Desk Research: How To Conduct Secondary Research Efficiently
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Desk Research: How To Conduct Secondary Research Efficiently

Desk Research

If you’re already familiar with UX Design, you know how essential research is to get to know the users of a product and understand their needs.

Basically, there are two types of research: primary (where you collect information yourself by surveys, interviews, observations, etc.) and secondary (searching for data compiled from previous findings). Desk Research falls into the second category.

Keep reading to know the best practices and a step-by-step to research successfully from your own desk!

What is Desk Research?

Desk Research is a method that explores data from existing documents and previous research — secondary data — to gather information over a particular topic.

It can provide solid arguments and help you elaborate a line of thought or fight for your ideas. And to do this, Desk Research relies on data already collected from other people.

Therefore, before spending time and money on field visits, prototypes, or usability tests, it’s wise to see what the world already knows that could be relevant for you and your team.

Why should you have a Desk Research?

Why desk research

Desk Research should be used as a research method before starting any Product Design project. It’s always constructive to see what previous studies and experts say about a particular topic, especially if you can take advantage of the information already out there.

Secondary research has the objective of any investigation: to provide information that could support and guide decision-making.

So in terms of objectives, using Desk Research is not that different from Primary Research.

Primary and Secondary Research

Primary and Secondary Research share the same object of study but are different in their process.

Primary research is first-hand research created and tailored to meet specific needs. The source of this kind of research is the individuals or organization behind the investigation.

Additionally, primary research uses raw data, which needs to be filtered and organized in order to be analyzed and reported.

On the other hand, secondary research collects data from previous research, so it doesn’t belong to anyone.

Needless to say, primary research demands more time and money, while secondary research is cheaper and faster to gather results.

Desk Research: where to look?

Since Desk Research relies on other people’s findings, pay close attention to the sources and always run check facts.

There are all kinds of information online so we need to be diligent to filter good quality material.

Also, the internet is not the only possible source of information to carry out Desk Research. You may want to check:

  • Existing products in the market;
  • Your own organization records;
  • Libraries;
  • Academic records;
  • Government organizations;
  • Relevant NGO’S.

Products in the market

existing products in the market

An insightful resource is observing products that are already on the market.

Furthermore, evaluate the products that your own company has already launched.

Look at the concepts, interactions, and experiences these products provide.

Company records

company records

Go through research and analysis your own company has conducted in the past.

This type of information is extremely valuable to understand ideas, opportunities, and difficulties the company has faced in the past and that can serve as a starting point for your own proposal.

Investigate further, look at the people in charge of these data, and if possible, try to talk to them directly and exchange knowledge about what they have found out, and what you intend to do.

Most of the time, internal research helps to clarify essential points, due to the fact they were applied in the same context, in the same market segment.

External Sources

External research sources are perhaps the most common and widely known. However, as we already mentioned, it’s important to understand which sources are reliable.

With that in mind, we compiled a few aspects for your consideration:

Data available from the Web

desk research: data form the web

Internet is the most popular and accessible source of information there is. With just one click you can download any data or research you want.

Despite much information being available for free, that are company sites that sell information and reports.

If you’re digging the internet for free content, check reliable websites with known expertise in the field.

For example, in the case of research and data about usability, it’s common to rely on data from the Nielsen Norman Group. The consulting firm is an expert on UX, has authority and reputation in the market.


In times when the internet rules the era of information, libraries end up being underestimated. But they can be excellent sources for desk research.

Of course, recent studies will most likely be found online but there may be old interesting research published only on paper. So, apart from books, beware to check articles, papers, and research from a wide range of authors.

Don’t dismiss studies that are not recent. Even if research was carried out a couple of years ago, it can still be extremely relevant and serve to support your ideas, provide you answers, questions, or insights.

Human behavior, for example, changes very slowly, so studies that focus on that, won’t lose its “expiration date” so soon.

Academic Records

In addition to using university libraries, you can search for more specific research conducted by students or professors at the institutions.

As a general rule, educational institutions conduct a variety of primary research that can be requested and used as Desk Research by companies.


Desk Research can also rely on newspapers, magazines, and even news transmitted on TV or radio.

However, it is always important to be diligent when using this type of information because it is generally superficial and informational for the public.

Relying solely on media data can bring biased and shallow information. Nevertheless, it can be a good start for your Desk Research.

A step-by-step to Desk Research

It’s wise to consider a couple of measures to ensure the quality and efficiency of your Desk Research.

So we’ll describe a step-by-step to help you in your endeavor.

Of course, as you gain experience with this research method, you can adapt each step to make it more coherent to the way you work. But be sure to go through them.

1) Define your goal

Desk research:defining your goal

Before starting the research, identify its purpose: What do you want to know? Which question do you need to answer?

Without a pre-determined objective, you won’t be a good judge whether the information you’re coming across is relevant or not for your project.

Establishing objectives is all about setting a clear path to the questions you want to answer; this will ground you and help you stay focused, so you don’t end up wasting precious time.

Your research objectives can revolve around:

  • a number: like seeking to find five articles from different sources or collecting information from 20 user interviews;
  • an assumption: here, your goal is to find arguments and information that support your hypothesis. However, make sure to also look for information that may disprove your statement.

2) Map your sources

Will you only use the internet? Or will you also go to public libraries? Are you going to talk to people in your company too?

Mapping the sources you intend to use saves time and prevents you from losing focus. At this stage, identify which sources are more likely to bring you the best results.

Remember to have a plan B, too. For example, if you can’t find all the information on websites, find out what the next trusted source you should be using.

3) Set a deadline

Desk research: set a deadline

Working with deadlines is another strategy to maintain focus during research.

Determine whether you will invest hours, days, or a few weeks to carry out your Desk Research.

However, keep in mind that we tend to use up all the time assigned to us. So keep it a tight schedule and propose realistic deadlines to help your productivity and your research efficiency.

4) Hands-on

It’s time to carry out your research, keeping in mind: your objective, the deadline, and reliable sources.

Use whichever method you think is best to identify and gather the necessary information: summarizing, filing, highlighting, or copying.

For instance, you can put all your findings on an online whiteboard (like

Remember to seek different views on the same problem. Don’t fall into so-called confirmation bias, where you only collect data that confirms your assumption.

Look for information that may contradict the initial ideas to bring other perspectives that will be essential upon data analysis.

5) Analyze data

Desk Research: analyze data

A crucial step of Desk Research is analyzing the data collected. First, carefully read the information and review all the findings. Then, go deeper into your study: compare the results of different sources and define the importance of each one.

Next, check if your research answered the questions and met the initially proposed objective.

If not, redo the research or check if the objective is coherent or needs to be changed.

In this step, you should also formalize the information in a way it’s presentable to others; you can write a report or organize your findings into a presentation.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Desk Research


  • Secondary Research is cheaper than Primary Research. Thus, if your company does not have the budget to conduct interviews and do field observations, desk research is a good solution;
  • Desk Research also has a time advantage. Compared to primary Research, secondary Research is much faster to conduct;
  • The wide availability of information makes Desk Research easier to execute.


  • The challenge of finding reliable sources. If the research is done over the internet, it is necessary to be very careful with websites and articles you base upon;
  • It’s not always possible to find reports and research that is up-to-date and include the most recent information;
  • Because it is faster and cheaper, Desk Research can create the false impression that it is the best method to use. However, it is essential to understand that primary research is also relevant and has more focus and objectivity to meet the company’s needs.

Every method, or tool, has its pros and cons. Therefore, you need to assess where you are to decide if Desk Research is the right resource for your project. And, of course, it can always – and should – serve as a starting point for Primary Research.

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