • Obtainable in a short period of time
  • Low cost
  • Accessibility
  • Complements primary data


  • May be inaccurate
  • May be inconsistent
  • Inconvenient to compare
  • May be inaccessible
  • Outdated information
  • Collected for a purpose other than the purpose at hand
  • Variations in definitions of terms

Secondary data sources are divided into two categories:

  1. Internal source
  2. External source

Internal source

  • Accounting records
  • Marketing records
  • Production personnel
  • Information systems personnel
  • Sales force
  • Other expert employees

External source

  • Government agencies
  • Libraries
  • The Internet
  • Vendors
  • Producers
  • Books & Periodicals
  • Media Sources
  • Trade Associations
  • Commercial Sources

Let's now make the comparison of secondary source examples:




Up-to-date news from around the world


Accessible at home, work, or through a wireless device

Diversity of information

Minority views are often given equal forum

Electronic access

Ability to download and edit text & images

Ease of use

Requires minimal computer skills



Materials arranged by standardized classification system

Quality of materials

Resources purchased based on selection criteria


Help from library staff can improve quality of research

Print exclusivity

Some information can only be found in print copies

Availability of historical items

Libraries keep & preserve materials

Collection management

Libraries follow a planned program for acquisitions.



Conducting research often leads to non-productive searches

No Standards

No process to check information for accuracy


Web addresses change; sites disappear

Limited archives

Often only current information is available online


Fees often charged for access to specialized information


Content often based on what is popular or profitable.

Hours of Operation

The library is open only a set number of hours

Time restrictions

Checked-out materials must be returned

  • This page last updated on March 07, 2008.

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