An illustration of a person at a desktop computer representing desk research.

What Is Desk Research? Meaning, Methodology, Examples

Apr 4, 2024

10 min. read

Research in the digital age takes many shapes and forms. There are traditional methods that collect first-hand data via testing, focus groups, interviews, and proprietary data. And then there are ways to tap into the time and effort others have put into research, playing “armchair detective” by conducting desk research .

Desk research gives you a shortcut to insights by pulling data from other resources, which is crucial for understanding the customer journey . It takes less time and is more cost-effective compared to conducting primary market research . Most importantly, it can give you the consumer insights you need to make important business decisions.

Let’s explore the official desk research definition along with types of desk research, methodologies, examples, and how to do desk research effectively.

Desk Research Meaning: What is Desk Research?

Advantages and limitations of desk research, desk research methodology and methods, how to conduct desk research effectively, best practices for desk research, applications of desk research, how to conduct desk research with meltwater.

Desk Research definition: Desk research, also known as secondary research or complementary research , involves gathering information and data from existing sources, such as books, journals, articles, websites, reports, and other published materials. Users analyze and synthesize information from already available information.

Companies use desk research at the onset of a project to gain a better understanding of a topic, identify knowledge gaps, and inform the next stages of research. It can also supplement original findings and provide context and background information.

Advantages of Desk ResearchLimitations of Desk Research
Faster insights with done-for-you researchPotential bias
Cost-effectiveLack of control over types and methods of data collection
Diverse types of secondary research/plenty of data to pull fromData quality could be questionable

Desk research gives marketers attractive advantages over traditional primary research, but it’s not without its shortcomings. Let’s explore these in more detail.

Desk research advantages

  • Quick insights. Conducting interviews, focus groups, panels, and tests can take weeks or even months, along with additional time to analyze your findings. With desk research, you can pull from existing information to gain similar results in less time.
  • Cost-effectiveness. Desk market research is usually less expensive than primary research because it requires less time and fewer resources. You don’t have to recruit participants or administer surveys, for example.
  • Accessibility. There’s a world of data out there ready for you to leverage, including online databases, research studies, libraries, and archives.
  • Diverse sources. Desk market research doesn’t limit you to one information source. You can use a combination of sources to gain a comprehensive overview of a topic.

Want to see how Meltwater can supercharge your market research efforts? Simply fill out the form at the bottom of this post and we'll be in touch.

Desk research limitations 

  • Data quality. Marketers don’t know how reliable or valid the data is, which is why it’s important to choose your sources carefully. Only use data from credible sources, ideally ones that do not have a financial interest in the data’s findings.
  • Less control. Users are at the mercy of the data that’s available and cannot tailor it to their needs. There’s no opportunity to ask follow-up questions or address specific research needs.
  • Potential bias. Some sources may include biased findings and/or outdated information, which can lead to inaccurate conclusions. Users can mitigate the risk of bias by relying only on credible sources or corroborating evidence with multiple sources.

Desk research typically involves multiple sources and processes to gain a comprehensive understanding of an idea. There are two main desk methodologies: qualitative research and quantitative research .

  • Qualitative research refers to analyzing existing data (e.g., interviews, surveys, observations) to gain insights into people's behaviors, motivations, and opinions. This method delves deeper into the context and meaning behind the data.
  • Quantitative research refers to analyzing and interpreting numerical data to draw conclusions and make predictions. This involves quantifying patterns and trends to find relationships between variables.

Both desk research methodologies use a variety of methods to find and analyze data and make decisions.

Examples of desk research methods include but are not limited to:

  • Literature review. Analyze findings from various types of literature, including medical journals, studies, academic papers, books, articles, online publications, and government agencies.
  • Competitor analysis . Learn more about the products, services, and strategies of your competitors, including identifying their strengths and weaknesses, market gaps, and overall sentiment.
  • Social listening . Discover trending topics and sentiments on social media channels to learn more about your target audience and brand health.
  • Consumer intelligence . Understand your audience based on digital behaviors, triggers, web usage patterns, and interests.
  • Market research . Analyze market reports, industry trends, demographics, and consumer buying patterns to identify market opportunities and strengthen your positioning.

Now let’s look at how to use these methods to their full potential.

While desk research techniques can vary, they all follow a similar formula. Here’s how you can conduct desk research effectively, even if it’s your first time.

woman conducting desk research effectively

1. Define your objective

Desk research starts with a specific question you want to answer. 

In marketing , your objective might be to:

  • Learn about Gen Z buying behaviors for home goods
  • Gauge the effectiveness of influencer marketing for food brands
  • Understand the pain points of your competitor’s customers

These questions can help you find credible sources that can provide answers.

2. Choose reliable data sources

Based on your objectives, start collecting secondary data sources that have done the heavy lifting for you. Examples include:

  • Market reports (often available as gated assets from research companies)
  • Trade publications
  • Academic journals
  • Company websites
  • Government publications and data
  • Online databases and resources, such as Google Scholar 
  • Secondary research companies or market research tools like Meltwater and Linkfluence
  • Online blogs, articles, case studies, and white papers from credible sources

In many cases, you’ll use a combination of these source types to gain a thorough answer to your question.

3. Start gathering evidence

Go through your source materials to start answering your question. This is usually the most time-intensive part of desk research; you’ll need to extract insights and do some fact-checking to trust those insights.

One of your top priorities in this step is to use reliable sources. Here are some ways you can evaluate sources to use in your desk research:

  • Consider the authority and reputation of the source (e.g., do they have expertise in your subject)
  • Check whether the content is sponsored, which could indicate bias
  • Assess whether the data is current
  • Evaluate the publisher’s peer review processes , if applicable
  • Review the content’s citations and references
  • Seek consensus among multiple sources
  • Use sources with built-in credibility, such as .gov or .edu sites or well-known medical and academic journals

If your source materials have supporting elements, such as infographics, charts, or graphs, include those with your desk research.

4. Cross-reference your findings with other sources

For desk research to be effective, you need to be able to trust the data you find. One way to build trust is to cross-reference your findings with other sources. 

analyzing data resulting from desk research

For instance, you might see who else is citing the same sources you are in their research. If there are reputable companies using those same sources, you might feel they’re more credible compared to a random internet fact that lacks supporting evidence. 

5. Draw your conclusions & document the results

Organize and synthesize your findings in a way that makes sense for your objectives. Consider your stakeholders and why the information is important.

For example, the way you share your research with an internal team might have a different structure and tone compared to a client-facing document.

Bonus tip: Include a list of sources with your documentation to build credibility in your findings. 

When conducting desk research, follow these best practices to ensure a reliable and helpful outcome.

Organize and manage your research data

It’s helpful to have a system to organize your research data. This way, you can easily go back to review sources or share information with others. Spreadsheets, databases, and platforms like Meltwater for market research are great options to keep your desk research in one place.

Create actionable recommendations

It’s not enough to state your findings; make sure others know why the data matters. Share the data along with your conclusions and recommendations for what to do next.

Remember, desk research is about decision-making, not the data itself.

Document your sources

Whether you choose to share your sources or not, it’s best practice to document your sources for your own records. This makes it easier to provide evidence if someone asks for it or to look back at your research if you have additional questions.

Now for the big question: How can marketers apply desk research to their day-to-day tasks?

Try these desk research examples to power your marketing efforts.

Use desk research for market intelligence

Markets, preferences, and buying habits change over time, and marketers need to stay up to date on their industries. Desk research can provide market intelligence insights, including new competitors, trends, and audience segments that may impact your business.

Apply desk research in competitive analysis

Desk research can help you identify your true competitors and provide more context about their strengths and weaknesses. Marketers can use this intel to improve their positioning and messaging. For instance, a competitor’s weak spot might be something your company does well, and you can emphasize this area in your messaging.

Include desk research in content strategy and audience analysis

Desk research can support consumer intelligence by helping you define various audience segments and how to market to them. These insights can help you develop content and creative assets on the right topics and in the right formats, as well as share them in the best channels to reach your audience.

Emerging technologies like Meltwater's integrated suite of solutions have a strong impact on desk research, helping you streamline how you find and vet data to support your desired topics.

Using a combination of data science, AI, and market research expertise, Meltwater offers the largest media database of its kind to help marketers learn more about their audience and how to connect with them. Millions of real-time data points cover all niches, topics, and industries, giving you the on-demand insights you need.

Our clients use Meltwater for desk research to measure audience sentiment and identify audience segments as well as to conduct competitor analysis , social listening , and brand monitoring , all of which benefit from real-time data. 

Learn more about how you can leverage Meltwater as a research solution when you request a demo by filling out the form below:

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Desk Research: What it is, Tips & Examples

Desk Research

What is desk research?

Desk research is a type of research that is based on the material published in reports and similar documents that are available in public libraries, websites, data obtained from surveys already carried out, etc. Some organizations also store data that can be used for research purposes.

It is a research method that involves the use of existing data. These are collected and summarized to increase the overall effectiveness of the investigation.

Secondary research is much more cost-effective than primary research , as it uses existing data, unlike primary research, in which data is collected first-hand by organizations, companies, or may employ a third party to obtain the data in your name.

LEARN ABOUT: Data Management Framework

Desk research examples

Being a cost-effective method, desk research is a popular choice for businesses and organizations as not everyone can pay large sums of money to conduct research and collect data. That is why it’s also called “ documentary research “.

Here are some more common secondary research methods and examples:

1. Data available on the Internet: One of the most popular ways to collect data for desk research is through the Internet. The information is available and can be downloaded with just one click.

This data is practically free or you may have to pay a negligible amount for it. Websites have a lot of information that companies or organizations can use to meet their research needs. However, you need to consider a reliable website to collect information.

2. Government and non-government agencies: Data for secondary research can also be collected from some government and non-government agencies. There will always be valuable and relevant data that companies or organizations can use.

3. Public libraries: Public libraries are another good source to search for data by doing desk research. They have copies of important research that has been done before. They are a store of documents from which relevant information can be extracted.

The services offered at these public libraries vary. Most often, they have a huge collection of government publications with market statistics, a large collection of business directories, and newsletters.

4. Educational Institutions: The importance of collecting data from educational institutions for secondary research is often overlooked. However, more research is done in colleges and universities than in any other business sector.

The data collected by universities is mainly used for primary research. However, companies or organizations can go to educational institutions and request data.

5. Sources of business information: Newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations are a great source of data for desk research. These sources have first-hand information on economic developments, the political agenda, the market, demographic segmentation and similar topics.

Companies or organizations can request to obtain the most relevant data for their study. Not only do they have the opportunity to identify your potential customers, but they can also learn the ways to promote their products or services through these sources, as they have a broader scope.

Differences between primary research and Desk Research

Primary research Secondary research
Research is carried out first-hand to obtain data. The researcher “owns” the collected data. The research is based on data collected from previous research.
Primary research is based on raw data. Secondary research is based on proven data that is previously analyzed and filtered.
The data collected is adjusted to the needs of a researcher, it is personalized. Data is collected based on the absolute needs of organizations or companies. The data may or may not be in accordance with the requirement of a researcher.
The researcher is deeply involved in data collection. Unlike primary research, secondary research is quick and easy. Its aim is to achieve a broader understanding of the subject.
Primary research is an expensive and time-consuming process to collect and analyze the data. Secondary research is a quick process, as the data is available. The researcher must know where to explore to obtain the most appropriate data.

How to do a desk research

These are the steps to follow to conduct a desk investigation:

desk research steps

  • Identify the research topic: Before you begin, identify the topic you need to research. Once done, make a list of the attributes of the research and its purpose.
  • Identify research sources: Subsequently, explain the sources of information that will provide you with the most relevant data applicable to your research.
  • Collect existing data: Once the sources of information collection have been narrowed, check to see if previous data is available that is closely related to the topic. They can be obtained from various sources, such as newspapers, public libraries, government and non-government agencies, etc.
  • Combine and compare: Once the data is collected, combine and compare it so that the information is not duplicated and put it together in an accessible format. Make sure to collect data from authentic sources so you don’t get in the way of your investigation.
  • Analyze data: Analyze the data that is collected and identify if all the questions have been answered. If not, repeat the process to dig deeper into practical ideas.
  • Most of the information is secondary research and readily available. There are many sources from which the data you need can be collected and used, as opposed to primary research, where data must be collected from scratch.
  • It is a less expensive and time-consuming process, as the required data is readily available and does not cost much if it is extracted from authentic sources.
  • The data that is collected through secondary or desktop research gives organizations or companies an idea about the effectiveness of primary research. Thus, a hypothesis can be formed and the cost of conducting the primary research can be evaluated.
  • Doing desk research is faster due to the availability of data. It can be completed in a few weeks, depending on the objective of the companies or the scale of the data required.


