When it comes to pushing out a product to market, research and usability testing raises your chances of success. We have already covered a lot of different research and testing topics, but this time we wanted to focus on one of the easiest research methods – desk research. What is it and how you can do it?

What Is Desk Research?

There’s two types of research – primary and secondary. Primary research is when you actually go out and get first-hand data and gather information “in the wild”. Secondary research, which includes desk research, is when you look at secondary data or data that’s already available. So, instead of interviewing users or doing A/B testing (primary research) you just search for and sort through everything others published that is relevant to the issue at hand. The resources you find may vary greatly from simple articles, through industry reports to complex studies done by research institutes. All those things can be done from your desk or desktop (which is why some call desk research desktop research). That’s why this particular method of research is so popular.

Why Should You Do Desk Research?

There’s a common misconception that desk research will not be of any value to you, because the project is so cutting-edge and really innovative. And while that may be true, that doesn’t mean you should just rely on primary research. The data available online may not be 100% accurate but it doesn’t mean it’s not relevant to your project. You should search for any information that can be found about the specific market your business operates on. Doing this will save you time when planning your primary research and will help you ask your users more relevant questions. That’s the number one reason people do desk research – trying to find out information that somebody already researched and published is just a waste of time.

Besides that, desk research is completely free. Sitting at your desk, looking at market research, analyzing data and making conclusions is definitely cheaper than organizing primary research activities like focus groups or 1:1 interviews. It’s kind of like preparing for a job interview – you need to first get yourself familiar with the company you’re interviewing for, their market, process, competition etc. Otherwise you will seem unprofessional. To sum up, desk research is free, can be done right at your desk anytime and anywhere and will get you the information necessary to be more prepared for your other research activities.

How To Carry Out Desk Research?

Because desk research is focused on searching for existing information, people tend to get lost in the available resources. If you just search for your question in Google you will get thousands and thousands of results. And you may find that quite overwhelming. Which sources should you trust? How to use available statistics? Which research is relevant to your specific business? How to sort through this information? Your desk-based research should fall into one of these categories: users, their goals, their environment or an overlap of two or more of those. Here’s a Venn diagram we use to help us identify which pieces of information we found will be useful:

Venn diagram for desk research

As you can see, the diagram has three circles which overlap. Each represents something that is a contact for how the users use your product. The spot where all three (users, goals and environments) overlap is the best kind of market research. And that’s because it contains information about who uses your product in a very specific context.

However, this kind of information is very hard to obtain, especially from secondary data. You will usually need to gather primary data from field visits to get such specific information. But that doesn’t make other data not relevant. You may not find market research that lies within all those categories. But there’s definitely some research published that will get you an overview of your users and their environments or the users and their goals. Just remember, desk research is not here to replace any research activities. It’s here to help you refine your studies.

Which Kinds Of Research To Look For?

Based on the diagram above, you can see that you can search for research that falls into three areas: users and goals, users and environments as well as environments and goals. When in doubt, you can always check the diagram to see which category does a specific research piece fall into. Here’s what to look for during your desk research:

  • Research that covers your users and their goals but not in the context of their environment. This type of information can be found in the form of surveys, focus groups or customer interviews. All those will get you data about the target audience and their needs. But you will not get any information about how they might use the product in their natural environment.
  • Research that provides information about what goals users want to achieve and their use environment but doesn’t cover the actual users themselves. This type of information may be published as a call centre analysis or a web analysis.
  • Research that has information about the users in their environment but doesn’t contain any data on their goals. This can be found in the form of market research for the same target group but different functionalities.

Resource Types To Look For

These three types of data will help you find missing spots that you can fill in later with your field research. It may be hard to find articles and studies that cover those topics, so don’t forget to look inside your company. Chances are, there’s a lot of data from previous projects that can be used to aid your efforts. Another great resource are government websites and research institutes. They often publish a lot of different research papers, so finding the one most useful for you may take some time. But the quality of market research from those sources is top-notch! Also, when you search for data, opt for using Google Scholar. It’s a specific section of Google that you can use to find scientific, data-based research and academic papers. If you narrow your search it will be much easier to find relevant information.

If you’re looking for an experienced team to help you research your business idea – contact us and let’s set up a research plan together!