Q: Can I do a SWOT analysis research only with secondary data?

Detailed Question -

I am doing my first research as a tourism management student. Presently, we can't go out and collect primary data due to the COVID-19 situation. So, I have chosen a topic where I have decided to go with a SWOT analysis, but only with secondary data. Is this possible [fine]? My focus is on strategic development of tourism in my country.

2 Answers to this question

Yes, a lot of researchers have switched to secondary research due to the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 crisis. Anyhow, we have referred your query to our experimental design expert. We shall get back to you once they provide a response. For now, you may refer to these related resources:

Until we get back…


And here’s the response from our expert…

Secondary data seems to have got a bad press but does not deserve it, whereas metadata sounds impressive although it is helpful mainly in retrieving data. That said, it all depends on the quality of secondary data. Take such prestigious publications as the Annual Reviews and Cochrane Reviews – both build on secondary data. Each Cochrane Review is a systematic review that “attempts to identify, appraise and synthesize all the empirical evidence that meets pre-specified eligibility criteria to answer a specific research question.”

SWOT analysis demands data in large quantities, and it is more likely that at least some of those data will be secondary. Remember that all data are not equal, just as a citation in a paper published in, say, Nature or PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA) is not the same as that in a paper published in a predatory journal.

To avoid bias and to help in making a SWOT analysis more valid, it is best to define some criteria in advance as quality control measures. For instance, one criterion can be recency: say you would include only data collected during the past n years. Another can be the source: you’d include only data published in or available from reliable sources such as reputable, peer-reviewed journals or first-hand reports from reputable agencies. A third can be the sampling method: you’d go for only those results, where applicable, based either on the entire population or a scientifically selected sample of it.

Note: As you gather secondary data and begin examining it, you may notice contradictions, in which case you will need to see how to account for them and decide which is a more trustworthy version.

As must be apparent by now, it all depends on the entity that is being subjected to SWOT analysis. So long as the secondary data are from credible sources and selected without bias to support any predetermined conclusion (cherry picking, in other words), you can certainly carry out a SWOT analysis and, what’s more important, draw valid conclusions from it even if they are based only on secondary data.

For further expert perspectives on qualitative research and experimental design, you may check out these resources:

Hope that helps. All the best for your first research!