  • Although the data is readily available, the credibility and authenticity of the available information must be assessed.
  • Not all secondary data resources offer the latest reports and statistics. Even when they are accurate, they may not be up to date.

Desk research is a very popular research method, because it uses existing and reliable data that can be easily obtained. This is a great benefit for businesses and organizations as it increases the effectiveness of the investigation.

QuestionPro provides the best market research platform to uncover complex insights that can propel your business to the forefront of your industry.



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  • Desk Research: Definition, Types, Application, Pros & Cons

Moradeke Owa

If you are looking for a way to conduct a research study while optimizing your resources, desk research is a great option. Desk research uses existing data from various sources, such as books, articles, websites, and databases, to answer your research questions. 

Let’s explore desk research methods and tips to help you select the one for your research.

What Is Desk Research?

Desk research, also known as secondary research or documentary research, is a type of research that relies on data that has already been collected and published by others. Its data sources include public libraries, websites, reports, surveys, journals, newspapers, magazines, books, podcasts, videos, and other sources. 

When performing desk research, you are not gathering new information from primary sources such as interviews, observations, experiments, or surveys. The information gathered will then be used to make informed decisions.

The most common use cases for desk research are market research , consumer behavior , industry trends , and competitor analysis .

How Is Desk Research Used?

Here are the most common use cases for desk research:

  • Exploring a new topic or problem
  • Identifying existing knowledge gaps
  • Reviewing the literature on a specific subject
  • Finding relevant data and statistics
  • Analyzing trends and patterns
  • Evaluating competitors and market trends
  • Supporting or challenging hypotheses
  • Validating or complementing primary research

Types of Desk Research Methods

There are two main types of desk research methods: qualitative and quantitative. 

  • Qualitative Desk Research 

Analyzing non-numerical data, such as texts, images, audio, or video. Here are some examples of qualitative desk research methods:

Content analysis – Examining the content and meaning of texts, such as articles, books, reports, or social media posts. It uses data to help you identify themes, patterns, opinions, attitudes, emotions, or biases.

Discourse analysis – Studying the use of language and communication in texts, such as speeches, interviews, conversations, or documents. It helps you understand how language shapes reality, influences behavior, constructs identities, creates power relations, and more.

Narrative analysis – Analyzing the stories and narratives that people tell in texts, such as biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, or testimonials. This allows you to explore how people make sense of their experiences, express their emotions, construct their identities, or cope with challenges.

  • Quantitative Desk Research

Analyzing numerical data, such as statistics, graphs, charts, or tables. 

Here are common examples of quantitative desk research methods:

Statistical analysis : This method involves applying mathematical techniques and tools to numerical data, such as percentages ratios, averages, correlations, or regressions.

You can use statistical analysis to measure, describe, compare, or test relationships in the data.

Meta-analysis : Combining and synthesizing the results of multiple studies on a similar topic or question. Meta-analysis can help you increase the sample size, reduce the margin of error, or identify common findings or discrepancies in data.

Trend analysis : This method involves examining the changes and developments in numerical data over time, such as sales, profits, prices, or market share. It helps you identify patterns, cycles, fluctuations, or anomalies. 

Examples of Desk Research

Here are some real-life examples of desk research questions:

  • What are the current trends and challenges in the fintech industry?
  • How do Gen Z consumers perceive money and financial services?
  • What are the best practices for conducting concept testing for a new fintech product?
  • Documentary on World War II and its effect on Austria as a country

You can use the secondary data sources listed below to answer these questions:

Industry reports and publications

  • Market research surveys and studies
  • Academic journals and papers
  • News articles and blogs
  • Podcasts and videos
  • Social media posts and reviews
  • Government and non-government agencies

How to Choose the Best Type of Desk Research

The main factors for selecting a desk research method are:

  • Research objective and question
  • Budget and deadlines
  • Data sources availability and accessibility.
  • Quality and reliability of data sources
  • Your data analysis skills

Let’s say your research question requires an in-depth analysis of a particular topic, a literature review may be the best method. But if the research question requires analysis of large data sets, you can use trend analysis.

Differences Between Primary Research and Desk Research

The main difference between primary research and desk research is the source of data. Primary research uses data that is collected directly from the respondents or participants of the study. Desk research uses data that is collected by someone else for a different purpose.

Another key difference is the cost and time involved. Primary research is usually more expensive, time-consuming, and resource-intensive than desk research. However, it can also provide you with more specific, accurate, and actionable data that is tailored to your research goal and question.

The best practice is to use desk-based research before primary research; it refines the scope of the work and helps you optimize resources.

Read Also – Primary vs Secondary Research Methods: 15 Key Differences

How to Conduct a Desk Research

Here are the four main steps to conduct desk research:

  • Define Research Goal and Question

What do you want to achieve with your desk research? What problem do you want to solve or what opportunity do you want to explore? What specific question do you want to answer with your desk research?

  • Identify and Evaluate Data Sources

Where can you find relevant data for your desk research? How relevant and current are the data sources for your research? How consistent and comparable are they with each other? 

You can evaluate your data sources based on factors such as- 

– Authority: Who is the author or publisher of the data source? What are their credentials and reputation? Are they experts or credible sources on the topic?

– Accuracy: How accurate and precise is the data source? Does it contain any errors or mistakes? Is it supported by evidence or references?

– Objectivity: How objective and unbiased is the data source? Does it present facts or opinions? Does it have any hidden agenda or motive?

– Coverage: How comprehensive and complete is the data source? Does it cover all aspects of your topic? Does it provide enough depth and detail?

– Currency: How current and up-to-date is the data source? When was it published or updated? Is it still relevant to your topic?

  • Collect and Analyze Your Data

How can you collect your data efficiently and effectively? What tools or techniques can you use to organize and analyze your data? How can you interpret your data with your research goal and question?

  • Present and Report Your Findings

How can you communicate your findings clearly and convincingly? What format or medium can you use to accurately record your findings?

You can use spreadsheets, presentation slides, charts, infographics, and more.

Advantages of Desk Research

  • Cost Effective

It is cheaper and faster than primary research, you don’t have to collect new data or report them. You can simply analyze and leverage your findings to make deductions.

  • Prevents Effort Duplication

Desk research provides you with a broad and thorough overview of the research topic and related issues. This helps to avoid duplication of efforts and resources by using existing data.

  • Improves Data Validity

Using desk research, you can compare and contrast various perspectives and opinions on the same topic. This enhances the credibility and validity of your research by referencing authoritative sources.

  • Identify Data Trends and Patterns

 It helps you to identify new trends and patterns in the data that may not be obvious from primary research. This can help you see knowledge and research gaps to offer more effective solutions.

Disadvantages of Desk Research

  • Outdated Information

One of the main challenges of desk research is that the data may not be relevant, accurate, or up-to-date for the specific research question or purpose. Desk research relies on data that was collected for a different reason or context, which may not match the current needs or goals of the researcher.

  • Limited Scope

Another limitation of desk research is that it may not provide enough depth or insight into qualitative aspects of the market, such as consumer behavior, preferences, motivations, or opinions. 

Data obtained from existing sources may be biased or incomplete due to the agenda or perspective of the source.

Read More – Research Bias: Definition, Types + Examples
  • Data Inconsistencies

It may also be inconsistent or incompatible with other data sources due to different definitions or methodologies.

  • Legal and Technical Issues

Desk research data may also be difficult to access or analyze due to legal, ethical, or technical issues.

How to Use Desk Research Effectively

Here are some tips on how to use desk research effectively:

  • Define the research problem and objectives clearly and precisely.
  • Identify and evaluate the sources of secondary data carefully and critically.
  • Compare and contrast different sources of data to check for consistency and reliability.
  • Use multiple sources of data to triangulate and validate the findings.
  • Supplement desk research with primary research when exploring deeper issues.
  • Cite and reference the sources of data properly and ethically.

Desk research should not be used as a substitute for primary research, but rather as a complement or supplement. Combine it with primary research methods, such as surveys, interviews, observations, experiments, and others to obtain a more complete and accurate picture of your research topic.

Desk research is a cost-effective tool for gaining insights into your research topic. Although it has limitations, if you choose the right method and carry out your desk research effectively, you will save a lot of time, money, and effort that primary research would require.


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  • desk research
  • market research
  • primary vs secondary research
  • research bias
  • secondary research
  • Moradeke Owa


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Blog General

Desk Research 101: Definition, Methods, and Examples

Parvathi vijayamohan.

Last Updated:  

30 May 2024

Table Of Contents

If you ever had to do a research study or a survey at some point, you would have started with desk research .

There’s another, more technical name for it – secondary research. To rewind a bit, there are two types of research: primary , where you go out and study things first-hand, and secondary , where you explore what others have done.

But what is desk research? How do you do it, and use it? This article will help you:

  • Understand what is desk-based research
  • Explore 3 examples of desk research
  • Learn about 6 common desk research methods
  • Uncover the advantages of desk research

What is desk research?

Desk research can be defined as a type of market/product research, where you collect data at your desk (metaphorically speaking) from existing sources to get initial ideas about your research topic.

Desk research or secondary research is an essential process from a business’s point of view. After all, secondary data sources are such an easy way to get information about their industry, trends, competitors, and customers.

Types of secondary data sources

#1. Internal secondary data: This consists of data from within the researcher’s company. Examples include:

  • Company reports and presentations
  • Case studies
  • Podcasts, vlogs and blogs
  • Press releases
  • Websites and social media
  • Company databases and data sets

#2. External secondary data: Researchers collect this from outside their respective firms. Examples include:

  • Digital and print publications
  • Domain-specific publications and periodicals
  • Online research communities, like  ResearchGate
  • Industry speeches and conference presentations
  • Research papers

What are examples of desk research in action?

#1. testing product-audience match.

Let’s say you’re developing a fintech product. You want to do a concept testing study. To make sure you get it right, you’re interested in finding out your target audience’s attitudes about a topic in your domain. For e.g., Gen Z’s perceptions about money in the US.

With a quick Google search, you get news articles, reports, and research studies about Gen Z’s financial habits and attitudes. Also, infographics and videos provide plenty of quantitative data to draw on.

These steps are a solid starting point for framing your concept testing study. You can further reduce the time spent on survey design with a  Concept Testing Survey Template . Sign up to get free access to this and hundreds more templates.

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#2. Tracking the evolution of the Web

As we wade into the brave new world of  Web 5.0 , there are quite a few of us who still remember static websites, flash animations, and images sliced up into tables.

If you want to refresh your memory, you can hop on the  Wayback Machine . iI gives you access to over 20 years of web history, with over 635 billion web pages saved over time!

Curiosity aside, there are practical use cases for this web archive. SEO specialist Artur Bowsza explores this in his fantastic article  Internet Archeology with the Wayback Machine .

Imagine you’re investigating a recent drop in a website’s visibility. You know there were some recent changes in the website’s code, but couldn’t get any details. Or maybe you’re preparing a case study of your recent successful project, but the website has changed so much, and you never bothered to take a screenshot. Wouldn’t it be great to travel back in time and uncover the long-forgotten versions of the website – like an archaeologist, discovering secrets from the past but working in the digital world?

#3. Repairing a business reputation

As a brand, you hope that a crisis never happens. But if hell does break loose, having a crisis management strategy is essential.

If you want examples, just do a Google search. From Gamestop getting caught in a  Reddit stock trading frenzy  to Facebook being voted  The Worst Company of 2021 , we have seen plenty of brands come under fire in recent years.

Some in-depth desk research can help you nail your crisis communication. Reputation management expert Lida Citroen outlines this in her article 7 Ways to Recover After a Reputation Crisis .

Conduct a thoughtful and thorough perception sweep of the reputation hit’s after-effects. This includes assessing digital impact such as social media, online relationships and Google search results. The evaluation gives you a baseline. How serious is the situation? Sometimes the way we believe the situation to be is not reflected in the business impact of the damage.

6 popular methods of desk research

#1. the internet.

No surprise there. When was the last time you checked a book to answer the burning question of “is pineapple on pizza illegal?” (it should be).

However, choosing authentic and credible sources from an information overload can be tricky. To help you out, the Lydia M. Olson Library has a 6-point checklist to filter out low-quality sources. You can read them in detail here .

#2. Libraries

You have earned some serious street cred if your preferred source is a library. But, jokes apart, finding the correct information for your research topic in a library can be time-consuming.

However, depending on which library you visit, you will find a wealth of verifiable, quotable information in the form of newspapers, magazines, research journals, books, documents, and more.

