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Advantages and disadvantages of using desk-based research

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using desk-based research? Suggest what the potential could be for researching the topic of staff development and retention using desk-based methods. The methods may include literature reviewing, statistical analysis and documentary analysis. Why might you need to follow this research exercise up with primary data collection?



Table of Contents

The Practicability of Desk Based Research. 3

Introduction. 3

Abstract 3

The Advantages of Desk Based Research. 4

Ease of Access to Information. 4

Relatively Cheap to Acquire. 4

Desk-based Research May answer the Research Question(s) 5

Generating New Insights. 5

The Disadvantages of Desk Based Research. 6

Inappropriateness of Data. 6

Lack of Specificity to Researcher’s Needs. 6

Possibility of Incomplete Information. 6

The Potential for researching the topic of Staff Development and Retention using Desk Based Research. 7

The Significance of Conducting Desk Based Research Prior to Primary Data Collection. 8

Conclusions. 9

Bibliography. 11



The Practicability of Desk Based Research


Desk-based research is the most extensively used data collection method. It involves the researcher retrieving data by accessing information that has already been collected (Denscombe, 2010, p 7). The information is either found through distributors of primary research or the originator of the primary research. Houy, Fettke, & Loos, (2010, p 620) define primary research, as the practical seeking of first-hand information through experiments, observations and other primary data collection methods. Conversely, Strang, (2015, p 7) sees desk-based research as majorly dependent on the utility of third-party sources such as websites, records, articles in newspapers, reports, journal articles, etc. The dependability of using desk-based research has grown owing to some of the basic advantages associated with it (McNeill, 2010, p 9). However, some researchers denounce the use of desk-based research citing the demerits it comes with. When researching the topic of staff development and retention, for instance, desk-based research may be employed basing on its advantages. On the contrary, the use of desk-based research on the same topic can be criticized heavily owing to the disadvantages.


This paper therefore, explores the advantages and disadvantages of desk-based research. Subsequently, suggestions are made on the potential of using desk-based research to research the topic of staff development and retention. The essay also discusses the need to conduct desk-based research prior to primary research. To arrive at conclusions case analysis and the use of illustrations are used in regards to the discussion topic.

The Advantages of Desk Based Research

Ease of Access to Information

Prescot (2008) notes that the greatest advantage of using desk-based research is that information can be easily accessed. There are vast amounts of literature that have been published in journals, newspapers as well as on the internet about different topics of interest. Furthermore, online databases have made access to this kind of literature much easier. Researchers can simply log onto the internet and view all the relevant information about the topic of discussion. Access to desk-based sources is considerably open offering a lot of convenience and flexibility to researchers (McNeill, 2010, p 17). The number of studies, records, statistics, documentaries, etc. conducted on different topics is profound. Convenience is thus, a significant merit of desk-based research.

Relatively Cheap to Acquire

Noticeably, most desk-based sources are open and free to viewing by anybody. Others, such as research reports published online may attract a small fee. This implies that valuable information on specific topics can be retrieved through this method for little or no cost (Thomas, Nelson & Silverman, 2015, p 11). Comparatively, if the researcher has to conduct the research themselves it becomes relatively expensive and costlier compared to simply using already published information (Prescot, 2008). More significantly, cheap refers to the cost of acquiring those sources that have a price tag. Otherwise, most desk-based data is free and open to all those in need.

Desk-based Research May answer the Research Question(s)

In most cases, researchers use desk-based researches prior to primary data collection to enable them align the focus of the study to the extensive primary research. While retrieving desk-based information, the researcher may recognize that the information being sought through primary research has been uncovered or is presented by the desk-based sources. Denscombe, (2010, p 13) acknowledges that this might eliminate the expenses and resources involved in conducting their primary research. Furthermore, if it happens this way, it could save the researcher a lot of time that could be used in primary research. Time, in research contexts, is always a crucial aspect. It requires precision to effectively schedule activities as well as plan for the conduct of the research (Strang, 2015, p 4). Thus, desk-based research could answer the research questions in addition to accomplishing the research purpose. Hence, time saving is another critical indirect advantage of desk-based research.Generating New Insights

Retrieving desk-based data always involves an analysis of previous literature and statistics. This kind of re-analysis can lead to new discoveries (Smith, 2008, p 4). On the other hand, the researcher can use this to clarify their research question(s). Notably, in most cases, sources are used to align the focus of the research through clarification and the inclusions of any significant information that might have been left out (Prescot, 2008). When this is done, the researcher ascertains that the primary research will be all inclusive and capture all the relevant aspects related to the research. Furthermore, desk-based research equips the researcher with more knowledge and insight. This can be used to enhance precision and meticulousness during the primary research.

The Disadvantages of Desk Based Research

Inappropriateness of Data

Primary data is always collected to answer a specific research question(s) or simply meet specific objectives. This implies researchers conduct primary research with concrete ideas in their minds (Prescot, 2008). Despite the vastness and quantity of desk-based information, quality and appropriateness is not always guaranteed. For instance, the information sought from a desk-based source may be about a problem that occurred 20 years ago when the current research aims at investigating a similar problem but in the present setting. Validity and reliability of desk-based sources may be compromised if the literature reviewed answers a particular research question partially (Patzer, 2007, p 7). Therefore, if the quality of information retrieved from desk-based sources is not guaranteed, then the utility of desk-based research becomes questionable.

