13 Secondary Data Examples

secondary data examples and definition, explained below

In academic research, secondary data refers to data that has been previously gathered and published by others, and is used as a source of information for new research studies.

It is defined by Ibrahim (2017) as:

“…data which has already been collected and used for other purposes other than for the sole purpose of the current study.”

This is juxtaposed to primary data, which is considered data that was collected by the researchers through empirical research.

Examples of secondary data include government census data that researchers will parse for trends, and previous academic studies that researchers will examined during a meta-analysis or literature review.

chrisAbout the Author: Chris Drew is the editor of Helpful Professor and holds a PhD in Education.

Secondary Data Examples

1. Government Census data

Most governments conduct national censuses every few years. This census asks everyone in the whole country to complete a survey on the exact same evening.

A census will generally collect data such as how many people live in the house, their job role, income, genders, education level, and many other factors.

This cross-sectional data is considered some of the highest quality population-wide data available. For governments, it is used for distributing proportionate funding to school districts, health areas, and local governments. But for researchers, we can repurpose it for a wide range of other studies.

When researchers repurpose openly available government census data, they are using it as a secondary dataset to find new trends and insights into a population.

2. Academic Journal Articles

Whenever you conduct a literature review or meta-analysis, you’re using secondary data in the form of journal articles.

Generally, a literature review will involve a researcher systematically analyzing the findings of other people’s studies that was reported in academic journal articles. They will then critique those studies, sort them into themes or groups, and identify recommendations for future research (in the form of a research gap).

Because the researcher is conducting a study by parsing through other people’s research data, this is considered secondary data.

3. Government Reports

Government reports produced by governmental departments – such as health or education departments – often contain detailed information on specific topics, such as economic performance, health statistics, environmental conditions, and social issues.

They present results from government-commissioned research, surveys, or administrative data collected through government activities – and this is a goldmine for being repurposed for other studies.

These reports provide valuable insights into specific areas of public interest and policy and are considered a reliable source of information due to their official and often comprehensive nature.

Researchers use these government reports as secondary data to analyze trends, assess policy impacts, or inform further research on government-related topics.

4. Historical Records

Historical records include documents, artifacts, and other sources of information that have been preserved from the past.

These can range from official documents like birth and death records, legislative texts, and court proceedings, to personal items like letters, diaries, and photographs.

These records provide a window into the lives, cultures, and events of the past, offering invaluable data for historical research.

When researchers use these records, they access secondary data to explore historical trends, understand societal changes, or construct narratives about past events and eras.

5. Statistical Databases

Statistical databases are comprehensive collections of data, often compiled and maintained by governmental organizations, research institutions, or private entities.

These databases aggregate a wide array of statistical information, covering areas like demographics, economics, health, education, and crime statistics. They often provide data in a structured format, which can be used for various analytical purposes.

Researchers utilize these databases as a source of secondary data to conduct quantitative analysis, identify patterns and trends, and validate hypotheses in their studies.

The breadth and depth of statistical databases make them an invaluable resource for researchers looking to support their findings with robust, aggregated data.

6. Health Records

Health records consist of detailed patient information, including medical history, diagnoses, treatment plans, and outcomes. These records are typically generated and maintained by healthcare providers and institutions.

These records provide a wealth of information on patient demographics, disease prevalence, treatment effectiveness, and healthcare practices.

When researchers access these records, they use them as secondary data for studies in epidemiology, public health, healthcare policy, and medical research.

The use of health records in research can reveal critical insights into disease patterns, treatment outcomes, and healthcare disparities, although it must be done with strict adherence to privacy laws and ethical considerations.

7. Public Opinion Polls

Public opinion polls are surveys conducted to gauge the public’s views on various topics, including politics, social issues, consumer preferences, and cultural trends.

These polls are typically conducted by research firms, media outlets, or academic institutions and involve asking a sample of the population a series of questions to infer the opinions of the broader population.