#3. Governmental and non-governmental organizations

NGOs, and governmental agencies like the US Census Bureau, have valuable demographic data that businesses can use during desk research. This data is collected using survey tools like SurveySparrow .

You may have to pay a certain fee to download or access the information from these agencies. However, the data obtained will be reliable and trustworthy.

#4. Educational institutions

Colleges and universities conduct plenty of primary research studies every year. This makes them a treasure trove for desk researchers.

However, getting access to this data requires legwork. The procedures vary according to the institution; among other things, you will need to submit an application to the relevant authority and abide by a data use agreement.

#5. Company databases

For businesses, customer and employee data are focus areas all on their own. But after the pandemic, companies are using even more applications and tools for the operations and service sides.

This gives businesses access to vast amounts of information useful for desk research and beyond. For example, one interesting  use case  is making employee onboarding more effective with just basic employee data, like their hobbies or skills.

#6. Commercial information media

These include radio, newspapers, podcasts, YouTube, and TV stations. They are decent sources of first-hand info on political and economic developments, market research, public opinion and other trending subjects.

However, this is also a source that blurs the lines between advertising, information and entertainment. So as far as credibility is concerned, you are better off supporting this data with additional sources.

Why is desk research helpful?

Desk research helps with the following:

  • Better domain understanding.  Before doing market research, running a usability test, or starting any user-centric project, you want to see what companies have done in the past (in related areas if not the same domain). Then, instead of learning everything from scratch, you can review their research, success, and mistakes and learn from that. 
  • Quicker opportunity spotting.  How do you know if you’ve found something new? By reviewing what has gone before. By doing this, you can spot gaps in the data that match up with the problem you’re trying to solve.
  • More money saved . Thanks to the internet, most of the data you need is at your fingertips, and they are cheaper to compile than field data. With a few (search and mental) filters, you can quickly find credible sources with factual information.
  • More time saved . You have less than 15 minutes with your research participant. Two minutes if you’re doing an online survey. Do you really want to waste that time asking questions that have already been answered elsewhere? Lack of preparation can also hurt your credibility.
  • Better context.  Desk research helps to provide focus and a framework for primary research. By using desk research, companies can also get the insight to make better decisions about their customers and employees.
  • More meaningful data.  Desk research is the yin to the yang of field research – they are both required for a meaningful study. That’s why desk research serves as a starting point for every kind of study.

This brings us to the last question.

How do you do desk research?

Good question! In her blog post , Lorène Fauvelle covers the desk research process in detail.

Y ou can also follow our 4-step guide below:

  • First,  start with a general topic l ike “handmade organic soaps”. Read through existing literature about handmade soaps to see if there is a gap in the literature that your study can fill.
  • Once you find that gap, it’s time to  specify your research topic . So in the example above, you can specify it like this: “What is the global market size for handmade organic soaps”?
  • Identify the relevant secondary data for desk research. This only applies if there is past data that could be useful for your research.
  • Review the secondary data  according to:
  • The aim of the previous study
  • The author/sponsors of the study
  • The methodology of the study
  • The time of the research

Note: One more thing about desk research…

Beware of dismissing research just because it was done a few years ago. People new to research often make the mistake of viewing research reports like so many yogurts in a fridge where the sell-by dates have expired. Just because it was done a couple of years ago, don’t think it’s no longer relevant. The best research tends to focus on human behaviour, and that tends to change very slowly.
  • Dr David Travis, Desk Research: The What, Why and How

Wrapping up

That’s all folks! We hope this blog was helpful for you.

How have you used desk research for your work? Let us know in the comments below.

Growth Marketer at SurveySparrow

Fledgling growth marketer. Cloud watcher. Aunty to a naughty beagle.

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desk review in research

Desk research: the what, why and how

The “where” (at your desk) and the “when” (at the beginning of your project) are easy questions to answer. But what is it, why do you need to to do it, and how should you go about doing desk research to make sure it adds value to your project? —  David Travis , Jan 4, 2016

By David Travis Jan 4, 2016 / strategy

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Desk Research

What is desk research?

Desk research is another name for secondary research. Broadly speaking, there are two types of research activity: primary research (where you go out and discover stuff yourself); and secondary research (where you review what other people have done). Desk research is not about collecting data. Instead, your role as a user researcher carrying out desk research is to review previous research findings to gain a broad understanding of the field.

Why do desk research?

Before carrying out a field visit, developing a prototype, running a usability test, or embarking on any project that you want to be user centred, it makes sense to see what people have done in the past that relates to the product’s domain. Although it’s unlikely that anyone has carried out the exact research activity you’re planning, someone has almost certainly tried to answer related questions. Reviewing this research is the quickest and cheapest way to understand the domain.

Carrying out desk research is a critical first step, for at least three reasons:

  • If you don’t know what has gone before, you won’t know when you’ve discovered something new.
  • You’ll sound credible when you get face-to-face with users and stakeholders. If you’ve not done this “due diligence”, you’ll ask dumb or irrelevant questions and may find your participants cut your sessions short.
  • Failing to do preparatory research is disrespectful of your participants’ time. You may get less than an hour with a user of your system. Do you really want to waste half that time understanding the domain issues that you could have covered elsewhere?

How do you approach desk research?

At this point, I’ve had many user researchers tell me that they’re working on a bleeding edge design project so there isn’t any desk research to do. There’s a common misconception that no research exists.

In my experience, there is almost always something you can build upon. Here’s an approach I take to go about finding it. It helps me stay focussed but also makes sure that I remember to check all the possible nooks and crannies where relevant research findings may be hiding.

desk review in research

A Venn diagram showing users, goals and environments. Where these three overlap is the sweet spot for user research.

The Venn diagram describes the context of use: your users, their goals and the environments where the action occurs. The best kind of research is where all three of these dimensions overlap: field visits that focus on your users trying to achieve their goals in context. This kind of research is so specific and relevant to your project that it may be hard to find, so don’t get discouraged if you can’t turn anything up in this area.

desk review in research

This set of Venn diagrams shows that research into the overlap between users and goals, environments and goals and users and envrionments can also yield useful insights.

But there is potentially useful research in the other areas of overlap on our Venn diagram. This falls into three broad areas:

  • Research about your users and their goals, but that was not carried out in context. This kind of research will take the form of surveys, customer interviews and focus groups.
  • Research that addresses the goals your system will support and the environment it will be used in, but doesn’t tell us much about users. Examples include call centre or web analytics.
  • Research that uncovers information about your users in their environment, but that may not address the goals that your system will support. This will take the form of field research by teams who are designing a product for the same kinds of user but to meet different needs.

The most likely place you’ll find this kind of research is within your own organisation. But you need to be prepared to dig. This is because research findings, especially on agile projects, are often treated as throw-away by-products that apply to a specific project. The findings aren’t shared outside the design team but typically make a fleeting appearance on a research wall or end up buried in someone’s email inbox. Even when research findings are written down, and even when the report is archived somewhere, people typically don’t know how to go about finding it. Organisations are generally poor at creating a shared repository of knowledge and rarely teach staff how to use the intranet or where past reports might be located. The result of these obstacles is that companies waste time and money either doing research that already exists or asking the wrong research questions.

So within your organisation, you should:

  • Talk to your stakeholders. Get to know the product owner and understand their goals, vision and concerns.
  • Examine call centre analytics or web analytics (if there is an existing service).
  • Talk to front line, customer facing people who currently interact with users.

desk review in research

In almost every project, you'll find some research that exists into users, goals and environments. This may not be directly relevant to your specific research questions but it will help you become knowledgeable about the domain.

Once you’ve covered the areas of overlap, your next step is to look for more generic information about your users, the environment in which they’ll use the system, and the kinds of goals your system will support.

  • What research has been done with your users, even if it’s not directly relevant to their goals when using your system?
  • What research has been done on the kind of goals your system will support, even if the research has been done with a different user group?
  • What research exists on the kinds of environment where you expect your system to be used (environment means hardware, software and the physical and social environments in which your system will be used).

In this step, you’ll find it useful to:

  • Review existing research done by Government organisations.'In the UK, the Office for National Statistics has a wealth of information about citizens that may be useful to understand your users, such as demographics about Internet users , consumer trends and facts about online retail sales in the UK
  • Review research carried out by relevant charities. For example, if you’re developing a new kind of tool to help diabetics measure their sugar levels, you should bookmark the research done by Diabetes UK . Web sites like Charity Choice allow you to browse through and locate hundreds of different charitable organisations so you’re bound to find at least one that’s relevant.
  • Search Google Scholar to find relevant research carried out by universities. Although you may struggle to appreciate the nuances of certain academic arguments, you could always use this route to find the researcher’s contact details and give them a call.
  • If your system will be used in a work context, study interviews at careers web sites. For example, The Guardian's careers section has interviews with people working as tattoo artists , forensic scientists , and as a royal footman so the chances are that you'll be able to get some context for whatever job title your system is aimed at. You should also check the Guardian's " What I'm Really Thinking " series.

Judging the quality of the research you find

Judging the quality of research is a whole article in itself. Fortunately, Philip Hodgson’s guidelines for reviewing consumer research reports has it covered.

There’s just one thing I’d add to Philip’s guidelines. Beware of dismissing research just because it was done a few years ago. People new to research often make the mistake of viewing research reports like so many yogurts in a fridge where the sell-by dates have expired. Just because it was done a couple of years ago, don’t think it’s no longer relevant. The best research tends to focus on human behaviour, and that tends to change very slowly.

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About the author

David Travis

Dr. David Travis ( @userfocus ) has been carrying out ethnographic field research and running product usability tests since 1989. He has published three books on user experience including Think Like a UX Researcher . If you like his articles, you might enjoy his free online user experience course .

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What is Desk Research? Definition & Useful Tools

What is Desk Research

Desk research typically serves as a starting point for design projects, providing designers with the knowledge to guide their approach and help them make informed design choices.

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What is Desk Research?

Desk research (secondary research or literature review) refers to gathering and analyzing existing data from various sources to inform design decisions for UX projects. It’s usually the first step in a design project as it’s cost-effective and informs where teams may need to dig deeper.

This data can come from published materials, academic papers, industry reports, online resources, and other third-party data sources. UX designers or researchers use this information to supplement data, learn about certain markets/user groups, explore industry trends, understand specific topics, or navigate design challenges.

The importance of desk research in the design process

Desk research gives designers a comprehensive understanding of the context, users, and existing solutions. It allows designers to gather valuable insights without conducting primary research which can be time-consuming and resource-intensive.

Desk research helps designers better understand the problem space, explore best practices and industry trends , and identify potential design opportunities without reinventing the wheel while learning from others’ mistakes.

Primary Research vs. Secondary Research

  • Primary research: new and original data from first-hand sources collected by the team, such as questionnaires, interviews, field research, or experiments, specifically for a particular research project.
  • Secondary research: utilizing existing data sets and information that others have collected, including books, articles, reports, and databases.

Primary and secondary research complement each other in comprehensively understanding a topic or problem. While primary research provides new first-party data specifically for a project’s goals , secondary data leverages existing knowledge and resources to gain insights.

What is the Purpose of Desk Research?

user bad good review satisfaction opinion

Understanding the problem or design challenge

Desk research helps designers comprehensively understand the problem or design challenge. By reviewing existing knowledge and information, designers can grasp the context, identify pain points, and define the scope of their design project.

For example, when tasked with designing a new mobile banking app, desk research can provide insights into user preferences, common challenges in the banking industry, and emerging trends in mobile banking.

Gathering background information

Desk research allows designers to gather background information related to their design project. It helps them explore the domain, industry, target audience, and relevant factors that may influence their design decisions. 

For example, when designing a fitness-tracking app, desk research may involve collecting information about fitness activities, wearable technologies, and health guidelines.

Exploring existing solutions and best practices

Desk research enables designers to explore existing solutions and best practices. By studying successful designs, case studies, and industry standards, designers can learn from previous approaches and incorporate proven techniques.

For example, when creating a website’s navigation menu , desk research can involve analyzing navigation patterns used by popular websites to ensure an intuitive user experience.

Identifying trends and patterns

Desk research helps designers identify trends and patterns within the industry or user behavior. Designers examine market reports, user surveys, and industry publications to identify trends, emerging technologies, and user preferences.

For example, when designing a smart home app, desk research can involve analyzing market trends in connected devices and user expectations for seamless integration.

Informing decision-making and design choices

Desk research provides designers valuable insights that inform their decision-making and design choices. It helps designers make informed design decisions based on existing knowledge, data, and research findings.

