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Types of Data: An Introduction

There are two types of data i.e. the primary and the secondary sources of data. These are
briefly stated below as a brief introduction of the two types:

• Primary Data: Data collected by investigator for his own purpose, for the first
time, from beginning to end, are called primary data. These are collected from the
source of origin. In other words data originally collected in the process of
investigation are known as primary data. Primary data are original. The concerned
investigator is the first person who collects this information. The primary data is
thus first hand information.
• Secondary Data: Secondary data is the information which is already in
existence, and which has been collected, for some other purpose than the
answering of the question at hand. In other words data collected by other persons
is called secondary data. There data are, therefore, called second hand data. These
are available in published or unpublished forms.

Primary Data

Primary sources are sources produced by those who were participants, observers, or in
other respects close to the events and changes they depict. 1 Also the data are original
observations collected by the researcher or his agents for the first time for any
investigation and used by them in the statistical analysis.2 Primary data is useful for
current as well as future studies. Primary resources are original sources of information on
which other research is based, including documents such as poems, diaries, court records,
interviews, surveys, and fieldwork. Primary materials also include research results
generated by experiments, which are published as journal articles in some fields of study

1
Webster, C.W. John. Studying History. Macmillan India Private Limited. New Delhi. 1997. p. 69.
2
Gupta, Santosh. Research Methodology & Statistical Techniques. Deep & Deep Publications Private
Limited. New Delhi. 2005. p. 128.

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and sets of data, such as census statistics which have been tabulated, but not interpreted.3
Hence, it should be collected with utmost care.4 The primary data can be collected
various methods the most popular being the following methods:
• Observation Method: In the observation method, the investigator will collect
data through personal observations. Generally, observation method of data
collection deals with the recording of the behavior of respondents/sampling units.
Take the case of consumers transacting with a bank. Here, the behavior of the
consumers like, patience while waiting, way of moving with the bank employees,
helping fellow consumers fill up the forms, etc., will be observed by the
investigator. The identity of the investigator should not be revealed to the
consumers. If it is known to the consumers, they may change their behavior. This
method helps capture the behavior of consumers directly. Bu, it is a time
consuming and costly exercise. Also, it suffers from personal biases of
investigators which will distort the findings.5
• Personal Interview: Under this method, data is collected by the investigator
personally by asking questions pertaining to the inquiry from persons from whom
the information is to be obtained. Thus, is a person wants to study the spending
habits of university students he may contact and interview students personally and
collect the desired information. As the investigator is present on the spot for
conducting the enquiry, the data collected by him would be first hand and original
in character.6 The merits of this method are originality of the data, accuracy of the
data, reliability and elasticity of extraction of information from the informant. The
demerits being that the method makes it difficult to cover wider areas causing
limited coverage, there may be presence of personal bias of the inquirer and the
method is expensive.
• Indirect Personal Interview: Indirect personal interview is the method by
which information is obtained not from the persons regarding whom the
information is needed. It is collected from the other persons who are expected to
3
http://library.uwsp.edu/guides/webtutorials/primary.htm
4
Panneerselvam, R. Research Methodology. Prentice Hall of India Private Limited. New Delhi. 2008. p.18.
5
Panneerselvam, R. Research Methodology. Prentice Hall of India Private Limited. New Delhi. 2008. p.18.
6
Gupta, Santosh. Research Methodology & Statistical Techniques. Deep & Deep Publications Private
Limited. New Delhi. 2005. p. 135.

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possess the necessary information. These persons are known as witness. For
example, by this method, the data on the economic conditions of the workers may
be collected from their employers rather then the workers themselves. 7 The merits
of this method are that it helps in covering a wider area while remaining cheaper
and simple. The demerits of this method being that the information is less
accurate, may be biased and may also sometimes lead to doubtful conclusions.
• Telephone Interview: Telephone interview is considered to be a cost effective
and dominant data collection method because that travel time of interviews is
totally eliminated, the cost of travel of interviews is also eliminated, there is a
grater possibility of reaching the consumers all over the area, the total time of
conducting the interview of the sample is least when compared to other methods
and there is a grater possibility of random selection of respondents among the
population having a telephone connection. Though it has many advantages the
method has certain disadvantages as well like it is impossible to use visual aids, it
implies exclusion of population who are not having a telephone connection and
the interviewee may discontinue conversation in the midway.8
• Mail Survey/ Mailed Questionnaire: Under the mailing method the
questionnaires are mailed to the informants. A letter is attached with the
questionnaire giving the purpose of enquiry. It is also assured that the information
would be kept a secret. The informant notes the answers against the questions and
returns the completed questionnaire to the investigator9. The main advantages of
this method being that this method is economical and helps cover a wider area.
The demerits being that there may be lack of interest on the part of the informant,
there is less flexibility as the informant might not understand what the question
demands exactly, the results are less accurate and subject to bias of the informant.
• Questionnaires In-charge of Enumerators: Enumerators are those persons
who help the investigators in collecting the data. Under this method, a
questionnaire is prepared according to the purpose of enquiry. The enumerator
7
Jain, T.R. & Ohri V.K. Statistics for Economics and Indian Economic Development. V.K. Publications.
New Delhi. 2009. p.26.
8
Panneerselvam, R. Research Methodology. Prentice Hall of India Private Limited. New Delhi. 2008. p.20.
9
Jain, T.R. & Ohri V.K. Statistics for Economics and Indian Economic Development. V.K. Publications.
New Delhi. 2009. p.29.