Researchers use the data from public opinion polls as secondary data to analyze societal trends, public attitudes, and behavioral patterns. This information is particularly valuable in fields like political science, sociology, and marketing, where understanding public opinion is crucial.

The use of public opinion polls in research provides insights into the collective mindset and can inform policy-making, market strategies, and social studies.

8. Satellite Imagery

Satellite imagery encompasses visual data and photographs of the Earth captured by satellites orbiting the planet, and are often re-used for scholarly research.

These images provide detailed, high-resolution views of various geographic and environmental features, such as landscapes, urban areas, weather patterns, and changes in land use over time.

Agencies like NASA and private satellite companies regularly collect and disseminate this type of data.

Researchers use satellite imagery as secondary data in fields like environmental science, geography, urban planning, and disaster management.

By analyzing these images, they can monitor environmental changes, assess the impact of natural disasters, plan urban development, and conduct a wide range of geographical and environmental research.

9. Social Media Data

Social media data comprises the vast amount of information generated by users on social media platforms, including posts, likes, shares, comments, and network connections.

This data reflects user behavior, opinions, and interactions on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

When researchers use social media data as secondary data, they can analyze trends in public opinion, consumer behavior, social interactions, and communication patterns.

This data is particularly useful in fields like marketing, sociology, political science, and psychology, offering insights into the digital footprint and behaviors of large groups of individuals.

10. Trade and Economic Indexes

Trade and economic indexes are statistical measures that provide insights into the economic performance and trade activities of countries or regions.

Examples include the Consumer Price Index (CPI), Gross Domestic Product (GDP), stock market indexes, and trade balance figures. These indexes are compiled by governmental agencies, financial institutions, and international organizations.

Researchers use these indexes as secondary data to study economic trends, assess market conditions, and inform economic policy decisions.

The analysis of trade and economic indexes is crucial in fields like economics, finance, and international business, as it helps to understand economic health, predict future market trends, and develop economic theories and models.

11. Demographic Surveys

Demographic surveys collect data about the characteristics of populations, such as age, sex, income level, education, employment status, and household composition.

These surveys are often conducted by governmental agencies, research organizations, and marketing firms to gather detailed information about a specific population or community.

Researchers use demographic surveys as secondary data to understand population dynamics, social trends, and consumer behavior. This data is crucial for studies in sociology, economics, public health, urban planning, and marketing, providing insights into the composition, needs, and preferences of different demographic groups.

12. Internet Search Data

Internet search data consists of the information generated by users’ activities on search engines, such as search queries, clicks, and browsing history.

This data reflects the interests, needs, and behaviors of internet users and is continuously collected by companies like Google, Bing, and Yahoo.

When researchers analyze internet search data as secondary data, they gain insights into public interest trends, information-seeking behaviors, and cultural shifts.

It is particularly valuable in digital marketing, information technology, and social sciences, as it provides real-time indicators of what is capturing the public’s attention.

13. Metadata

Metadata refers to data about data, providing information about various aspects of a dataset, such as its source, creation date, author, format, and content description.

It is used to organize, manage, and understand data more effectively, and is found in various forms, such as file properties, database schemas, and documentation accompanying datasets.

Researchers use metadata as secondary data to assess the quality, relevance, and context of primary data sources. In fields like data science, library science, and information management, metadata is crucial for data curation, ensuring data integrity, and facilitating data discovery and interoperability.

Primary vs Secondary Data

Primary data is collected directly from the source, offering current and specific information tailored to the researcher’s needs. In contrast, secondary data is already existing information gathered by someone else, often more general and possibly outdated, but quicker and less expensive to acquire.