For example, when selecting a color palette for a brand’s website, desk research can involve studying color psychology, cultural associations, and industry trends to ensure the chosen colors align with the brand’s values and resonate with the target audience.

Secondary Research Methods and Techniques

team collaboration talk communication

Researchers use these methods individually or in combination, depending on the specific design project and research objectives. They select and adapt these based on the nature of the problem, available resources, and desired outcomes.

  • Literature review : gathers and analyzes relevant data from academic and research publications, government agencies, educational institutions, books, articles, and online resources (i.e., Google Scholar, social media, etc.). It helps designers gain a deeper understanding of existing knowledge, theories, and perspectives on the subject matter.
  • Market research : studying and analyzing market reports, industry trends, consumer behavior, and demographic data. It provides valuable insights into the target market, user preferences, emerging trends, and potential opportunities for design solutions.
  • Competitor analysis : examines and evaluates the products, services, and strategies of competitors in the market. By studying competitors’ strengths, weaknesses, and unique selling points, designers can identify gaps, potential areas for improvement, and opportunities to differentiate their designs.
  • User research analysis : User research analysis involves reviewing and analyzing data collected from various user research methods, such as surveys, interviews, and usability testing. It helps designers gain insights into user needs, preferences, pain points, and behaviors, which inform the design decisions and enhance the user-centeredness of the final product.
  • Data analysis : processing and interpreting quantitative and qualitative data from various sources, such as surveys, analytics, and user feedback. It helps designers identify patterns, trends, and correlations in the data, which can guide decision-making and inform design choices.

How to Conduct Desk Research

search looking glass

Defining research objectives and questions

Start by defining the research objectives and formulating specific research questions. A clear goal will inform the type and method of secondary research.

For example, if you’re designing a mobile app for fitness tracking, your research objective might be to understand user preferences for workout-tracking features. Your research question could be: “What are the most commonly used workout tracking features in popular fitness apps?”

Identifying and selecting reliable sources

Identify relevant and reliable sources of information that align with your research objectives. These sources include academic journals, industry reports, reputable websites, and case studies.

For example, you might refer to academic journals and industry reports on fitness technology trends and user behavior to gather reliable insights for your research.

Collecting and analyzing relevant information

Collect information from the selected sources and carefully analyze it to extract key insights. 

For example, you could collect data on user preferences for workout-tracking features by reviewing user reviews of existing fitness apps, analyzing market research reports, and studying user surveys conducted by fitness-related organizations.

Organizing and synthesizing findings

Organize the research data and synthesize the findings to identify common themes, patterns, and trends.

For example, you might categorize the collected data based on different workout tracking features, identify the most frequently mentioned features, and analyze user feedback to understand the reasons behind their preferences.

Limitations and Considerations of Secondary Research

testing compare data

Considering these desk research limitations and considerations allows designers to approach it with a critical mindset, apply appropriate methodologies to address potential biases, and supplement it with other research methods when necessary.

  • Potential bias in sources: Desk research heavily relies on existing information, which may come from biased or unreliable sources. It is essential to critically evaluate the credibility and objectivity of the sources used to minimize the risk of incorporating biased information into the research findings.
  • Limited access to certain information: Desk research may have limitations in accessing certain types of information, such as proprietary data or sensitive industry insights. This limited access can restrict the depth of the research and may require designers to rely on alternative sources or approaches to fill the gaps.
  • Lack of real-time data: Desk research uses existing data and information, which may not always reflect the most up-to-date or current trends. It is essential to consider the data’s publication date and recognize that certain aspects of the research may require complementary methods, such as user research or market surveys, to capture real-time insights.
  • Necessary cross-referencing and triangulation: Given the potential limitations and biases in individual sources, it is crucial to cross-reference information from multiple sources and employ triangulation techniques. This due diligence helps validate the findings and ensures a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of the subject matter.

Test Research Findings With UXPin’s Interactive Prototypes

Secondary research is the first step. Design teams must test and validate ideas with end-users using prototypes. With UXPin’s built-in design libraries , designers can build fully functioning prototypes using patterns and components from leading design systems, including Material Design, iOS, Bootstrap, and Foundation.

UXPin’s prototypes allow usability participants and stakeholders to interact with user interfaces and features like they would the final product, giving design teams high-quality insights to iterate and improve efficiency with better results.

These four key features set UXPin apart from traditional image-based design tools :

  • States : create multiple states for a single UI element and design complex interactive components like dropdown menus , tab menus , navigational drawers , and more .
  • Variables : create personalized, dynamic prototype experiences by capturing data from user inputs and using it throughout the prototype–like a personalized welcome message or email confirmation.
  • Expressions : Javascript-like functions to create complex components and advanced functionality–no code required!
  • Conditional Interactions : create if-then and if-else conditions based on user interactions to create dynamic prototypes with multiple outcomes to replicate the final product experience accurately.

Gain valuable insights with fully functioning prototypes to validate UX research hypotheses and make better design decisions. Sign up for a free trial to build your first interactive prototype with UXPin.

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desk review in research

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desk review in research

Book contents

  • Frontmatter
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: Types of research
  • Part 1 The research process
  • Part 2 Methods
  • 9 Introducing research methods
  • 10 Desk research
  • 11 Analysing desk research
  • 12 Collecting quantitative data
  • 13 Analysing quantitative data
  • 14 Collecting qualitative data
  • 15 Analysing qualitative data
  • 16 Sources of further reading
  • Appendix The market for information professionals: A proposal from the Policy Studies Institute

10 - Desk research

from Part 2 - Methods

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 June 2018

Not all research is about collecting new data – or primary data as it is known in the trade. A great deal can be achieved by working with data that have already been collected and processed by others. Indeed, most good research begins with a review of what has gone before. This type of research is often referred to as desk research.

Some projects are solely concerned with desk research, relying entirely on the re-analysis of other people's research or on secondary analysis of data that have been collected by others. Even the research that is based on the collection of primary data usually has an element of desk research built in. Few researchers, for example, feel able to manage without some form of literature review or contextual work to position their research.

Desk research covers a range of activities. Literature reviews are the most common. Increasingly the term ‘literature’ needs to be expanded to include material found on the internet. Closely allied to these reviews, and growing in importance, are research reviews which focus on the analysis of actual research findings from a number of different studies. There is also secondary analysis of data where the focus is firmly on the reworking of existing data sets to develop new insights into issues.

This chapter concentrates on the collection of the material used in desk research. The analytical techniques will be dealt with in Chapter 11.

Literature and internet searching

This is a very important part of nearly all research projects, yet it is something that is often dealt with superficially.

No research project exists in isolation. Each piece of work relates in some way to the environment within which the research takes place, to the theories and concepts that have been developed to explain the environmental conditions and to other research on the topic. If your work is to have coherence and relevance you should take full account of what has gone before and what is going on around you. You therefore need to make sure you are fully aware of all the relevant literature on the subject.

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  • Desk research
  • Book: How to Do Research
  • Online publication: 09 June 2018
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Desk research

What is it and how do you conduct it properly, deskresearch.

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What is desk research?

Desk research vs. literature reviews, desk research as a research method, how do you properly tackle desk research, where do you find information for desk research.

Desk research means that you use previously collected data for your research instead of collecting it yourself. You answer your research question based on the existing data you analyze. This might include previous literature, company information, or other available data. What exactly is desk research and how do you conduct it properly? 

When you do desk research, you collect existing data and use it to learn more about your research topic. You are not collecting quantitative or qualitative data yourself through things like surveys, interviews or observations. 

In desk research, you work with secondary data (data collected by someone else). In field research, on the other hand, you work with primary data (data you collected yourself). 

Desk research is an especially relevant research method if a lot of information on a topic is already available and/or if it is difficult to collect this data yourself. This type of research is less appropriate if you are one of the first to research the topic.

Often the terms "desk research" and "literature review" are used interchangeably. However,  they don't mean exactly the same thing. 

A literature review (also called "narrative review") is designed to gain more theoretical knowledge about a topic.

In desk research you collect existing research results or factual results in order to use them to explain a certain phenomenon. In doing so, you often answer an explanatory research question. You investigate a possible connection between variables. 

You can use desk research as a research method on its own in your thesis. Your entire thesis research will then consist of desk research. In that case, you describe the results of the desk research in the results chapter. In the method chapter you explain how you approached the research.

It is also possible for you to use desk research as a stepping stone to a study that you will conduct yourself with data you have collected yourself. You arrive at hypotheses or theories through desk research that you then test through your own data collection. When you use desk research in this way, you incorporate its results into the theoretical framework. This type of research is called deduction . 

You can also use desk research to supplement, for example, surveys, interviews , an experiment, or observations. In these cases, desk research can help explain the results you found. 

If you are going to conduct desk research, you need to go through a number of stages to do so. For example, it is important that you select the right sources and report on the sources in a logical way. To do this, take the following steps:

Determine appropriate search terms. First, determine what search terms you will use to find sources through, for example, your educational institution's online library or Google Scholar. Often, you will use terms that appear in your problem statement or research question. Search for English search terms and any other languages you may want to include.

Find appropriate sources. You do this with the chosen search terms, but also, for example, by looking in the list of found sources. Perhaps there is another useful source cited by one of the articles you read through. Save all sources in one convenient folder and put them in your bibliography so you don’t forget them. 

Determine which sources are relevant. Not all sources found are equally relevant to your topic. You also want to avoid having so many sources that you cannot see the forest for the trees. Check whether the sources you have found actually match your problem, research question, and research goal. Also check the reliability of the source. Ideally you should mostly use sources from leading journals and from authors who are affiliated with a scientific institute.

Incorporate the sources you found into your text. Are you doing a quantitative analysis? If so, you will first use SPSS or Excel. Are you referring verbatim to content from the sources? Then it's mainly a matter of putting relevant content together correctly in your thesis. Make sure you create a logical thread, for example by discussing sources by topic or in chronological order. 

Review the bibliography. Make sure all sources from your desk research are correctly listed in the bibliography. Also, check the source citation. Make sure your sources are formatted in APA style (or the source citation style that applies to your course).

The sources you use must be relevant and reliable. You cannot use sources like Wikipedia. In terms of sources, consider, for example:

scholarly articles (which you can find through Google Scholar and your university or college's online library, among others);

statistics from organizations such as the Central Bureau of Statistics or other reputable research institutions;

LexisNexis: a database of newspapers where you can find all kinds of news sources;

reliable databases within your field;

collections published with an academic publisher;

annual reports or corporate reports;

reports from other agencies;


documents from archives;

reports from the municipality, for example;

photographs or art objects.

Sometimes you can use very different types of sources for your research. For example, are you doing research on Instagram posts? Then, of course, you can collect existing Instagram posts on social media for that purpose and they count as sources.

Getting your sources checked

For desk research you often use a large number of sources. Unfortunately, it is easy to make an error when citing your sources. Do you want to prevent errors from creeping in unnoticed? Have your sources checked by one of our editors. They will review every source manually and ensure that all sources are correctly listed in your bibliography. 

desk review in research

Introduction to Desk Reviews

Module 1 objectives.

Module Objective : Provide an overview of the desk review purpose and process.

By the end of the module, the learner will have achieved the following learning objectives:

Learning Objective 1 : Learner will be able to explain the purpose of a desk review.

Learning Objective 2 : Learner will be able to distinguish between a desk review and other secondary research approaches.

Learning Objective 3 : Learner will be able to define different types of desk research.

What is a Desk Review?

A desk review is a form of secondary research. Unlike primary research, in which the researcher is uncovering new information and creating new knowledge, secondary research focuses on information that has already been acquired and documented. Secondary research is used to present an overview of the current state of knowledge in a field. It can also be used to highlight areas or gaps in existing information where additional primary research is needed.

It is wise to complete a desk review as an initial step in:

Proposal research and development

Program design

Qualitative or quantitative primary research activities

Community assessments (reviewed in WI-HER's Data Collection for Community Assessments training )

Program reporting

Why complete a desk review?

As secondary research, a desk review serves a very specific purpose. A desk review can rarely completely replace primary research activities. However, it can provide an overview of relevant policies, programs, and primary research that has been completed on your specific topic. Desk reviews are especially helpful if there are a large number of reputable sources that have already written on your topic (you will learn more about assessing the quality of sources in Module 2). To be helpful, information presented in a desk review should be directly relevant to your topic and purpose .

Desk reviews may also help you justify primary research activities; if you can demonstrate a lack of literature on your topic or in your location of interest, you will be more successful in advocating for primary research. This primary research, or field research, will provide an opportunity to collect more specific information related to the work you are doing. For additional information about field research, you can access WI-HER's Data Collection for Community Assessments training .

