These are not best practices that I am outlining here. While they could be, it is finally dependent on the personal comfort of the individual doing the research.
At ISB I had opted for the Market Research elective, but attended all of one class before switching to another. (Not that it was a particularly intelligent choice, but nevertheless.) But that course was more about primary market research. The most important kind for a product manager. But secondary research has a critical role to play as well.
I have written previously about sources of secondary research that product managers can use to do secondary research on the cheap. In this post I would like to highlight the steps I typically take to do secondary research. It is still probably not perfect but using this thought model has helped me immensely in getting more out of my secondary research activities than previously.
List your Questions
This is the first step. Even before you worry about collecting data, list out the big questions that you want answers to as a result of this research. However, remember that this list is not supposed to be a writ in stone. As you move ahead with your research you might find answers to which you have no questions listed. It is then time to revisit the list of questions and update it. The benefit of this step is to give you a proper direction in your research so that you do not get lost in a maze of unrelated or unnecessary information.
Once you have the basic questions ready it is time for collecting data. Just collecting. Not reading. Not analyzing. Not summarizing. Just collecting. Its a personal experience that whenever I start reading through the data I get new questions and new thoughts that derail me from the primary research objectives. Also by concentrating on one task you will be more efficient in collecting data.
Analyze the data
Once you are satisfied with the quantum of collected data, you should begin analyzing the data. Read through each item with the questions you have already prepared in mind. Add answers to those questions as and when you find them. Or create new questions to justify answers you find.
Synthesize the analysis
This is the final step to the process. Synthesize the analysis into a coherent document, thought-paper or whatever you are comfortable with. If you are comfortable with the dump from the analysis step you might even choose to skip this step completely. However, if you still have unanswered questions in your list, you should go back to the data collection step if you still feel it is important to answer these questions.
I hope you find this process useful. Have I missed any thing here? Are there some better ways to do structured secondary research? Do let me know in the comments below.