See the following table for a detailed comparison:

AspectPrimary DataSecondary Data
DefinitionData collected directly by the researcher specifically for their current research needs (Cameron & Price, 2009).Data already collected by someone else for a different purpose, and used by the researcher for their study (Cameron & Price, 2009).
SourcesSurveys, interviews, experiments, direct observations, and questionnaires.Books, journals, articles, websites, databases, and previously conducted studies.
Cost and TimeTypically more expensive and time-consuming to gather due to the need for original data collection (Rodriguez, Crossman, & Bordia, 2021).Generally less expensive and quicker to obtain as the data has already been gathered (Kumar, 2010; Neelankavil, 2015).
SpecificityHighly specific to the research question or hypothesis being studied.May not be as precisely tailored to the specific needs of the current research.
ReliabilityCan be more reliable as it is collected first-hand and for a specific purpose (Wilson, 2021).Can vary in reliability, depending on the original data collection methods and purpose (Cameron & Price, 2009).
ControlThe researcher has full control over the data collection process and methodology.Limited or no control over how the data was initially collected and processed.
FlexibilityCan be designed to gather exactly the type of data needed.Limited flexibility, must rely on data that has been collected in a certain way.
TimelinessMore likely to be up-to-date and relevant to the current situation.May be outdated, especially in fields where information changes rapidly.
SuitabilityIdeal for exploratory research and when investigating new or unique phenomena.Suitable for exploratory or preliminary research, especially when time or resources are limited.
Ethical ConsiderationsRequires adherence to ethical standards in data collection, including informed consent.Ethical concerns may be less direct, but still need consideration, especially in terms of data interpretation and application.

Secondary Data Strengths and Weaknesses

Using secondary data in research offers benefits such as cost-effectiveness and access to a broad range of historical and large-scale data, which can enhance the depth and breadth of analysis (Cameron & Price, 2009).

However, its limitations include potential issues with data relevance, accuracy, and reliability, as the data was originally collected for different purposes and might not align perfectly with the current research objectives.

Below is a table comparing some main pros and cons:

Strengths of Secondary DataWeaknesses of Secondary Data
Cost-Effective: Generally, it is less expensive as it does not involve primary data collection processes (Cameron & Price, 2009).Relevance Issues: May not precisely match the specific needs or context of the current research (Cameron & Price, 2009).
Time-Saving: Saves time as the data is already collected and available for use.Data Quality Concerns: The accuracy and reliability can be questionable, depending on the source and age of the data (Kenett & Shmueli, 2016).
Broad Range of Sources: Availability from a variety of sources like books, journals, online databases, and government reports.Limited Control: Researchers have no control over how the data was collected, processed, and presented (Cameron & Price, 2009; Gupta, 2020).
Good for Trend Analysis: Useful for analyzing historical trends and long-term changes (Wilson, 2021).Potential for Bias: Original data collection may have biases that affect the interpretation of the data.
Feasibility for Large-Scale Research: Enables research on a larger scale than might be possible with primary data due to resource constraints.Outdated Information: Some secondary data may be outdated, especially in rapidly changing fields.
Comparative Analysis: Facilitates comparison with other studies or with historical data (Wilson, 2021).Lack of Specificity: Often not specific enough for highly detailed or niche research questions.
Accessibility: Often easily accessible through online databases, libraries, and government websites (Neelankavil, 2015).Confidentiality and Ethical Issues: Data might have restrictions for use, or there may be ethical considerations in how it was collected (Wilson, 2021).


Cameron, S., & Price, D. (2009). Business Research Methods: A Practical Approach. Kogan Page.

Gupta, A. (2020). Advanced Statistics for various. SBPD Publications.

Ibrahim, R. A. (2017). The Relationship Between Financial Deepening and Economic Growth in Kenya (Doctoral dissertation, University of Nairobi).

Kenett, R. S., & Shmueli, G. (2016). Information Quality: The Potential of Data and Analytics to Generate Knowledge. Wiley.

Kumar, R. (2010). Research Methodology: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners. SAGE Publications.

Neelankavil. (2015). International Business Research. Taylor & Francis Group.

Rodriguez, L., Crossman, J., & Bordia, S. (2021). An interdisciplinary approach to secondary qualitative data analysis: what why and how. In Handbook of qualitative research methodologies in workplace contexts (pp. 133-156). Edward Elgar Publishing.

Wilson, J. (2021). Understanding Research for Business Students: A Complete Student’s Guide. SAGE Publications.

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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