Lack of Specificity to Researcher’s Needs

Most desk-based sources are always presented in a manner that does not meet the needs of the researcher in a precise way. Furthermore, the scope and nature of the reviewed literature, statistics and or documentary may not be relevant to the researchers needs ( For instance, if the researcher seeks to determine means of enhancing workplace diversity, they expect that any desk-based source to be used has a direct relation to the topic of research (Ghauri, 2005, p 15). However, if a desk-based source only has information on the nature of workplace diversity, then it implies that the researcher’s needs have not been precisely met. Lack of specificity and related irrelevance makes the use desk-based sources dubious and difficult.

Possibility of Incomplete Information

Some studies only offer free access to part and/or summaries of their research. Full access to these studies is denied for individuals to pay first. Prescot, (2008) agrees that suppliers of such studies charge high fees for such reports making it hard to access. Full versions of such reports may contain valuable information that could be helpful to the researcher. Such denials of the full version of desk-based text make desk-based research unfavorable. Although there is no basis for charging such a high fee or charging a fee in the first place, it is intricate to depend on such desk-based research sources.

The Potential for researching the topic of Staff Development and Retention using Desk Based Research

Staff development and retention is a wide topic. There are several questions that could emanate from this topic given the relationship it has with various workplace environment features. Saunders and his colleagues (2011, p 20) contend that desk-based research allows the researcher access to a vast amount of information that either directly or indirectly relates to the topic of research. First and foremost, staff development and retention is a common topic applicable to most firms and organizations. Aghazadeh, (1999, p 35) suggests that workplaces always seek to reduce staff turnover by implementing strategic employee development procedures and considerable staff retention mechanisms. Thus, the availability of information related to this topic is guaranteed. Statistics, figures, numbers, and documentaries depict different notions that related to the topic.

Desk-based research allows the researcher to save quite a significant amount of resources in conducting primary data. Conspicuously, School, (2013, p 6) suggests that staff development and retention applies to all workplace situations. The number of workplaces is thus, too large and would attract a lot of resources including time. Otherwise, it could be susceptible to generalization and conclusion issues. Therefore, it is most probable that the utility of desk-based research will not only lay the basis for the primary research but, also save the researcher significant resources. More significantly, desk-based research allows the researcher to clarify issues related to the study question(s) while reviewing desk-based information (Houy, Fettke, & Loos, (2010, p 623). In essence, if the study question is ‘How to develop and retain staff’, a review of the desk-based sources could facilitate the clarity of the questions to change to; ‘The best cost-effective strategy to develop and retain staff’. This implies that indeed desk based research is practical in researching the topic.

As noted earlier, the issue of staff development and retention applies to all workplace environments. This implies that information retrieved from desk-based sources can be generalized on a high level. Notably, being an employee does not change. The employee needs always remain the same throughout. School, (2013, p 10) proposes that jobs change, but people do not change. Thus, desk-based research is relatively not be limited to time. Despite how old a book or an article about staff development and retention can be, the information retrieved can apply to different workplace environments. In essence, this emphasizes the fact that desk-based research may answer the research question. This way it would have saved time and resources that could have been used in primary research. Additionally, in this case, it is easy to complement, mitigate and manage the weaknesses associated with desk based research (Saunders, et al., 2011, p 65). Therefore, desk-based research is prospectively a successful method of researching the topic of staff development and retention.

The Significance of Conducting Desk Based Research Prior to Primary Data Collection

Kothari (2001, p 67) suggests that indeed there are several reasons why the researcher might need to follow the desk-based research exercise up with primary data collection. Predominantly, primary data collection will allow the researcher to test the hypothesis made/established from the desk-based sources (Zikmund,et al., 2013, p 46). As usual, desk-based data allows the researcher to determine the research variables and also come up with a research hypothesis. The primary data collection procedure precedes the data analysis phase of the study that is majorly aimed at testing the hypothesis as well as measuring the correlation between the research variables (

Testing the hypothesis refers to confirming if the findings from previous research are true, false or partially related to the current findings. Kothari, (2001, p 71) purports that another reason desk-based research precedes primary data collection is the fact that it allows the researcher to align the data collection procedures to the needs of the study. For instance, it ensures that the data collection procedures are appropriate and retrieve information that is relevant to the topic of study. Data collection is a crucial phase of research and requires that data retrieved be directly related to the topic and representative of the study population.

Primary data collection also allows the researcher to fill up any gaps that might have been left in the desk-based sources. It is evident and often to have studies that have missing information that was not deliberately left out, but was not available at that particular time. This makes up gaps in studies. Gaps may also refer to the areas where previous researchers recommended an expanded future research scope (Kothari, 2001, p 31). Therefore, primary data collection after desk-based research allows one to effectively fill both intrinsic and extrinsic gaps identified in the desk-based sources. All the same, it is a prudent research practice to precede primary data collection with desk-based research. It gives the researcher a clear view of what is required of him/her in the conduct of the research. Additional insight makes the research conduct even better in line with the successful accomplishment of the study purpose.


In summary, the use of desk-based research offers the researcher quite a significant number of merits. The merits may apply either partially or wholly to the overall primary research. It is advisable for researchers to enhance the use of desk-based sources taking into account the potency associated with it. However, it is also recommendable for researchers to identify the disadvantages associated with the use of desk-based data. This will enable them to mitigate and manage the demerits. Once they have been complemented, the researcher can go ahead and use them as a research or prior to the primary research.

The practicability of using desk-based research in researching the topic of staff development and retention is defined by these advantages. Desk-based research allows the researcher to easily generalize and make conclusions out of the desk-based sources. On the other hand, it saves time and resources that would have been used in primary research. Lastly, desk-based research precedes primary data collection for a number of reasons. These include; it assists in hypothesis testing, measuring of research variables, establishing conformity, substantiating facts and enlightening the researchers. Furthermore, it allows the researcher to fill in gaps left by previous studies.



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