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What is desk research?

As the world becomes more and more data-driven, it is important to ensure that you are informed when making decisions in your business. Desk research, also known as secondary research, is one of the most accessible ways to collect information quickly to generate meaningful insights.

As implied, desk research involves data gathering and analysis work that can be done without leaving the desk. It involves the collection and processing of information that has already been created by other people. This is in contrast with primary research which usually involves the creation or collection of new data through surveys, interviews, focus group discussions, and other primary data analytical tools.

Types of desk research

Internal desk research usually involves the collection and analysis of data that is within an organisation. When you look into your Google Analytics for website traffic data, Salesforce for your CRM-data, and Quickbooks for your sales numbers, you are conducting an internal desk research. Internal desk research is useful when you need to understand how your business is performing, how effective different processes are, and how you can improve them further.

External desk research as its name suggests requires one to collect data from sources that are external to your company. Sources used in external desk research can generally be split into these two groups:

  1. Publicly-available information
    Public sources of information include government databases, corporate reports (annual reports and presentations), news article, academic journals and writings, reports from industry associations, and others.
  2. Private information
    There are also some information that is locked behind pay-walls that can be used as sources for desk research. These include subscription-based databases, premium news articles, customised research reports, customised industry reports, and even academic journals.

External desk research is important to ensure that organisations are not making decisions in silos. Information about competitors, general industry trends, and consumer behaviours can be useful in contextualising a decision and making an informed one.

Why do desk research?

  1. There’s plenty of information already generated by others
    As information gets more bountiful, it is easier than ever to find relevant insights without having to commission expensive and laborious primary research projects. The amount of data that is generated in our generation will only accelerate. In the past two years alone, we have generated more than 90% of all data ever created by humanity. As technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT) become more prevalent, we will only see more sophisticated insights and data generated in our lifetime. Why not use this to help us make better decisions?
  2. Fact check
    Desk research is the quickest way to validate your assumptions and hypothesis. It helps you get a quick grasp about an industry, your competitors and even consumer behaviour and trends. You can even use desk research to build compelling arguments for your ideas easily without having to conduct full-blown focus group discussions.
  3. Tap into others’ expertise
    Desk research allows you to tap into a diverse set of readily available information. While you will need to spend time and be prudent about it, desk research can yield information that is generated by industry experts, practitioners and even academics, which is highly valuable and which data collection method is often more robust than anything you can produce. By leveraging multiple sources and research reports, you will also be able to generate insights that are more objective and well-rounded.
  4. Build credibility
    Your customers and employers are only becoming more and more data-centric. Gone are the days where you can write a proposal without having data-backed and insights-backed arguments. By leveraging desk research to validate hypothesis and assumptions, you can appear more credible and prepared in any work situations.
  5. Desk research is accessible
    If you have conducted a Google search for product reviews before you make any purchases, then you have done desk research. One can easily find information as long they have access to the internet. This is why desk research is so popular.

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