Primary & Secondary Data, Official Statistics

Primary & Secondary Data, Official Statistics

Sociologists can collect their data from one of two sources. Primary data is information collected directly from the sociologists themselves. This, as we have discussed, can be through questionnaires, interviews or through observation.

Further information can be taken from data collected from external sources. This is secondary data and can include statistics (quantitative), newspaper articles (qualitative), research publications by the government or from opinion polls from organizations like Gallup, who often record voting intentions in the lead up to a general election.


Official statistics

Official statistics are a useful secondary quantitative source of data for sociologists. Many of these statistics are taken from research agencies or government publications. Although they may help contribute towards the overall picture, statistics must be treated with some caution.


      • Official statistics are easy to get hold of and give information relating to a wide range of social concerns.
      • They indicate obvious trends in social issues such as pregnancy and crime.
      • They can be used alongside primary sources of data to give a wider understanding of the area of enquiry.


  • Research techniques used may not be as reliable as those used by sociologists. Government statistics may also contain bias – for example, a government has a vested interest in reporting low unemployment rates.
  • There are a number of complex issues involved in the generation of these statistics which may render them inaccurate. Crime statistics, for example, tell us how much crime has been reported and does not account for unreported crime. The definition of criminal activity may also shift over time.