Skip Navigation
Skip to Menu Toggle Button

UMGC Effective Writing Center Primary Research and the Research Process

The Role of Primary Research

Primary vs. Secondary Research

First, let’s distinguish between secondary and primary research:

  • Secondary research is information that has been published.
  • Primary research is new information gathered by you. 

The most common example of primary research is your direct observation and reporting. Primary research also includes interviews (face-to-face, phone, email), questionnaires (surveys), and experiments—all of which would be accompanied by your analysis, which is also a part of primary research.

Why Is Primary Research Important?

Primary research provides information that is more directly related to what or whom you are studying than secondary research. For example, if you are writing about the prevalence of concussions on your community’s youth football teams, you would conduct primary research because

  • First, you’re unlikely to find previously published (secondary research) reports about concussions on your particular community's teams, so you have to generate the information yourself.
  • Second, the best way to learn about this specific issue is to talk directly to the team’s coaches, parents, and players—not through a third party. In doing primary research, you often function like a newspaper reporter who goes out and gets the story firsthand.
  • Third, you can compare what you discover about your local teams (your primary research) to what has been published in other studies (secondary research).

Most workplace research projects contain a combination of secondary and primary research.

Examples of Primary Research for Specific Topics

Regardless of your topic, your writing will almost always benefit by the addition of primary research, unless the assignment or task specifies otherwise. In the work place, primary research is often the focus of what you write. Here are some typical topics for the work place or community with suggestions for the role primary research could play.

Topic: Alternatives to Email

Today most everyone suffers from email overload. Let's say you have found an application that provides a more efficient way to communicate. You want to purchase and implement it in your work place. Your first task will be to establish the extent to which email is a problem and then to demonstrate how the other application could help.

Primary research opportunities:

  • number of emails received/sent in your office daily or weekly
  • surveys of employees to determine their time spent dealing with email
  • screen captures of alternative applications and how they would help the situation

Topic: Paperless Office

If you were to propose to your office manager a transition to a paperless office, you would first need to show why the status quo (dependence on hard-copy documents) is a problem. Then you would present the benefits of transition to paperless.

Primary research opportunities:

  • number of hard-copy documents, the cost and maintenance of machines that produce them
  • photos of clutter caused by hard-copy documents and photos of the spaces needed to store them
  • survey of employees on the time they spend making hard copies and filing them
  • survey of employees on their preferences—paperless or hard copy.

Topic: Community Playground

As a parent, you've had it. Your townhouse community needs to renovate its shabby, unsafe playground. Before any plans are drawn up or equipment purchased, your first task is to convincingly document the need for the renovation:

Primary research opportunities:

  • photos of the current playground, highlighting its negative features
  • interviews with residents and their children
  • photos of well-done playgrounds at other townhouse communities
  • telephone survey of contractors and their estimates for renovation

Topic: Office Recycling

It's embarrassing in this day and age that your small town is not recycling, not to mention failing in its civic responsibilities. You are determined to institute a recycling program. First, you would document the mess and waste caused by not recycling, then you would show the benefits of recycling and examples of clean, efficient recycling facilities in towns similar to yours.

Primary research opportunities:

  • interviews with citizens about their attitudes toward recycling
  • photos of recyclable materials in landfills
  • collection of data on amount of recyclable waste thrown out in one day at your town's landfill
  • photos of recycling stations at other towns

How to Choose and Filter Research Topics

An ancient Chinese proverb tells us, the longest journey begins with the first step. Never has that saying been more true than when it comes to writing a research paper.

Your first step in writing a paper is to choose and filter your topic. This critical first step will determine how long it will take you to reach your goal of a polished paper. A bad step at this point could send you over a cliff. That's why it's best to follow a series of steps as you focus and narrow a research topic that will let you produce your best writing.


Ethics and Primary Research

To conduct some forms of primary research, professional researchers, including college teachers, must normally receive permission from an institutional review board. These boards often evaluate research proposals on the basis of principles originally set out in the Belmont Report of 1979.

You may be surprised to learn that, even though you are conducting primary research for a class project, you still must abide by certain ethical guidelines. These imply that you:

Get Permission. Receiving "informed consent" to study someone includes ensuring that the subject knows the risks and benefits of participating and gives consent legally and voluntarily. Permission is not required for materials publically available.

Agree on Anonymity. This is important when using data from interviews, surveys and observations, unless agreed otherwise. "Confidentiality" means that, unless agreed otherwise, an individual's identify cannot be determined using the details you publish.

Do No Harm. As an ethical researcher you are bound to consider any potential negative effects on the individual of what you publish. These effects can range from embarrassment, to job loss, to physical endangerment.

Seek Approval. It's always wiser and more ethical to receive permission than to apologize for not doing so, whether that permission comes from a boss, company public affairs or human resources department, or an individual.

Dan Connelly has a short and informative YouTube video on this topic.

Use of Primary Research

Whenever you focus on a specific issue in a specific work place or community, some form of primary research will be needed to establish and document the status quo and, most likely, will also be helpful in the presentation of recommendations and solutions. Most of all, primary research shows your direct, active involvement and provides a level of authenticity to your writing that is not possible when relying solely on secondary research.

Contact Us

Our helpful admissions advisors can help you choose an academic program to fit your career goals, estimate your transfer credits, and develop a plan for your education costs that fits your budget. If you’re a current UMGC student, please visit the Help Center.

Personal Information
Please provide your First Name.
Please provide your Last Name.
Contact Information
Please recheck your email address.
Please provide a valid E-Mail Address.
This field is required.
Please provide a valid ZIP Code or APO/FPO.
Additional Information
This field is required.
This field is required.

By submitting this form, you are giving your express written consent without obligation for UMGC to contact you regarding our educational programs and services using e-mail, phone, or text, including automated technology for calls and/or texts to the mobile number(s) provided. For more details, including how to opt out, read our privacy policy or contact an admissions advisor.

Please wait, your form is being submitted.