In research secondary sources of data collection and information are as important as primary sources. There are several reasons for that, in many cases primary data is not available and therefore the researcher uses secondary sources. In other researches the researcher knows that the secondary sources are as much reliable as primary sources and therefore he uses secondary sources.
Secondary sources are very helpful in conducting research but there are some problems associated with the use of these sources. The actual and the most basic issue is always with the validity and reliability of the source from which the data is taken. Primary sources like experiments are very reliable and valid as compared to the secondary sources. These problems can be eliminated to some extent where possible.
- Validity and reliability
Validity and reliability are very important concerns in research and they cannot be taken for granted. Some secondary sources are as much reliable as primary sources like census as it covers the whole population. Other sources might not be as much reliable and they should only be used when no other data is available. Valid means that the data represents original and true findings and it has been collected using scientific methods. While using secondary sources of information it should be well-researched that the content is genuine and authentic.
- Personal bias
In secondary sources the chances of bias are higher as compared to that in primary sources. Some secondary sources like personal records can be highly biased and they may be not. Personal diaries and other records like newspapers, mass media products can be biased. Newspapers, magazines and websites do not use rigorous and well-controlled methods in documentation. Most of the time such writings are opinion-based and they are far from facts. In these publications writers can distort the facts to make the situation look better or worse.
- Availability of data
Availability of data is another issue in using secondary sources. To obtain highly rigorous, scientific and valid data from secondary sources you need to work hard as such data is hardly available in secondary sources. Secondary sources are usually preferred in the research because of their ease of availability, in case it is hard to collect data using secondary sources the researcher should not use it.
- Format of data
In secondary sources the format of the data should also be seen before using it in the research. The format of the data can be totally different and the researcher cannot use it in his research. Using another format in data collection that is not related to your research format can give biased and invalid results.
- Quality of data
Quality of the data is related to its accuracy and accuracy comes with rigorousness in collecting the data. It depends on the source that you are using in your research; books and journals can provide you quality data. There might be some secondary sources that cannot provide high quality data. Again newspapers and magazines cannot provide good data for research, they should be avoided.
- Obsolete data
Sometimes secondary sources are available to be used in the research but they are very old. Old data is of no use to be used in the research. You cannot use a book that has been written 20 years back, the data present in that book will be valid and reliable at the time when it was written but taking the current circumstances it is obsolete. Libraries are flooded with books that contain data related to your research but you have to check the date of publication to know whether you can use it or not. As a university scholar you should know how old data your university allows you to use in the research. In most of the cases data no more than 5 years can be used in the research. Only historical data can be used forever because it represents history that cannot be researched in other ways.