How to conduct secondary research for your idea?

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Secondary research, is essentially searching for already existing research to prove or debunk an idea, argument, theory or in this case a “problem worth solving” for a business idea. Secondary research is arguably the most convenient research form as it is inexpensive as research has already been done for you as opposed to primary research where you conduct the research yourself. If conducted correctly this kind of research may convince investors to fund primary research, a pilot or the product/service that you have in mind.

Secondary research is predominantly conducted over the internet so the following example will be of online research. Lets just say that we wanted to develop a product for housewives or we had already developed one but wanted to get a better understanding of this customer segment.

1. Write down the questions that you plan to answer.

  • What is a housewife?
  • How many housewives are there in South Africa?
  • What are their typical household chores?
  • What are the stereotypes associated with being a housewife?
  • How common are househusbands?

This will help you know what exactly you’re looking for online.

2. Set your search engine to display only PDF type documents. This reduces the number of search results but PDFs are more likely to be reports, presentations, assignments etc published by credible institutions. A credible source is typically an educational(e.g. University of Cape Town, Harvard University) and/or research(e.g. Statistics South Africa, Mckinsey Global Institute) institution. Its not enough to reference a random website that has strong opinions but is based on little or no scientific research.

search engine results

Search-engine-settings Search-engine-reults-pdf

Play around with your search engine settings in order to find the type of information that you are looking for. You can also specify the language, region, type of domain (,, .com etc.)

3. Enter the key words in your questions and use auto-complete.


4. When you find information that is relevant to your research, remember to reference the source and paraphrase (put it in your own words) in order to avoid plagiarism. The following website has a PDF that has different referencing techniques for different types of publications and this article shows how to avoid plagiarism.

5. Be creative. Possibly more important than all other points is the need for you to apply your creativity to your research. Its rare that you will find the exact information that you looking for. According to a world bank report1, Sub-Saharan Africa only contributes 0.7% to global science research so its possible that the answer you want are not in an ideal format. What do you do? You become creative. Instead of searching for research in a specific area in South Africa, search for it in Africa and then the world because the principles that govern housewives may be consistent throughout different regions. If you need to be more creative, search related topics such as parenting, being a single parent, household chores, househusbands etc, there may be indirect insights that are related to the questions that you’ve asked.

Please let me know what you think and how your research story goes.

Nthulane Makgato

Founder and Director

Red Case

1. World Bank. 2014. A decade of development in sub-Saharan African science, technology, engineering and mathematics research. Washington, DC : World Bank Group.

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