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Health and Social Care (Children and Young Adults)
Secondary analysis of qualitative data: a literature review

Researchers: Janet Heaton

Funder: Economic & Social Research Council

Duration: August 1999 to May 2000

Secondary analysis is used to describe various analytical practices that use pre-existing data either to investigate new research questions or to re-examine primary study questions for purposes of corroboration. While the secondary analysis of statistical data is an established and well-documented methodology, the re-use of qualitative data remains under-developed.

A literature review was conducted to describe and appraise the ways in which the methodology has been used in health and social care research, and to consider the implications for the future development of secondary analysis as a qualitative methodology.

Key Findings

  • Fifty-five studies were identified by the review, many originating from North America.
  • The majority of studies involved the re-use of researchers' own data sets from previous work.
  • Six different types of qualitative secondary analysis were identified based on variations in the purpose of the secondary analysis, the extent to which the secondary research question differed from that of the primary research, and differences in the number and type of data set re-used.
  • Appraisal of the studies highlighted epistemological issues concerning the compatibility of secondary analysis with some of the key tenets of qualitative research, such as the importance of knowledge of the context in which data were collected.
  • Evidence of methodological innovations was found, but poor reporting limited the evaluation of the conduct and quality of the studies.
  • Few studies reported whether or not informed consent for the secondary research was obtained.
  • The review considers the implications for the future conceptualisation, reportage and promotion of secondary analysis as a qualitative methodology, and highlights areas for further research.


Show Abstract...


Secondary analysis of qualitative data, 2008
Heaton, J. in P. Alasuutari, L. Bickman and J. Brannen (eds.) The Handbook of Social Research Methods, Sage.
Secondary analysis of qualitative data: an overview, 2008
Heaton, J., Historical Social Research, 33, 3, 33-45.

Reworking qualitative data, 2004
Heaton, J., Sage.

Secondary analysis of qualitative data, 2003
Heaton, J., pp 285-288 in R. Miller and J. Brewer (eds.) The A-Z of Social Research, Sage.

Secondary analysis of qualitative data, 1998
Heaton, J., Social Research Update, 22.

Further publications

Heaton, J. (1998) 'Secondary analysis of qualitative data', Social Research Update, 22 [available online]

Heaton, J. (2000) Secondary analysis of qualitative data: a review of the literature, Full Research report ESRC 1752 (8.00), Social Policy Resarch Unit, University of York

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