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Everything you need to know about primary research

Last updated

28 February 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Research techniques vary depending on the specific information researchers require.

They might search existing research to find the data they need—a technique known as secondary research.

Alternatively, they might prefer to seek out the data they need independently. This is known as primary research.

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What is primary research?

During primary research, the researcher collects the information and data for a specific sample directly.

Types of primary research

Primary research can take several forms, depending on the type of information studied. Here are the four main types of primary research:

  • Surveys

  • Observations

  • Interviews

  • Focus groups

When conducting primary research, you can collect qualitative or quantitative data (or both).

Qualitative primary data collection provides a vast array of feedback or information about products and services. However, it may need to be interpreted before it is used to make important business decisions.

Quantitative primary data collection, on the other hand, involves looking at the numbers related to a specific product or service.

What types of projects can benefit from primary research?

Data obtained from primary research may be more accurate than if it were obtained from previous data samples.

Primary research may be used for

  • Salary guides

  • Industry benchmarks

  • Government reports

  • Any information based on the current state of the target, including statistics related to current information

  • Scientific studies

  • Current market research

  • Crafting user-friendly products

Primary research can also be used to capture any type of sentiment that cannot be represented statistically, verbally, or through transcription. This may include tone of voice, for example. The researcher might want to find out if the subject sounds hesitant, uncertain, or unhappy.

Methods for conducting primary research

Your methods for conducting primary research may vary based on the information you’re looking for and how you prefer to interact with your target market.


Surveys are a method to obtain direct information and feedback from the target audience. Depending on the target market’s specific needs, they can be conducted over the phone, online, or face-to-face.


In some cases, primary research will involve watching the behaviors of consumers or members of the target audience.


Communication with members of the target audience who can share direct information and feedback about products and services.

Test marketing

Explore customer response to a product or marketing campaign before a wider release.

Competitor visits

Competitor visits allow you to check out what competitors have to offer to get a better feel for how they interact with their target markets. This approach can help you better understand what the market might be looking for.

Focus groups

This involves bringing a group of people together to discuss a specific product or need within the industry. This approach could help provide essential insights into the needs of that market.

Usability testing

Usability testing allows you to evaluate a product’s usability when you launch a live prototype. You might recruit representative users to perform tasks while you observe, ask questions, and take notes on how they use your product.

When to conduct primary research

Primary research is needed when you want first-hand information about your product, service, or target market. There are several circumstances where primary research may be the best strategy for getting the information you need.

You might use it to:

  • Understand pricing information, including what price points customers are likely to purchase at. 

  • Get insight into your sales process. For example, you might look at screenshots of a sales demo, listen to audio recordings of the sales process, or evaluate key details and descriptions. 

  • Learn about problems your consumers might be having and how your business can solve them.

  • Gauge how a company feels about its competitors. For example, you might want to ask an e-tailer if they plan to offer free shipping to compete with Amazon, Walmart, and other major retailers.

How to get started with primary research

  • Step one: Define the problem you’re trying to answer. Clearly identify what you want to know and why it’s important. Does the customer want you to perform the “usual?” This is often the case if they are new, inexperienced, or simply too busy and want to have the task taken care of.

  • Step two: Determine the best method for getting those answers. Do you need quantitative data, which can be measured in multiple-choice surveys? Or do you need more detailed qualitative data, which may require focus groups or interviews?

  • Step three: Select your target. Where will you conduct your primary research? You may already have a focus group available; for example, a social media group where people already gather to discuss your brand.

  • Step four: Compile your questions or define your method. Clearly set out what information you need and how you plan to gather it.

  • Step five: Research!

Advantages of primary research

Primary research offers a number of potential advantages. Most importantly, it offers you information that you can’t get elsewhere.

  • It provides you with direct information from consumers who are already members of your target market or using your products.

  • You are able to get feedback directly from your target audience, which can allow you to immediately improve products or services and provide better support to your target market.

  • Primary data is current. Secondary sources may contain outdated data.

  • Primary data is reliable. You will know what methods you used and how the data relates to your research because you collected it yourself.

Disadvantages of primary research

You might decide primary research isn’t the best option for your research project when you consider the disadvantages.

  • Primary research can be time-consuming. You will have to put in the time to collect data yourself, meaning the research may take longer to complete.

  • Primary research may be more expensive to conduct if it involves face-to-face interactions with your target audience, subscriptions for insight platforms, or participant remuneration.

  • The people you engage with for your research may feel disrupted by information-gathering methods, so you may not be able to use the same focus group every time you conduct that research.

  • It can be difficult to gather accurate information from a small group of people, especially if you deliberately select a focus group made up of existing customers. 

  • You may have a hard time accessing people who are not already members of your customer base.

  • Biased surveys can be a challenge. Researchers may, for example, inadvertently structure questions to encourage participants to respond in a particular way. Questions may also be too confusing or complex for participants to answer accurately.

  • Despite the researcher’s best efforts, participants don’t always take studies seriously. They may provide inaccurate or irrelevant answers to survey questions, significantly impacting any conclusions you reach. Therefore, researchers must take extra caution when examining results.

Conducting primary research can help you get a closer look at what is really going on with your target market and how they are using your product. That research can then inform your efforts to improve your services and products.


What is primary research, and why is it important?

Primary research is a research method that allows researchers to directly collect information for their use. It can provide more accurate insights into the target audience and market information companies really need.

What are primary research sources?

Primary research sources may include surveys, interviews, visits to competitors, or focus groups.

What is the best method of primary research?

The best method of primary research depends on the type of information you are gathering. If you need qualitative information, you may want to hold focus groups or interviews. On the other hand, if you need quantitative data, you may benefit from conducting surveys with your target audience.

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