What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Primary Data?

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Primary data is information collected personally, for a specific purpose. It includes things like surveys, questionnaires and first-hand accounts of an event. It’s known for its accuracy and for costing more than secondary data.

When data is first collected, before it’s been analyzed, sorted or tabulated, it’s called primary data. Its advantages lay in its purity and simplicity. The disadvantages of primary data lay in the time and cost involved in collecting it, as well as the fact that it needs to be able to stand on its own as a resource.

The Advantage of Greater Control A researcher collecting primary data is able to pinpoint the aspects he or she wants to focus on while omitting details that aren’t pertinent to the study. This makes it easier to collect information that supports a theory or cause. Keeping the research tight in this manner leaves a smaller gap for anyone who might question the validity of the study later.

The Advantage of a Small Data Set When a small data set is sufficient, primary data is quicker for a researcher to analyze. It does take longer to collect, though. The time-saving advantage begins when it’s time to analyze, sort and compile the primary data into a report. This makes it ideal for a small-scale study or pilot survey.

The Cost Disadvantage of Primary Data It costs more to collect primary data than it does to collect secondary data. This is because primary data is often published in journals and magazines that are accessible for free online. Collecting primary data involves more man-hours and is more labor intensive than collecting secondary data. It can also take longer to sift through primary data when looking for inconsistencies and potential errors in the research or findings. If people know they’re being watched, that also creates a problem with results because they act differently when being observed.

The Disadvantage of Bias and Dishonesty When surveys, interviews, questionnaires and focus groups are used to collect information, there are potential problems with bias and dishonesty. The bias can come from the researcher or the people being questioned. If the people being questioned feel the questions are too invasive, they might also choose to not answer, or to answer dishonestly in order to end the interview and protect their privacy. Also, even on a written survey, people may prefer to answer in ways that make themselves look better. In focus groups, the results can be skewed by one or two group members with strong personalities.

The Disadvantage of Being First Being the first to study and report on a topic can be perilous for a researcher. This is because there’s no backup for comparison if the results are skewed, incorrect or merely questioned as to their accuracy. This increases the importance of making sure the data collected is accurate and that the collection methods are well-planned. If surveys are used to collect primary data, for example, it’s important that the questions be carefully written. With surveys, there’s typically no additional chance to get feedback from respondents, so questions that are too narrow limit the accuracy of survey results.