Using Secondary Data:
If economists were any good at business, they would be rich and mean instead of advisers to rich men. Economists and others continue to advise and inform with an over whelming flow of information. More than 50 million books have been published since Gutenberg printed the Bible in the middle of the 15th century. In 1986, more than 718,000 books from 20,000 US publishers alone were in print. Currently, about 45,000 new titles and new editions are introduced each year while about 35,000 go out of print. In 1986, For example the preliminary listing for American book title output was 42,793 which included 33,556 new hardcover and trade paperback books and 5,605 new editions. Approximately 7,800 of those tiles concerned business and economies, almost one sixth of the total publishing output in the United States.
The number of journals published is equally astonishing. In a conservative estimate made in 1979, more than one million different serial titles had appeared in the 370 year since the advent of the first printed newspaper. Since the 17th century, the number of journals published has almost unfailingly doubled every 15 years, a growth rate equivalent to an increase by a factor of 1,000 every 150 years. In 1986, an international directory of serial tiles listed about 134,000 periodicals of all types in current publication from 59,000 publishers in 197 countries. Of the approximately 28,000 journals published in the United States in 1986, 3,800 of them, about one in seven concentrated on subjects in business and economies.
Such numbers may daunt even sophisticated scholars, yet the importance of mastering the major sources of secondary data is clear. Competent researchers must become thoroughly acquainted with the major sources, especially those pertinent to the researchers’ organizations, while also exercising the imagination required to locate valuable in out-of-the-way places.
Economy is clearly the greatest advantages of secondary data. Instead of printing data-collection firms, hiring field workers transporting them throughout the field area, and editing ad tabulating the results, researchers alone or with some clerical assistance may obtain information from a published record compiled by somebody else. Also, secondary data can be more quickly obtained. While a field project often takes 60 to 90 days or more, secondary data can often be collected within a few days or even hours.
Another advantage of some secondary data sources is that they provide information that could not be obtained by the typical organization. The Bureau of Census, for example, can require retailers to divulge sales, expenses and profit information that normally would be inaccessible to the typical researchers. Moreover, data of this category, collected in the ordinary course of events, are less subject to the biases that might occur if the researcher were to gather the information for a specific purpose.
Drawbacks of Secondary Data:
In utilizing secondary data, two major difficulties must be overcome finding information that exactly fits the needs of the project at hand and being sure that the data are sufficiently accurate.
Finding Data to suit the Project:
Quite often secondary data do not satisfy the immediate needs, because they have been compiled for other purposes. Even when directly pertinent to the subject under study, secondary data may be just enough off the point to make them of little or no use. Three variations of this type that frequently impair the value of secondary data are:
(1) Units of measurements,(2) Definitions of classes, and (3) Accuracy
Variation in the units of measurement is a common deficiency of secondary data. Consumer income, for instance, may be measured by individual, family household, spending units, or tax return, depending on the sources. In view of the differences in the units of measurement, the various data can be used together only for rough approximations.
Finding Data of Known Accuracy:
Once having discovered appropriate secondary data, the researchers must determine whether the information is accurate enough for the purposes at hand. Before using secondary data, the researcher must subject them and the circumstances under which they were gathered to an in-depth evaluation.
One of the main advantages of original sources is that they usually explain how the data were collected. This facilitates an appraisal of their reliability. One of the main disadvantages of using secondary sources is that they not only frequently omit this explanation, but they may also make errors in copying data. Unwary researchers are likely to perpetuate such errors in their own work. Still another failing of secondary sources is their frequent tendency to abbreviate the information given in the original sources: explanatory or cautionary foot notes for example, may be omitted.
Secondary sources must be used with caution because they frequently report preliminary data as final and fail to incorporate revised data when they become available. The federal government often releases preliminary data, later adjusted into ‘final’ data. Moreover, the ‘final’ data are sometimes revised as a result of additional information or a change in procedure. These alterations are more likely to be picked up if the original sources, rather than a secondary source is monitored.