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himself approaches the informant with the questionnaire. The questionnaires
which are filled by the enumerator themselves by putting questions are called
schedules. Thus, under this method, the enumerator himself fills the questionnaire
after seeking the information from the informants. The enumerators are given
training to fill the schedules and put the question intelligently to obtain accurate
information10. The merits of this method being that it helps in covering a wider
area with accuracy and completeness. While its shortcomings being that this
method is expensive, time consuming and may be subject to untrained
enumerators or those who may be partial.

Secondary Data

Secondary data is data collected by someone other than the user. Common sources of
secondary data for social science include censuses, surveys, and organizational records 11.
Secondary data analysis saves time that would otherwise be spent collecting data and,
particularly in the case of quantitative data, provides larger and higher-quality databases
than would be unfeasible for any individual researcher to collect on their own. In addition
to that, analysts of social and economic change consider secondary data essential, since it
is impossible to conduct a new survey that can adequately capture past change and/or
developments.12 Secondary sources are based on primary sources and produce second-
hand or sometimes even third-hand evidence.13 In other words, secondary data are
collected by others and used by others.14 Secondary resources describe or analyze the
primary sources.15 This type of data is mainly derived from books, publications, foreign
government publications, international bodies’ publications, technical or trade reports,
association reports, public reports, etc.

10
Jain, T.R. & Ohri V.K. Statistics for Economics and Indian Economic Development. V.K. Publications.
New Delhi. 2009. p.30.
11
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secondary_data
12
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secondary_data
13
Webster, C.W. John. Studying History. Macmillan India Private Limited. New Delhi. 1997.
14
Gupta, Santosh. Research Methodology & Statistical Techniques. Deep & Deep Publications Private
Limited. New Delhi. 2005.
15
http://library.uwsp.edu/guides/webtutorials/primary.htm

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The chief sources of secondary data can be classified according to 2 methods. The
first method differentiates according to whether the source is published or unpublished.16
While the second basis differentiates on the grounds of internal and external sources.17

According to the first mode of differentiation the sources are divided as under:
• Published Sources: There are a number of national organizations and
international agencies which collect data relating to the various spheres like
business, labor, production, etc., to name a few. This data is periodically
published and serve as a very important source of secondary data. The various
sources are listed below:
o Official Publications of Central Government
o Publications of Semi-Government Statistical Organizations
o Publications of Research Institutions
o Publications of Commercial and Financial Institutions
o Reports of Various Committees and Commissions Appointed by the
Government
o Newspapers and Periodicals
o International Publications

• Unpublished Sources: These sources include things like personal diaries,


letters, memoirs, biographies, etc.

As per the second method do division sources are of the following types:
• Internal Sources: Internal sources of secondary data for marketing
applications are as follows:
o Sales records
o Market activity
o Cost information

16
Gupta, Santosh. Research Methodology & Statistical Techniques. Deep & Deep Publications Private
Limited. New Delhi. 2005.
17
Panneerselvam, R. Research Methodology. Prentice Hall of India Private Limited. New Delhi. 2008.

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o Distributor reports and feedback
o Consumer feedback

• External Sources: Various external sources of data are government


publications, government publications, journals, publications of trade
associations, books, magazines, newspapers, annual reports, etc. This form
even includes publications from the UN, WHO, ILO, etc.

Principal Differences between Primary & Secondary Data

“The distinction between primary and secondary data is one of the degree. Data which
are primary in the hands of one party may be secondary in the hands of the other.”
-Secrist18

The following are some principal differences between primary and secondary data:

• Difference in Originality: Primary data are original because they are collected
by the investigator from the source of their origin. Against this, secondary data
are already in existence and, therefore, are not original.19
• Difference in the Suitability of Objectives: Primary data are always related
to a specific objective of the investigator. These data, therefore, do not need any
adjustment for the concerned study. On the other hand, secondary data have
already been collected for some other purpose. Therefore, these data need to be
adjusted to suit the objective on the study in hand.20
• Difference in Cost of Collection: Primary data are costlier in terms of time,
money and efforts involved than the secondary data. This is because primary data
are collected for the first time from their source of origin. Secondary data are

18
Jain, T.R. & Ohri V.K. Statistics for Economics and Indian Economic Development. V.K. Publications.
New Delhi. 2009. p.24.
19
Jain, T.R. & Ohri V.K. Statistics for Economics and Indian Economic Development. V.K. Publications.
New Delhi. 2009. p.23.
20
Ibid.

