Answering Research Questions Using an Existing Data Set

Main Article Content

Daniel M. Doolan Jennifer Winters Sahar Nouredini



It is often advisable for researchers to use an existing data set to answer research questions.  In particular, using an existing data set can help a researcher obtain results much more quickly, at a lower cost, and without exposing new research subjects to many of the potential harms associated with research participation.  However, the many researchers seeking to use an existing data set face a variety of challenges specific to this research methodology.  This article reviews some of the key differences associated with using an existing data set as compared with those conducting research by recruiting research subjects.  Advantages and disadvantages associated with the use of existing data sets are discussed as are ethical issues, strategies to obtain an optimal data set, and special considerations associated with this methodology.  Additionally, suggestions are given relevant to reporting results when conducting research using an existing data set or a “secondary analysis”.

Article Details

How to Cite
DOOLAN, Daniel M.; WINTERS, Jennifer; NOUREDINI, Sahar. Answering Research Questions Using an Existing Data Set. Medical Research Archives, [S.l.], v. 5, n. Issue 9, sep. 2017. ISSN 2375-1924. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 17 oct. 2017.
Secondary Analysis; Data Sets; Research Methodology; Research Techniques
Review Articles


1. Doolan, DM & Froelicher, ES. Answer New Research Questions: A Methodological Review. Research and Theory for Nursing Practice: An International Journal. 2009;23(3)203-15.

2. Doolan, DM, Stotts, NA, Benowitz, NL, Covinsky, KE, & Froelicher, ES. The Women’s Initiative for Nonsmoking (WINS) XI: Age-Related differences in smoking cessation responses among women with cardiovascular disease. The American Journal of Geriatric Cardiology. 2008;17(1)37-47.

3. Abeysekera, I. Secondary analysis of two environmental practice studies. Do empirical variables represent expressed theoretical constructs? Journal of Cleaner Production. 2014;79, 7-17.

4. Rice, HE, Englum, BR, Gulack, BC, et al. Use of patient registries and administrative datasets for the study of pediatric cancer. Pediatr Blood Cancer. 2015;62(9)1495-1500. doi:10.1002/pbc.25506.

5. Marler, JR. Secondary analysis of clinical trials-A cautionary note. Progress in Cardiovascular Disease. 2012;54(4)335-337. DOI: 10.1016/j.pcad.2011.09.006

6. Adams, J, Verbeek, H, & Zwakhalen, SG. The impact of organizational innovations in nursing homes on staff perceptions: A secondary data analysis. Journal of Nursing Scholarship. 2017;49(1), 54-62. doi:10.1111/jnu.12271

7. Algase, DL, Antonakos, C, Yao, L, Beattie, ER, Hong, GR, & Beel-Bates, CA. Are wandering and physically nonaggressive agitation equivalent? American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 2008;16(4) 293–299.

8. Blanchette, M, Cassidy, JD, Rivard, M, & Dionne, CE. Chiropractors' characteristics associated with their number of workers' compensation patients. Journal of The Canadian Chiropractic Association. 2015;59(3), 202-215.

9. Kopansky-Giles, D & Papadopoulos, C. Canadian chiropractic resources databank (CCRD): a profile of Canadian chiropractors. J Can Chiropr Association, 1997;41(3):155-191

10. Lee, KH, Boltz, M, Lee, H, & Algase, DL. Is an engaging or soothing environment associated with the psychological well-being of people with dementia in long-term care? Journal of Nursing Scholarship. 2017;49(2), 135-142. doi:10.1111/jnu.12263

11. Park, TW, Cheng, DM, Lloyd-Travaglini, CA, Bernstein, J, Palfai, TP, & Saitz, R. Changes in health outcomes as a function of abstinence and reduction in illicit psychoactive drug use: A prospective study in primary care. Addiction. 2015;110(9), 1476-1483. doi:10.1111/add.13020

12. Saitz, R, Palfai, TA, Cheng, DM, et al. Screening and brief intervention for drug use in primary care: the ASPIRE randomized clinical trial. JAMA: Journal Of The American Medical Association. 2014;312(5), 502-513. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.7862

13. Verbeek, H, Zwakhalen, SMG, van Rossum, E, et al. Dementia care redesigned: Effects of small-scale living facilities on residents, their family caregivers, and staff. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association. 2010;11(9), 662–670.

14. Westin, GF, Dias, AL, & Go, RS. Exploring big data in hematological malignancies: Challenges and opportunities. Current Hemotologic Malignancy Reports. 2016;11,271-279. doi: 10.1007/s11899-016-0331-4

15. The QSEN Institute. Quality and Safety Education for Nurses. Accessed August 1, 2017.

16. Bell, BA, Onwuegbuzie, AJ, Ferron, JM, Jiao, QG, Hibbard, ST, & Kromrey, JD. Use of design effects and sample weights in complex health survey data: A review of published articles using data from 3 commonly used adolescent health surveys. Research and Practice. 2012;102(7) 1399-1405.

Most read articles by the same author(s)

Obs.: This plugin requires at least one statistics/report plugin to be enabled. If your statistics plugins provide more than one metric then please also select a main metric on the admin's site settings page and/or on the journal manager's settings pages.