What is Desk Research?

As the name implies, desk research is research that can be undertaken from your desk. This is why desk research is considered secondary research – it does not require leaving your desk to pursue the acquisition of new information.

There are two types of desk research:

Internal Desk Research : Refers to the review of data, reports, tools, or other resources developed by your organization (either publicly available or not). Depending on the context, it could also include internal information from partner organizations. However, not all information housed within your organization or a partner organization is considered internal. If you are reviewing materials that were produced or created from outside your organization that are kept on record in your organization (for example, an encyclopedia or a copy of a presentation from another organization), you are conducting external desk research.

External Desk Research : Refers to the review of data, reports, tools, or other resources that exist outside of your organization. Module 2 will cover how to find this information from reputable sources.

Other Secondary Research Formats

There are a number of other forms of secondary research with slightly different functions than a desk review, such as literature reviews, systematic reviews, and scoping reviews. The following sources will allow you to explore these common types of secondary research.

desk review in research

Literature Reviews

Please watch the video "What's a Literature Review?" and review the content on the webpage.

desk review in research

Systematic Reviews

Please review the webpage.

desk review in research

Scoping Reviews

Please watch "Part 1: Scoping reviews: an overview with examples" (the first video on the page).

Activity: Compare and Contrast Secondary Research Formats

Use the form below to complete the activity.

Desk Review Process

Pre-writing: the research framework.

Before beginning the desk review, it is important to determine the focus of the review and its scope. For example, you may need to perform a desk review focusing on education systems in Argentina, but within the scope of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture, and Math). The focus and scope of your review may be well established based on your project, or it may be pre-determined by your client or research partners, but there may be flexibility. There will also need to be standards established relating to research parameters and style , which will be covered in later modules.

The purpose of the desk review should guide its development. Desk reviews may be used for internal knowledge development for your organization to inform proposal design or activity design. When responding to a request for proposals, the desk review can help identify prior work and opportunities for your organization to develop innovative solutions. The review may also be published for an external audience as a standalone document or as part of a larger report. Desk reviews may also be used as a preface for the presentation of primary research or fieldwork, providing background to the situation and pointing out the gaps in current knowledge future research or fieldwork will then cover.

The introduction of your desk review will include the purpose and rationale for your desk review. It is helpful to establish a clear vision for your desk review with precise limitations on its focus. You should identify a clear research question you would like to answer, and you should identify the aims or objectives necessary to answer this question. This research framework should guide your entire desk review process, and you should return to this framework throughout your research and writing to ensure the information you collect is relevant to the framework. For example, if you are writing a desk review on maternal health in Rwanda, your research framework may look like this:

Research question: What are the factors facilitating or hindering maternal health in Rwanda?

Aim 1: To describe the current development context in Rwanda, with a focus on health and gender.

Aim 2: To understand access to and utilization of maternal health services, including family planning, antenatal care, delivery, postpartum care, and neonatal care.

Aim 3: To review the quality of primary health care services, with an emphasis on services affecting maternal health.

Aim 4: To understand extrinsic sociocultural factors impacting maternal health, including marriage practices, childbearing practices, and economic situations.

Beginning the Writing Process

The review should begin with an outline that highlights key topics and sub-topics that need to be researched to address the main focus and aims of the review. You may need to complete initial key document reviews on your topic before you know what key sections will make up (or be included in) your outline. The WI-HER Desk Review outline, below, provides a helpful outline to begin conceptualizing the format for a desk review. When developing the outline, consider the major topics that are relevant to your area of focus. To return to the example of maternal health in Rwanda, you may develop an outline covering the following topics:

Rwanda: Country Overview

Women’s access to and utilization of care

Quality of primary health care services

Gender-based violence

Child marriage and early pregnancy

Women’s employment and economic independence

The topics you include in your outline should be directly related to your chosen topic, and you should continue to relate each section to your research framework. For example, when discussing women's employment, the information presented should be framed in the context of maternal health. To ensure relevance, you may discuss how childbearing affects employment or earnings or what policies exist for paternity leave or childcare.

During the outline phase, it is also helpful to identify key pieces of information that will be necessary in each section. For example, if providing a brief overview on general health context, it is important to determine what information is most relevant to include; in a desk review relating to maternal health, statistics on antenatal care and maternal mortality will be critical, and other health statistics may not be as useful for inclusion.

After developing an outline, you will have a better understanding of what types of resources you will need to gather. It is important to be thorough in the research process while maintaining efficiency. The research process will be discussed in greater detail in the next module.

The length of the desk review, and the amount of time you should dedicate to the review, will vary widely by project. Some reviews may not need as much information, and sources for certain topics may be more easily accessible or prolific. It is important to establish both the length of the desk review and the timeline for its completion when initially planning your project and developing the outline to ensure you complete an appropriate amount of research and writing. Define clearly with your client and with your colleagues the scope, limits, and timeline for the desk review project. Identify some benchmarks to keep you on track and to mark check-in moments that convene the group to voice challenges and confirm consensus that the targets are still on track. A typical desk review should range between 10 and 15 pages in length. You should likely not exceed 20 pages in length unless there are exceptional circumstances (i.e., large project scope).

The Assessment to Action Guide , developed for the USAID SHOPS Plus project, contains a detailed explanation of the desk review process. Examine the guide. The topics covered in this guide will be explained in greater detail during the course of these modules, but it can serve as a quick reference for you during the desk review process.

desk review in research

Examining a Desk Review

Follow the link to find an example of a desk review developed for the USAID Office of Food for Peace Food Security program in Liberia. Briefly review this document, keep the following questions in mind:

Why do you think this secondary research was necessary?

How is the document structured?

Does this desk review include any primary research?

After reviewing the document, use the button below to complete the activity.

Note: This is a lengthy desk review, and you do not need to read the entire document. Focus on exploring the structure of the document.

Activity: Examining a Desk Review

Wi-her desk review outline.

The WI-HER Desk Review outline, below, was developed based on desk reviews completed in a variety of focal areas. The outline can be easily adapted for a variety of contexts and provides insight into how to structure a desk review and identify important areas of focus.

You may find it useful to download the outline and adapt it for your own use.

desk review in research

Module 1 Knowledge Assessment

After completing all of the activities in Module 1, please complete the module knowledge assessment before proceeding to Module 2. You will receive feedback on all activities and the assessment based on the learning schedule you developed.

Proceed to Module 2

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Discrete desk review of data quality

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The desk review is an evaluation of data quality dimensions of completeness, internal consistency, external comparisons and external consistency of population data. Normally, the desk review requires monthly or quarterly data by sub-national administrative area for the most recent reporting year, and annual aggregated data for the last three reporting years for the selected indicators.

District data quality assurance: a training package for monthly use of DHIS2 data quality dashboards at district and health facility levels

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The package includes set of tutorials and an exercise book that can be used in workshops or for self-learning. 

Data quality assurance: module 2: discrete desk review of data quality


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How to Do Desk Research in 5 Simple Steps

Olesia Havryshko

Before you launch a product, you should get answers to several questions. The first and, we believe, most important one is to define the overall market situation and take a closer look at the potential customer. Mastering how to do desk research is a suitable, cost-effective way to get information for making data-driven decisions.

In this article, we’re going to highlight some essential tools for conducting desk research and defining user groups.

What is desk research?

Desk research (also called secondary research) is a research method that involves using existing data. This technique will allow you to get the first idea of your market and users “from your desk.”

Secondary research includes already published materials in reports, articles, or similar documents. We also recommend using software tools that can help you become more familiar with your users (you can find some of them below).

This method is much more cost-efficient than primary research and requests less time for conducting it. Still, a lot of analysis work should be done, and the result is really helpful. The best way is to mix qualitative user research and desk research. It’ll help you fit into your timelines and budgets.

Illustration that shows what is desk research.

Primary vs. secondary research

Since we’ve just mentioned primary research, let’s see what it is and how it differs from secondary desk research.

Primary research refers to the process of gathering firsthand data directly from the source, be it customers or prospects. This approach takes more time and effort than desk research, but you get the latest and most detailed information.

The most common primary research methods include the following:

  • interviews;
  • questionnaires;
  • competitor reviews;
  • focus groups;
  • market mapping.

Secondary research , or desk research, involves analyzing existing data and information collected by someone else or for another project or research purpose. It’s often the starting point for market research, providing foundational knowledge from pre-existing data. This method is quicker and easier than primary research, but the information you get might be older or less specific.

The desk research methods include gathering data from the following sources:

  • government databases;
  • academic journals;
  • social media.

While both research methodologies are helpful, you may be wondering when to use each. 

Go for primary research when you:

  • need up-to-date information not readily available;
  • study specific questions or problems not addressed in existing research;
  • require in-depth info directly from your target audience;
  • aim to test new ideas.

Desk research often paves the way for primary research. Chose this approach when you:

  • need a basic overview of a topic or industry;
  • want to get a background knowledge and context;
  • aim to study existing trends and statistics;
  • want to compare different perspectives on the same topic;
  • seek to save time and resources.

Need help with desk research ?

<strong>Need help with <span class="orange">desk research</span>?</strong>

Pros and cons of desk research

Desk research is a valuable tool for any researcher. But, like any tool, it has its strengths and weaknesses. 

Pros of desk research

Using desk research methods is highly beneficial. Here are just several reasons for that:

  • Budget-friendly. Compared to primary research, desk research is more cost-efficient. You’re using existing information at low to no cost instead of generating it yourself.
  • Fast. Desk research lets you access data and reports instantly, offering quick insights without lengthy data collection.
  • Scalable. Desk research allows you to cover vast amounts of data.
  • Readily available data. Data for desk research is readily available online, and you can access it anytime.
  • Insightful. With careful searching, you can find helpful reports, studies, and expert opinions that provide valuable perspectives on your topic.

Cons of desk research

Despite the advantages, desk research comes with its cons. Here’s what to prepare for:

  • Outdated data. Data for desk research can quickly become outdated, so verifying its relevance is a must.
  • Limited control. You’re relying on someone else’s data, meaning you can’t control its methodology or accuracy.
  • Minimal exclusivity. Desk research findings are readily available to others, therefore they’re not exclusive to your unique project.
  • Verification complexities. Verifying data sources and interpreting information can be time-consuming.

Types of internal and external data sources

Desk research is a way to gather insights literally without leaving your desk. But where do you find the necessary info? Let’s look at the secondary data sources available to you:

Internal data sources

Internal data sources for desk research.

Your company is already a goldmine of information. So before jumping into other types of desk research, consider digging into internal resources:

  • Historical campaigns and sales. Review past campaigns, website traffic insights, sales conversions, and other relevant data.
  • Product analytics. Dive into product analytics to learn more about different customer segments , user behavior, engagement patterns, performance metrics, and user flows.
  • Internal research. Use existing internal research reports and studies (if any) and get insights from them.

External data sources

External data sources for desk research.

Besides studying your company information, there are plenty of external resources to explore. Look into the following examples of secondary data:

  • Internet. Access any type of resources through the web.
  • Commercial resources. Industry reports or market research studies by third-party firms can offer data specific to your topic.
  • Trade associations. Use reports and resources from trade associations, for example, the Directory of Associations , the National Trade and Professional Associations Directory , or the Encyclopedia of Associations .
  • Industry experts. Connect with industry thought leaders and analysts.
  • Research associations. Access independent research papers and industry publications.
  • Media. Monitor news, press releases, magazine articles, and TV and radio content to get information on your topic.
  • Market research software. Leverage specialized software platforms that offer advanced analytics, reports, or access to industry data.
  • Government data. Use statistics and reports from government agencies like the US Census Bureau , US Government Publishing Office , US Small Business Administration , and so on.
  • Local government data. Get market data, demographic info, and employment trends through local gov websites.
  • Public libraries. Access library databases through the Digital Public Library of America or the National Archives in the UK.
  • Competitors. Study competitor websites, press releases, mailing lists, online reviews, and social media activity.
  • Educational resources. Analyze academic research papers and journals relevant to your topic.

Examples of desk research

Let’s now explore some examples of design projects leveraging desk research:

Analyzing dreams with Sleepify

The creator of the Sleepify project sought a user-centric design for an app tracking dreams and well-being. They leveraged external desk research and competitor analysis to:

  • study sleep’s impact on a person’s well-being through UCE Research and platforms;
  • discover the strengths and weaknesses of competitor apps.

The secondary research findings, along with quantitative research, were used for creating a high-fidelity prototype, ready for user testing and validation.