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simple collected from the published or unpublished reports. Accordingly, they are
much less expensive.21

Choice between Primary and Secondary Data

The choice between primary and secondary sources of data mainly depends upon
the nature, objectives and scope of inquiry availability of time and money, degree of
accuracy desired and the status of the investigator. The primary data are more reliable on
the face, but the secondary data can be relied only be examining the source from which
they have been obtained, their true significance, incompleteness and method of
collection. Sometimes in a certain investigation both primary and secondary data are used
as supplement to each other, it may be pointed out that today in a large number of
statistical inquiries secondary data are generally used because fairly reliable published
data on a large number of diverse fields are now available. In face, primary data are
collected only if there do not exist any secondary data suited to the investigation under
study. The points discussed as under are noteworthy for the preference of primary source
in comparison to the secondary source22:

The primary source gives data in grater details compared to secondary source.
The Secondary source often omits part of the information.

In the secondary source, there is a possibility of mistakes due to errors in


transcription made then the figures were copied from primary source.

The primary source includes definitions of terms and units used. It is essential that
the investigations understand the meaning of units in which data are recorded.

21
Jain, T.R. & Ohri V.K. Statistics for Economics and Indian Economic Development. V.K. Publications.
New Delhi. 2009. p.24.
22
Gupta, Santosh. Research Methodology & Statistical Techniques. Deep & Deep Publications Private
Limited. New Delhi. 2005. p. 129

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The primary source also includes a copy of the schedule used in data collection
together with the prescription of the procedure used in selecting the sample and the size
of the sample.

The availability of time at the disposal of investigations also affects the choice of
method to be adopted in the collection of data. If the data is needed immediately then
secondary sources are taken. On the other hand, if time is sufficient, it is recommended to
use primary method of data collection because primary data are more accurate and
reliable compared to secondary data.

The availability of finance also influences the method to be adopted in the


collection of data. If the data collecting authority has vast financial resources at its
disposal, it is better to adopt primary method. On the contrary, if the data collecting
agency has less financial resources, secondary data should be adopted even though the
secondary data is are not as reliable as primary data.

The availability of trained investigators also affects the choice of the method to be
employed in data collection. If trained investigators are available, primary method should
adopted for the collection of data. In case of non-availability of trained investigators, it is
recommended to adopt secondary method of data collection.

The objective and the scope of the enquiry also determine the method to be
adopted in the collection of data. The selected method must suit the objective and the
scope of the inquiry.

Problems to be kept in Mind While Using Data

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While using either of primary or secondary data problems to be kept in mind to avoid
future difficulties are as under:

The Problem of Genuineness


Main aim is to get evidence and this has to be the closest to the truth i.e. objective to
problem of genuineness arises. For example if a source entitled ‘The Presidential Address
of Jawaharlal Nehru delivered at the Indian National Congress at Lahore, December 29,
1929’ is in fact an exact copy of Nehru’s own Presidential remarks on that occasion then
the source is genuine.23 The second possibility is that the source is a forgery, or partly
forged or written by an anonymous writer for Nehru.

The Problem of Reliability


A document may be one hundred percent genuine and still contain large quantities of
misinformation. One should therefore cross-examine each source in order to determine
the degree of reliability or trustworthiness of the evidence contained in it.24 One should
consider various questions while checking the reliability of the like what was the position
of the facts in consideration? Is the examiner a trustworthy person? What are the sources
used to collect the data? Was a proper method used to collect the data? Was the time of
data collection appropriate to the study?

The Problem of Suitability of Data


The kind of data that may be useful to one study might not be suitable for the other study.
One has to scrutinize the data to ascertain its suitability in the study being conducted. It is
necessary to keep in mind the object, scope and nature of the inquiry being made.

The Problem of Adequacy of Data


The data being used to construct the inquiry must also be adequate for the study being
made. For example data is considered inadequate if it’s related to a narrower area or a

23
Webster, C.W. John. Studying History. Macmillan India Private Limited. New Delhi. 1997. p. 73.
24
Webster, C.W. John. Studying History. Macmillan India Private Limited. New Delhi. 1997. p. 77.

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wider area than the area under question. It is found that the data are suitable for the
purpose of the investigation; they should be tested for adequacy. Adequacy of the data is
to be judged in the light of the requirements of the survey and the geographical area
covered by the available data.

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Bibliography

• Gupta, Santosh. Research Methodology & Statistical Techniques. Deep &


Deep Publications Private Limited. New Delhi. 2005.

• Kothari, C.N. Research Methodology: Methods & Techniques. New Age


International Publishers. New Delhi. 2008.

• Panneerselvam, R. Research Methodology. Prentice Hall of India Private


Limited. New Delhi. 2008.

• Webster, C.B. John. Studying History. Macmillan India Private Limited. New
Delhi. 1997.

• Jain, T.R. & Ohri, V.K. Statistics for Economics and Indian Economic
Development. V.K. Publications. 8th Edition. New Delhi. 2009.

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Webography

• http://library.uwsp.edu/guides/webtutorials/primary.htm

• http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/education/008-3010-e.html

• http://library.ucsc.edu/help/howto/distinguish-between-primary-and-secondary-
sources

• http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/education/008-3010-e.html

• http://www.wwnorton.com/college/history/ralph/research/prisec.htm#primary

• http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/PrimarySources.html

• http://en.wikipedia.org/

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