Preparatory & Secondary research (Desk research)

Yaroslav Zhmikhov
Yaroslav Zhmikhov
249 September, 29, 2021 4 min read
249 September, 29, 2021 4 min read


A perfect way to gather important info about a client’s industry and find existing research that will help you prepare well for a kick-off meeting.

Desk research consists of 3 main components:

  • Preparatory research (prep research) is your preparation before the start of the research.
  • Secondary research is the collection, generalization, and results of existing research (secondary data).
  • Primary research (not considered) is a study that you conduct yourself using the necessary research methods.

Desk research helps to answer such questions as what, why, and how. In other words, it is not the search for answers, but it is the search for the right questions to ask in your research.

An example of desk research for an online e-learning platform

The purpose of the preparatory research

To learn more about the industry (finance information, how companies receive money, what business model they use, what processes are inside the company, and how the customer’s company works), organizations, competitors, their customers and users, similar products or services, or about a similar experience.

The purpose of the secondary research

To collect quantitative and qualitative data (information) that has been collected for other projects or other purposes.

Value for the team

It allows you to quickly immerse yourself in a new business area, for example, it may give an understanding of how finance or insurance works. Besides, it helps to learn the basic definitions and terminology as well as shows which solutions are sustainable practices and work fairly stable in many companies. Moreover, the information that the designer will receive at this stage will help build trust from business and future respondents, since the designer will be able to speak to them in the same language and ask questions of much higher detail and depth.

Value for business

The method is quite economical for the project budget, gives access to an abundance of structured data that have already been collected, as well as it minimizes the time spent on explaining the basics.


  • Preparation: up to 30 minutes
  • Main activity: from 8 to 12 hours

Creating process:

Step 1: Identify Wide research questions or topics, for example:

  • How is the user learning process done: individually, in a group, or with a tutor?
  • How do users master the information received during the lesson?
  • What causes failures during the studying process?

Step 2: Each research topic requires questions, for example:

  • Why is it so important for users to learn a foreign language?
  • What is the value of this knowledge?
  • What motivates them to study?
  • What are the main problems in the process of learning?

Step 3: Collect sources

Indicate the date of publication, assess whether this source can be trusted (a scientific publication or research of a large company is a more reliable source of knowledge than a blog article).

Step 4: Formulate assumptions or hypotheses

For example, self-study of language does not give a significant result due to a lack of knowledge in teaching methods.

A piece of advice: You can use these sources to search for information: Google ScholarStatistaGartnerMcKinsey & CompanyHarvard Business ReviewTrendWatching, etc.

Example: Preparatory & Secondary research

Relevant links:

Thank you very much to all the authors! This article would not exist without you