Example of high-fidelity app prototype, created owing to desk research.

Keeping users fit with MYFIT

MYFIT project suggests creating a fitness app packed with workout routines, aimed to boost user engagement and retention. It is expected to be a clean, stylish, and modern fitness app designed to keep users active and motivated. The designer proposes to tackle this challenge by:

  • researching user behavior and frustrations with existing apps using various methods;
  • exploring why users abandon fitness apps;
  • creating optimal user journeys.

A fitness app created owing to user and desk research.

Reaching personalized sales with AI

Designers aimed to explore the potential of using AI for personalized sales in the gaming industry. Their desk research targeted:

  • The global market size of generative AI in business, its usage in gaming, and sales marketing.
  • Industry gap. While personalization thrives in eCommerce, the gaming industry lags behind.

The insight the designers derived is that a personalized AI tool based on in-game actions, purchase history, demographics, and player data could revolutionize game sales.

Five steps to conduct desk research

As already mentioned, the reason to conduct research is to become more familiar with your users and potential customers. Your focus should be on collecting notable data and analyzing it. Here’s how to do this in five steps:

1. Determine your research topic and goal

Before even starting your research, ask yourself what you want to study and why. Outline the questions you aim to answer or the information you’re looking for. Is it to understand industry trends or handle customer journey mapping ? The more specific your question, the easier it will be to steer your research in the right direction.

2. Choose relevant secondary data sources

Go through internal and external resources relevant to your topic, making sure they are credible and objective. Make a list of resources suitable for your research topic and goals.

3. Explore existing data

Go down your resource list and find relevant data. Here’s what you can study:

Most likely, you should start with the existing text available in the public domain. What to look for? Everything! You can go through government or private companies’ reports, the original material on which these reports are based, conference proceedings, primary periodicals, official publications, and articles in newspapers and journals. 

This method of data collection is the most inexpensive and nontime-consuming way.

Document analysis is an important part of business analysis . This process includes the examination of existing documents and recordings. In some way, you are using the research that has already been completed.

The objective of this process is to track changes over the whole period. You can analyze logs, email logs, databases, web analytics, minutes of meetings, staff reports, and information logs. These are only a few examples of the sources for this type of research.

For instance, before redesigning the existing product, you have to understand the reason for the low level of purchases or numerous complaints in support. Documents and records help track the interaction between employees and customers or between your current website and customers. This is the way to make correct conclusions.

Knowing your competitors helps analyze the existing solutions and define the current problems they cover. Obviously, to share the entire experience and provide an ultimate guide for conducting competitive research, we have to write a whole new article. Here are some points to pay attention to:

  • determine the products your competitors offer;
  • pay attention to their sales tactics and results;
  • analyze how they market their products;
  • take note of their content strategies;
  • look at competitors’ social media presence, strategies, and go-to platforms;
  • make a SWOT analysis to learn their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

There are a lot of tools that may help. We’d like to share some of those that we use while conducting desk research:

  • Crunchbase is a live company database, which updates constantly. This tool helps you identify upcoming marketing tendencies. For example, you can find how many companies in a specific industry are raising.
  • Capterra is an intermediary between buyers and technology vendors within the software industry. Here, you can find the most comprehensive lists of products per industry, reviews, ratings, and infographics, and easily compare needed competitors.
  • Serpstat is one of the top-rated SEO tools and definitely will help you outline competitor analysis just by entering your domain.
  • Semrush analyzes the data for you and gives you instant recommendations on SEO, content marketing, and advertising that help you improve your online visibility in days.

4. Organize and compare your data

Gathering data is just the beginning. Now, you should organize and make sense of it. Consider using mind maps or spreadsheets to structure your data. Remove any duplications as well.

5. Analyze your data

Now that you have your data in a digestible format, analyze it for helpful insights. Check if the gathered data answers the questions you aimed to study. If not, go back to step two and find other sources of information.

How to do desk research.

Useful resources for defining your user groups

As soon as you finalize your desk research, you will most likely be able to group your users. So now it’s time to take a deeper look at them. Here are some free tools you can use to identify your user personas.

Google Analytics

If you already have launched your website, don’t forget to insert the Google Analytics tracking code. It will help you get more information about your clients. Now we’ll share which reports we suggest using:

This report shows the key age group and gender of your website visitors. To kick off the demographic report, follow the flow: Audience tab at the left menu > Demographics > Overview.

Age and Gender Demographics in Google Analytics.

Learn more about the preferred interests of your users. As you have already opened an Age or Gender report, you can add a secondary dimension. Select ‘Affinity Category’ at the dropdown. You will see all the segments your visitors are interested in. It is helpful to identify your ideal online customers at scale.

One more good analytics tool to identify the users who are actively researching and comparing items across the Google Display Network (YouTube, paid search results via AdWords, display ads via AdSense, etc.)

This report will provide you with an overview of all the languages your users have set in their browsers and the locations where they may live. It will be useful in understanding cultural differences and will decrease effort for your marketing campaigns.

If you’re going to create a mobile app, think about which devices your guests are most likely to use to access your website. Go to Audience > Benchmarking > Devices. After that, dive deeper into Mobile Devices’ info. You will see exactly which brand of mobile devices they are using. Go to Audience > Mobile > Devices.

So, we’ve just outlined some useful data to understand your users better. Now, let’s move forward to other sources.

Facebook Insights

As almost everyone over the Internet is a social media user, it is good to use the data it represents. It will help you create more target posts and campaigns that cover your customer needs.

If you already have a customer list or just a list of users with phones or email addresses, you can use it to gain extra information about these people.

You need a list in the .csv file. In the Facebook Ads Manager, you can create a custom audience. Then Facebook Audience Insights will finish uploading the list, and you will receive a ‘Ready’ notification. At this point, you can analyze your audience.

Initially, you need to open an Audience Insights tool. You can choose an Audience you want to analyze. This tool can give you access to such data:

  • age, gender, and relationship status;
  • lifestyle preferences, demographics, and interests;
  • education level and job title;
  • Facebook pages that are likely relevant to your audience;
  • top cities, countries, and languages;
  • frequency of certain activities;
  • device usage;
  • household size and estimated household income;
  • homeownership status and house market value;
  • spending methods, purchase behavior, and estimated retail and online retail spending habits.

Analysis of Required Audience on Facebook.

Even if you don’t have a customer list yet, you can use generic insights connected to your Business Page. You can also use software tools that provide you with potential customer emails. Take a look at these tools:

  • helps find more convertible leads, verify contacts, track your lead’s progress, and automate cold outreach.
  • Hunter is a cloud-based email search solution that helps businesses find emails on company websites, verify domains, compose follow-ups, and more.

Try to pull out the most useful insights about your potential users, finalize all the gathered information, and be sure your team is aware of the user groups you are trying to reach.  

LinkedIn is one more powerful resource for collecting data. A good LinkedIn profile is a pretty ready proto persona. You can discover the user’s location, career path and goals, achievements, and daily work responsibilities. It is especially useful for B2B marketing. By the way, if you are in this segment, you can also use tools like Leadfeeder to understand which companies are visiting your website.

Now, we will break out four components that could be revealed from LinkedIn: business attributes, pain points, hangouts, and values.

They give you a deeper view of the demographics of your business page followers and visitors. What can you gather here? You can see location, job function, seniority, industry, company size. There is also data about similar companies and the comparison in analytics. It’s a great specific tool to reinforce Google Analytics.

Business attributes example from Linkedin.

Pay attention to the sections ‘Summary,’ ‘Skills & Endorsements,’ ‘Activity,’ and ‘Interests.’ 

In ‘Summary,’ we can get an overview of the person’s work trajectory, education, and main skills. From the ‘Skills & Endorsements’ section, we can receive data about a person’s strengths and people who endorsed their skills (who can also be useful in the research). The ‘Activity’ section is a great way to observe what the person is talking about, what they like, and comment. ‘Interests’ shows a list of the following companies and people, so it is possible to examine what engages the person.

Personal profile example from Linkedin.

Company Page includes information about the history, size, and career opportunities. Such pages also may have stories about employees and their quotes. The company’s job descriptions show the professional attributes required of a candidate.

Company pages and job posting example from Linkedin.

After gathering all this data, you can create a direct message to increase the chances that relevant people will view it. How to do it? Open your Company Page > Click on ‘Create Post’ > Manage Post Audience: from Anyone to Targeted audience. Add some specific details about your audience.

Use LinkedIn Advanced Search to earn data about market size and the number of required companies or people. By working on the filters, you can find more insights about locations, education, seniority levels, etc.

Advanced Search feature from Linkedin.

Last thoughts

Taking market temperature and understanding your audience are the key ingredients in a way to creating a successful product. Pay attention to detail, document the whole process, and share it with your team and all the stakeholders. Help them to keep an empathic approach to your product and audience.

Have a great time conducting research. If you will need professional help with it, feel free to contact us .

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What is the desk research method?

Secondary desk research is a research method that involves collecting and analyzing information from existing sources like reports, articles, and websites. This approach is particularly valuable in the early stages of prototyping , as it helps to gather essential insights with a streamlined resource investment.

How to do UX desk research?

To do UX desk research, follow these steps:

1.Define your goals and research questions,

2.Choose secondary data sources like usability studies or industry reports,

3.Go through the data relevant to your research,

4.Structure and compare the gathered data,

5.Analyze the data to make necessary UX improvements.

What are examples of desk research?

What are the two types of desk research techniques?

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  • Market Research Company Blog

Desk Research: What It Is and How You Can Use It

by Tim Gell

Posted at: 8/4/2023 12:30 PM

Access to reliable and relevant information is crucial for making informed decisions and staying ahead of the competition.

This is where desk research, also known as secondary research or library research, proves to be an indispensable tool.

By harnessing existing sources of data, from published reports and academic papers to market studies and industry analyses, desk research empowers individuals and organizations to delve into a wealth of knowledge without the need for expensive and time-consuming fieldwork.

In this blog post, our market research company will explore the ins and outs of desk research, understand its benefits, and uncover practical ways to use it.

What is Desk Research?

Desk research, also known as secondary research or library research, is a method of gathering information and insights by analyzing and synthesizing existing data and sources rather than conducting primary data collection through fieldwork or surveys.

It involves scouring through published reports, articles, studies, and other publicly available materials to extract valuable knowledge and make informed decisions.

Think back to your high school or college days. When you were assigned to write a paper, you most likely turned to many articles on Google or textbooks as helpful resources. That action was a type of desk research.

Heck, you are technically conducting secondary research by reading this article right now.

On the contrary, new research designed to answer your own specific questions is referred to as primary research . Common primary research methodologies include online surveys , focus groups,  and in-depth interviews.

Common Forms of Desk Research

Desk research may come in the form of web searches, online platforms, industry reports, or even physical books.

These sources aren't usually relevant in their entirety but may offer valuable snippets of information to help answer your questions.

Desk research can also help with qualitative recruiting .

While this is often a last-ditch effort (our market research company would first recommend utilizing online panels or paid social media advertisements), depending on the target audience desk research can help find qualified participants to participate in a market research study.

For example, if your company is hosting an online focus group with financial advisors, perhaps LinkedIn could be a valuable tool in researching who would make a great fit as a potential participant. 

Advantages of Desk Research

So, why bother with secondary research for your business? Desk research offers several advantages, including:

  • Cost-effectiveness: Desk research is relatively inexpensive compared to primary research methods, as it involves using existing data and sources, reducing the need for expensive data collection.
  • Time efficiency: Since the data is already available, desk research can be conducted quickly, providing timely and relevant insights without the time constraints of conducting fieldwork or surveys.
  • Accessibility: A wide range of information is readily accessible through libraries, databases, and online resources, allowing researchers to explore a vast array of topics and gather valuable data from various reputable sources.

Disadvantages of Desk Research

As with most things, there are pros and cons to conducting secondary research. The limitations and disadvantages of desk research include:

  • Lack of control over data quality: Since the data is collected by third parties and is pre-existing, researchers have limited control over its accuracy, relevance, and reliability, which can impact the credibility of the findings.
  • Potential bias in sources: The data sources used in desk research may have inherent biases or limited perspectives, leading to incomplete or skewed information, especially if certain viewpoints or demographics are underrepresented.
  • Outdated or incomplete data: Some data may become outdated or lack the most recent information, potentially affecting the relevance and applicability of the findings.
  • Inability to answer specific research questions: Desk research might not address specific or unique research questions that require customized data collection methods, making it less suitable for certain niche topics.
  • Limited customization: Researchers have limited control over the data collected during desk research, which might not cater to specific research requirements or allow for in-depth exploration of niche areas.

