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Home arrow Library of Research Articles arrow Desk Research arrow How to Get Information for Next to Nothing
How to Get Information for Next to Nothing PDF Print E-mail
Written by Paul Hague   
07 Feb 2006

HOW TO GET INFORMATION FOR NEXT TO NOTHING, Written By Paul Hague, Managing Director of B2B International Ltd.


There is no point reinventing a wheel and there are many metaphorical wheels available to the market researcher. The expert desk researcher can quickly and inexpensively dig out data from a wide variety of sources to answer many of the questions that have already been asked.  So, why do we spend so much on primary research?  The reason, very often, is because we don’t know how to locate the information.  Or it may be information that is not in quite the shape we require and it escapes our notice that with a little bit of reworking, it could be very useful.  It could be dated and we need something more current.  Sometimes, desk research seems too easy.  A big decision surely needs a lot of money spending on it and merits an original piece of research?  It is not so.  Information that is in the public domain has at least been subjected to the test of public scrutiny.  This is not to say that it will definitely be correct, but it could have been challenged and that may in itself help the researcher judge its accuracy.

I once ran a training course which in the first instance was called simply “desk research”.  There were very few takers.  It seems such a boring subject.  When the course was renamed, “how to get information for next to nothing” it became over-subscribed and has been run many times.  Desk research is information that costs next to nothing.  It sits underneath our noses.  It can easily be carried out by the do-it-yourself researcher.  Moreover, for the 'do your own' researcher, desk research is a very practical tool - in most cases he or she is not at any disadvantage compared to the resources of a professional agency.  A couple of days of desk research have a very big yield and the benefits of spending much more time searching, quickly diminish.

Desk research is a term that is used loosely and it generally refers to the collection of secondary data or that which has already been collected.  To most people it suggests published reports and statistics and these are certainly important sources.  In the context of this chapter the term is widened to include all sources of information that do not involve a field survey and, in addition to the more traditional sources, this could include speaking to someone at a trade association or carrying out an interview with an expert. 


Until the advent of the Internet and on-line databases, access to libraries was the only important resource needed to carry out desk research.  Despite the marvels of the information highway, some data are easier to access from hard copy and off the library shelves.  Indeed, the Internet for all its value is still not as comprehensive in its coverage of statistical data as it is in product and company information.  The desk researcher should acquaint him or herself with the nearest commercial library.

All major cities have at least one good municipal or university library and few researchers will be more than an hour's travel from such a resource.  From time to time the reference books in the main body of the library will be useful but for the most part, it is the commercial section which is of greatest interest. 

There are also some important national libraries open to a desk researcher including a range of services from the British Library( ) and two important government resources: the Central Statistical Office ( ) and the DTI Export Marketing Information Centre ( ), a major source of international market research.  There are also very many specialist libraries run by industry bodies and others; these can best be located through ASLIB ( ).


Before exploring some of the popular sources of information to market researchers, it is worth pointing out that there are some useful “sources of sources”.  These range from inexpensive books such as How to Find Information - Business : A Guide to Searching in Published Sources (How to Find Series) by Nigel Spencer (available from through to the much more expensive Croner's A-Z of Business Information Sources or Croner's European Business Information Sources ( ( ).  Croner’s A-Z lists some of the best Web sources and the European guide provides a starting point for gathering information from European countries.  Both are also available on CD-ROM.
There are also other general guides which can be used to track down sources of data including those covering published research, the press, directories and statistics examples of all of these have been mentioned above.  For international markets there are comparable 'sources of sources' including European Directory of Marketing Information Sources ( ) and Directory of International Sources of Business Information ( ).  Some or all of these 'sources of sources' will be found in a good library together with other indexes, eg Research Index which lists articles published in the press.  The library's own cataloguing and indexing systems also provide a means of systematically searching out data.  With experience, sources likely to be relevant to a particular field will become familiar and provide short cuts, although a full search technique is also recommended.

Encyclopedias are useful storehouses of information for the market researcher, either to check out a technical issue or to obtain a closer definition of the subject and its associated terminology.  Now that Encyclopedia Britannica is on line ( it has become universally accessible for browsing alphabetically, by subject, or for a quick word search.

The United States has led the field in the collection and dissemination of business information for many years. The Central Intelligence Agency use their expertise on our behalf to bring together basic intelligence which began as the National Intelligence Survey and is now an on-line Factbook that can be very easily examined country by country (  The whole database can be downloaded though this requires either considerable patience or a broad bandwidth connection. Virtually every country in the world is covered .  The Factfile gives geographical statistics of countries, the demographic breakdown of their population, economic overviews (in some detail), transportation, government, and maps galore.  Another route to similar information is

Last Updated ( 07 Feb 2006 )


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