Free Secondary Research Sources

1. Google Advanced Search

Given that there are over 70,000 Google searches per second, there is a good chance you have turned to an online search recently.

This is really the easiest place to begin desk research, especially if you do not know exactly what you are looking for. Through search, you can find countless articles, blogs, reports, and white papers on just about any topic.

Online search is more powerful than you may know, too. Google search features advanced filters and settings to target keywords, specific date ranges, domains, and more.

See some of the useful options below.

Google search features advanced filters

2. Google Analytics

Another valuable free source of secondary data is Google Analytics . While there is some work to initially set up the tracking code on each page of your website, this tool is very user-friendly.

The data can tell you almost anything you want to know about the traffic to and from your website.

For example, with Google Analytics you can get a glimpse into:

  • How users arrive at your website
  • What content they engage with while there
  • How long they stay on the website
  • What page they leave on

Below is an example of the Google Analytics platform with the Google Merchandise Store demo account.

GA View For Desk Research

Paid Secondary Sources

1. DemographicsNow by eSite Analytics

Desk research is very important for feasibility studies , in which syndicated research and demographic data are used to identify market supply for a new product or service .

Drive Research uses a secondary data tool called Demographics Now by eSite Analytics to help with these studies.

Market Analysis in Demographics Now provides access to detailed statistics about virtually any US market. The tool offers data on demographics, consumer expenditures, household statistics, psychographics, etc. by target areas.

See an example of the data for the Syracuse DMA below.

eSite Analytics for Desk Research

2. Industry Trend Reports

Other common paid options for desk research sources are industry or trend reports.

These are usually all-encompassing studies for a particular vertical that may highlight its current state and/or forecast changes over the next several years.

While sometimes costly, these reports can give your business a serious leg up on the competition if relevant.

For example, Drive Research created a Cannabis Consumer Report . It is a paid report that shares the findings of a survey we conducted with nearly 4,000 cannabis users. It covers topics such as purchasing behaviors, usage preferences, and perceived health benefits. 

The report covers many areas of interest for those looking to sell or market their cannabis business, but it is at a lower cost than if these audiences were to conduct a custom market research study.

Other Frequently Asked Questions About Desk Research

What is an example of desk research?

Here are three examples of using desk research:

  • Reviewing academic journals and scientific papers to gather data and insights related to a specific research question or topic.
  • Analyzing market reports and industry publications to understand market trends, consumer behavior, and competitor analysis.
  • Examining government publications and statistical data to gather information about demographics, economic indicators, and social trends.

What is the job of a desk researcher?

The job of a desk researcher involves gathering, analyzing, and synthesizing information from various sources, such as published reports, databases, academic papers, and online resources, to provide valuable insights and data to support decision-making, research projects, market analysis, and other information-driven endeavors.

Why is it called desk research?

It is called desk research because the primary activity of the research takes place at a desk, where the researcher accesses and analyzes existing data and information from various sources without the need for fieldwork or direct interaction with participants.

Contact Drive Research Our Desk Research Company

Interested in desk research for yourself? Our team at Drive Research has plenty of experience digging through secondary sources to get answers for clients.

Contact our full-service market research company to see how we may help.

  • Message us on our website
  • Email us at  [email protected]
  • Call us at  888-725-DATA
  • Text us at 315-303-2040

tim gell - about the author

As a Research Analyst, Tim is involved in every stage of a market research project for our clients. He first developed an interest in market research while studying at Binghamton University based on its marriage of business, statistics, and psychology. 

Learn more about Tim, here .

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  • Customer Relationship Management

Desk Research - Methodology and Techniques

As depicted by name Desk Research is the research technique which is mainly acquired by sitting at a desk .

Desk research is basically involved in collecting data from existing resources hence it is often considered a low cost technique as compared to field research, as the main cost is involved in executive’s time, telephone charges and directories. However, it could also be a complete waste of time and money if the researcher does not have the proper knowledge of how the research is performed.

Desk Research

Desk research is very effective and can be conducted in starting phase of market research as it is quite quick and cheap and most of the basic information could be easily fetched which can be used as benchmark in the research process.

There are basically two types of desk research techniques:

The main advantage here in performing internal desk research is that it involves internal and existing organizational resources to organize the collected data in such a way that it is not only efficient but also usable. Internal desk research is comparatively very cheap and effective as internal recourses are deputed and the expenditure in getting data from outside is less.

There could be two approaches for digging out the relevant information from internet, one is directly browsing the specific information from industrial, marketing or business sites and extracting the information out of these sites. Secondly, using the various search engines like,,, etc, for modulated searching.

The important aspect here is to refine the searching techniques in such a way that results are promising and relevant. For this it is necessary that the researcher should know the importance of the research and follow the guideline intellectually to reduce the efforts made and time consumed in searching.

Customers are the one who are considered the most informed as they are actually using products and services and are aware of the current market trends more than any other. Hence the feedback and information provided by customers is the most accurate and useful data which can be used most effectively in the further process of research.

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  • Market Research and CRM
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Authorship/Referencing - About the Author(s)

The article is Written and Reviewed by Management Study Guide Content Team . MSG Content Team comprises experienced Faculty Member, Professionals and Subject Matter Experts. We are a ISO 2001:2015 Certified Education Provider . To Know more, click on About Us . The use of this material is free for learning and education purpose. Please reference authorship of content used, including link(s) to and the content page url.
  • Origin of CRM
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  • CRM and Marketing
  • Misunderstandings about CRM
  • Benefits and Challenges of CRM Software
  • CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Software and Its Importance
  • What is Customer Relationship
  • Types of Customers
  • Orientation of Customers
  • Customer Modeling
  • Customer Profiling
  • Regression Scoring
  • Quality of Relatiosnhip with Customers
  • Need of Relatiosnhip with Customers
  • Customer Relationship with Supplier
  • Cost Sensitivity of Customers
  • Bargaining Power of Customers
  • Desk Research
  • Report Preparation
  • Action Plan in Report Preparation
  • Strategic CRM
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  • Customer’s Response - Introduction
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Headlight Consulting Services

A Quick Overview: Differences Among Desk, Literature, and Learning Reviews

November 12, 2020

By: Chelsie Kuhn, MEL Associate, Headlight Consulting Services, LLP

This is the first post in a series of two about Learning Reviews .

In order to chart the wisest path forward, we need to understand where we have been. Reflecting on past learning can ensure more effective and efficient efforts in the future, regardless of discipline or field. But different information needs require different tools. Literature, Desk, and Learning Reviews are three ways to integrate evidence into decision-making and design processes. Each tool uses varying degrees of information and rigor, and each is best suited for different applications, as described in the visual below.

desk review in research

A Literature Review traditionally focuses on academic journal articles and published books, giving readers a theoretical or case-based frame of reference. A Literature Review may be appropriate for researchers looking to set up an experiment or randomized control trial in a location or those looking at theoretical development over time. This kind of review is all about synthesis of what we know research-wise up to the current point, and what potential gaps exist yet to be filled.

Another type of review widely known is a Desk Review, which serves to provide readers with an introduction into a project’s context and priorities, but often not the past learnings or in-depth challenges needed to inform strategy development. A Desk Review can also serve as an entry point to understanding a particular market or an effective way to organize and summarize disparate types of information. Doing a Desk Review might be appropriate to bring a new team member up to speed on projects or learn about the current state and environment concerning a particular type of intervention.

While Literature and Desk Reviews may be more commonly known, one of the offerings that Headlight specializes in is a Learning Review. A Learning Review is a way to systematically look at past assessments, evaluations, reports, and any other learning documentation in order to inform recommendations and strategy, program, or activity design efforts. Unlike Desk Reviews, Learning Reviews focus on coding and analyzing data instead of summarizing it. With layers of triangulation and secondary analysis built into the process, we can confidently draw findings and conclusions knowing that the foundation of the process is built with rigor. Recommendations stemming from these findings and conclusions serve as the best use of an existing evidence base in designing or revisiting strategies, programs, and activities. Each of these three tools are useful at different points, but as we see more and more emphasis placed on learning and adaptive management, Learning Reviews offer a more rigorous and application focused use of available evidence.

As a synthesis of past evaluations and assessments, Learning Reviews should also be used to feed into new MEL or CLA plans. Having extra information on what has worked in the past, what information was useful, and where more-nuanced information would be beneficial enables us to set better targets and understand potential barriers to measurement. Recommendations may even point to specific indicators to consider or CLA actions to integrate into programming moving forward. Learning Reviews can also be used to appropriately scope and identify future evaluative efforts that will evolve the evidence base.

In the next post in the series, we will expand further on Learning Reviews as a process and walk readers step-by-step through how to conduct one. If you need help implementing any of these above tools, but in particular a Learning Review, Headlight would love to support you! We have the breadth and depth of expertise, experience, and toolbox to tailor-meet your needs. For more information about our services please email [email protected] . Headlight Consulting Services, LLP is a certified women-owned small business and therefore eligible for sole source procurements. We can be found on the Dynamic Small Business Search or on via our name or DUNS number (081332548).

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Systematic approach to desk-top research and university projects

  • Post author By admin
  • Post date September 22, 2014
  • No Comments on Systematic approach to desk-top research and university projects

How to conduct effective desk-top research?

This article is for any university student about to embark on writing essays or completing dissertations and projects for the first time. I have also run workshops introducing these methods and they do seem to be overwhelmingly useful even to more experienced researchers. This article is also intended to help  dissertation supervisors who may want to produce a ‘mini-systematic review’ for an undergraduate or postgraduate research project. This provides a robust methodology for the students to follow and is a much more rewarding and exacting project than a mere literature review. It will also satisfy requirements of those professional bodies who look for an element of ‘data analysis’ within the project.

So, let us embark on an interesting and hopefully informative journey about how to carry out effective desk-top research.

Airport departures

Introducing the systematic review

The word “ systematic ” in relation to a review involves the use of precise methods to gather and assess the results of research publications that (most importantly) minimises bias within the process. The result should be a robust and reliable assimilation of evidence in order to reach a reliable conclusion. Medical systematic reviews are conducted and published through the Cochrane Library  named after Archie Cochrane a Scottish doctor who established the idea of evidence-based medicine. Why do I mention systematic reviews in relation to desk-top research? Well – if you understand the premise and approaches of a systematic review and apply them to your essays, coursework and dissertations, then you will be undertaking a high quality piece of work (or suggesting a high quality assignment if you are setting the work). The steps highlighted below would also provide you with a methodology and the basis of a methods section for a dissertation.

Figure 1 illustrates the systematic approach.  The details on the left hand side are the minimum approach that could be undertaken in an essay or piece of desk-top research. For more in-depth undergraduate projects, and certainly for full systematic reviews, the details on the right hand side would need to be fully understood and reported.

Full systematic reviews can be conducted on any subject, not just medical ones. I have written  ones on education subjects – and here too, they are useful to  pool knowledge about best practice, or to evaluate new innovations in teaching for example. In education, often the methods are more relaxed as generally education papers do not meet the high quality standards of medical papers and their research designs. This is often due to not being able to randomise groups of students / learners due to the constraints of timetabling and classrooms. This isn’t the entire story though, as generally there is a feeling that much medical research and education research is simply not conducted as well as it could be .

Systematic principles – we should all use them!

A full systematic review is a serious piece of research and I like to teach the principles to my university students wherever possible because it provides them with a basis for doing high quality literature reviews, essays and dissertations. In fact I believe that anyone conducting research should know these principles. How many times do we hear that people are just using a Google Search or even Scholar, and they think it is research? The mainstay for any professional research must be the use of peer-reviewed and edited articles, and Scholar will not provide a robust enough search of these, and will also retrieve non-peer-reviewed reports and documents. Interesting as background reading certainly, but not for citation within a professional piece of work.

1) Setting the research question

The formulation of a precise research question is the starting point for any research and can be quite tricky. In medicine the  PICO framework  is used to define the various elements – population, intervention, comparison and outcome measure. For example I might be interested whether probiotics help people with diarrhoea.

Population – patients with diarrhoea Intervention – probiotics Comparison – no treatment Outcome – alleviation of diarrhoeal symptoms

So a question might be,

In patients with diarrhoea, do probiotics compared to no treatment, alleviate symptoms?

A PICO based question is the starting point of any dissertation student of mine, although not all the categories may apply. Once the question is set, the search strategy evolves and we can start generating keywords around the question categories.

But let’s take an education example. I’m interested in free online learning in the form of massive online open courses – MOOCs and the student experience.

P = learners I = MOOCs C = face to face/ traditional learning O = student experience

The question might be,

Do MOOCs enhance the experience of learners compared to traditional methods?

2) Deciding where to search?

A systematic review will aim to find ALL the articles in the world! This means not just using electronic databases, but hand searching books and journals, and contacting experts for unpublished or ongoing research. This can be quite a time intensive process. Today, the process is greatly helped by being able to save your searches within electronic databases, so once established (e.g. you might run a search at the start of your student project), you can simply run it again at the end to check for recent articles. Be pragmatic with the time you have – you might not be able to search everywhere, and the school of thought is that actually a good search of electronic databases will retrieve you the majority of articles these days, although do take care if you are particularly interested in more historic ones that may not be digitised.

So, where you decide to search will depend on what your organisation or local library has access to. Web of Knowledge and Medline are the mainstays of my research – which is both medical and educational. For my review on MOOCs I also used SCOPUS, IEEE and others. These cover both conference proceedings and workshop proceedings alongside published articles (original research, literature reviews, comments, opinions, letters etc).

3) Building up keyword lists for searching

From our PICO categories, we can start building up lists of keywords on similar themes.

P = learners, students, users I = MOOCs, xMOOC, cMOOC, massive online open course, free course C = face to face teaching, traditional teaching O = student experience, learning gain, knowledge gain

The next step is building up these words further. This is where I recommend using Wikipedia . It is a great keyword generator. I will also run some searches at this point to find relevant studies and look at their keywords to add to the list. If you were carrying out a full systematic review to publish, you would spend some time building up your keywords and then testing the results to ensure you were retrieving relevant articles. This iterative process might go on for some time, although for shorter-time scale projects such as undergraduate work, this may not be desirable.

4) Getting the keywords organised using Boolean logic

In some research I recently conducted looking at massive online open courses – MOOCs – I used six online databases to search, and used Boolean notation for searching with my keyword lists. There is a nice explanation of the use of Boolean logic on Ithaca College Library website. This in its simplest form uses the words (inputed in capitals – AND, OR, NOT) to combine keywords in order to expand and cross-reference your search accordingly. The Figure 2 summarises this approach.

You can also truncate words to search for all the variants of word endings using an asterisk *

e.g. MOOC MOOCs we can search for MOOC* e.g. Massive or massively we can search for massiv*

If searching phrases these need to be in quotations otherwise the individual words will be searched for separately and return thousands of results.

e.g. “massiv* online open cours*”

I’ve referred to the use of Boolean notation in another blog article – “ Seek and ye shall find ” complete with webcasts and instructions. This is following very simple principles and those expert in searching and forming Boolean instruction will be more complex than this. Here are some of the more commonly used ‘operators’ or instructions within the notation.

# means search OR – this will link together keywords and is used to broaden a search AND – this will cross-reference two searches (and not expand the search as you might suspect) NOT – this will exclude terms from the search

Going back to our question whether probiotics are effective for patients with diarrhoea, we could just haphazardly search for the keywords as shown below in Figure 3. However, as shown by the numbers, you will retrieve vast numbers of records and your search will not be specifically addressing your question.

The use of Boolean notation can be illustrated by the formation of a Venn diagram which shows the principles of combining the three separate searches using the word ‘AND’. The ‘OR’ term will enable you to expand out your searches such as for probiotics and lactobacillus. You may also search for humans and adults as a focus, and also the disease of interest. By using the ‘AND’ term you are cross-referencing the three searches to find those papers in the centre of the Venn diagram (Figure 4) – you can see a more manageable number of 1312 papers. These of course can be further limited perhaps by searching just for clinical trials.

5) Running the search and being organised!

Organisation is key and many online databases can set up accounts to save your searches (Medline is great for this) or export your outputs to a reference manager. I prefer to sometimes run the search, save the results as a ‘txt’ file and input into Microsoft Excel for analysis. The analysis steps might be important in a systematic review where you have pre-set what your research question is and your criteria for including studies. You can therefore use a new Excel sheet for each step in the analysis to maintain a good record of your process.

If you are completing a full systematic review, you will wish to refine your search in an iterative manner. That is, you will look at your search results to see if they are retrieving relevant articles, and refine the keywords and Boolean strategy if necessary to produce a more precise result. This step can in my experience take far more time than you might realise. The benefit is, once the search is right, you can save it and use it to update your coursework / project or review in the future.

6) What are study inclusion and exclusion criteria? (Could be optional depending on type of project or research)

For an undergraduate project you may not wish to be so stringent to think about what types of studies you wish to include or exclude. If you are completing a literature review, you may want just to provide an overall evaluation of everything that you have found. If you are being more systematic and wish to generate data for your project, you can follow the steps undertaken by a full systematic review, and record the numbers of studies you include and exclude at each phase. The beauty of this within a project or piece of research is that you are generating legitimate research data that can be displayed in a number of established figures and formats as illustrated below in Figure 5. Here, the results of a literature search and numbers of studies that are excluded during the process are shown.

Some excellent details on how to report systematic review results can be found not he following website, describing the PRISMA statements – preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta analyses .

In my studies of ‘education’, I set the entry gate quite wide so not to restrict the numbers of studies based on their design and quality. You will need to decide your inclusion and exclusion criteria at the start when you are writing your research proposal, or planning your essay. If you did wish to consider excluding types of articles, you might for example be doing a medical review and may well wish to only include randomised controlled trials. You might be researching an area of biomedical science and wish only to include animal investigations. If you are interested in systematic reviews in education specifically, this is a subject of development and debate the present time (e.g. Bennett 2005).

When you are analysing the results of your searches you will often soon spot ‘duplicate studies’. You will almost certainly find the same study on a number of databases, so you can use the ‘sort’ function to scan your lists of authors and remove duplicates. Studies can be duplicated in more subtle ways, for example an author might publish an abstract of data in a national journal, and then present the data at international conference. These are strictly duplicate studies because they contain the same data. The duplicate will need to be removed as shown in Figure 5.

7) Data collection and analysis

If you are intending to follow a systematic approach you will need to construct a series of spreadsheets to gather and organise your results. If you are completing a full systematic review you will establish the layout of a data extraction table prior to starting the review. This would include items such as author name, date of publication, methodology, outcome measures, and a host of other details. Again, the Cochrane organisation has further details on  data extraction .

Sorting your search results and applying the inclusion and exclusion criteria does take time, but ultimately it will give you the good results you are looking for. In a full-scale systematic review a number of authors would do these steps independently to ensure the process is accurate and to avoid bias introduced by personal choices and preferences. A third author can help discuss any areas of conflict or indecision. Filtering of the papers generally occurs in two phases:

Phase 1 of filtering. You can quickly filter your results often by just looking at the titles and author names to identify duplicates. You may need to review the abstracts at this point to ensure they match your inclusion criteria. Anything that is unclear will need to be checked by reviewing the full paper.

Phase 2 of selecting and filtering. If your inclusion criteria is looking for a specific methodology – e.g. randomised controlled trial, or specific subset of articles – e.g. animal studies, if you cannot glean this information from the abstract you will need the full paper to review.

So you might go through a phase of ordering full papers, and again use a reference manager of file system on your computer to organise yourself. I generally obtain the full paper for every article as I go along.

8) Qualitative versus quantitive analysis

For a full systematic review, if you have identified enough studies you can then extract data for pooling in a meta-analysis to provide quantitative data. As part of a review it is also good practice to provide a brief ‘narrative’ of the papers identified, and also to summarise your results in table form. The extent to which you do all of this will depend on the numbers of papers retrieved, and for the purposes of ‘containing’ an undergraduate project within 5000 words which is often the limit, you may need to restrict the textual explanations of the papers.

Providing the ‘narrative’ is often the part that students struggle to do within project result sections, therefore it is worth gaining a deeper understanding of the approaches and styles that can be undertaken. Popay et al in 2006 wrote a report on narrative synthesis that may be a starting point.

9) Finishing off and identifying themes and conclusions

If you have adhered to your question, keywords and inclusion / exclusion criteria, you should end up with a corpus (body of literature) directly relevant to your question. Depending on the volume of papers retrieved you may be able to look for sub-themes and organise your discussion around these. For example, searching for probiotics and diarrhoeal disease may reveal areas of research focusing on children as opposed to adults for example. The research may focus on different types of bacteria or blends of bacteria. A systematic approach is a great way of organising your research from start to finish!

Bennett, J., Fred Lubben , Sylvia Hogarth & Bob Campbell (2005). Systematic reviews of research in science education: rigour or rigidity?, International Journal of Science Education, 27:4, 387-406.

Cochrane Library (2014). About Cochrane Systematic Reviews and Protocols. Available:

Popay, J., Roberts, H., Sowden, A., Petticrew, M., Arai, L., Rodgers, M., … & Duffy, S. (2006). Guidance on the conduct of narrative synthesis in systematic reviews. A product from the ESRC methods programme. Version, 1.

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How to avoid a desk reject: do’s and don’ts

  • Published: 17 June 2024

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desk review in research

  • Sjoerd Beugelsdijk 1 &
  • Allan Bird 2  

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Avoid common mistakes on your manuscript.


The number of manuscripts submitted to academic journals has increased significantly, and along with that the desk-reject rate also, that is, the rate at which manuscripts are rejected at the very first stage of the review process (Ansell & Samuels, 2021 ). At the Journal of International Business Studies ( JIBS ), roughly 65% of submissions are desk-rejected. In other words, the authors of nearly two-thirds of the manuscripts sent to this journal will not see their submissions reach an area editor or reviewers. Obviously, no one wants to receive a rejection letter; when it is a desk reject, authors may well feel they never even got a fair hearing through a peer-review process. Not only has the number of submissions risen but so has their overall quality. It was inevitable that the desk-reject bar would be raised. Not doing so would have risked overburdening editorial teams and the pool of qualified and dedicated reviewers on which they rely. Already, across all fields of science, potential reviewers are more frequently declining invitations to review, and this further increases the pressure on reviewing editors to desk-reject manuscripts (Dance, 2023 ). Footnote 1

Getting past the desk-reject stage is critical because even if a manuscript is not eventually accepted for publication, the suggestions and comments of an area editor and reviewers— invariably acknowledged experts in the field—can be immeasurably valuable in making improvements for submission to another journal. A desk reject differs from rejection later in the review process because the objective and the process of the two are quite different. Reviewing editors decide by themselves the fate of a manuscript, while peer review is a shared responsibility. The workload of reviewing editors is such that they need to rely on heuristics to make their decisions. Hence, they hone in on specific elements which, if not present, will result in a desk reject. In this editorial, we describe these elements under two headings: (1) effective communication, and (2) theory- and method-related rigor. Our goal is to relay what reviewing editors look for when deciding whether to forward a manuscript to the next level. Our tips and actionable suggestions are summarized in the Appendix, where we also provide a list of 80 questions that serve as a ‘checklist’ of do’s and don’ts. These suggestions are based on more than 4000 Journal of International Business Studies desk-reject decisions between 2016 and 2024. Many of the suggestions and recommendations we provide apply equally to overall guidance about research in international business.

The role of reviewing editors

Reviewing editors are tasked with (1) conserving the time, attention, and energies of area editors, reviewers, and submitting authors, and (2) maintaining the focus and integrity of the journal mission as embodied in its statement of aims and scope. The mechanics of a desk review are straightforward: their purpose is to assess whether a submission meets the journal’s fit, quality, and contribution thresholds. In addition to determining if a manuscript meets those three content criteria, reviewing editors are charged with ensuring that the review process is fair, specifically that it is free of bias, ethical lapses and errors, and that, to a reasonable extent, author concerns or requests are accommodated. More details can be found in the Journal of International Business Studies guidelines for reviewers. Footnote 2

The first step in the desk-review process entails reading the cover letter. Although not required, many authors submit them. They can be used to explain distinctive aspects of the manuscript, for example, a unique approach taken in framing the research question. A cover letter might also be used to make a request, such as for a reviewer knowledgeable about a new analytical approach. We recommend that authors provide pertinent information, such as the names of persons who have previously read and commented on the manuscript, thereby avoiding the possibility of compromising the double-blind peer review should the manuscript move forward in the review process. Footnote 3 Authors should also alert the reviewing editor if other manuscripts or published articles by the author and co-authors address the same topic or draw upon the same dataset as the submitted manuscript. Footnote 4 We recommend submitting a detailed overview of any overlap and differences between the submitted manuscript and the authors’ existing work in the same vein (sometimes referred as an originality matrix), so as to help the reviewing editor assess the contribution of the manuscript. There is an expectation that authors will be transparent with editors.

Reviewing editors are anxious to avoid making type I or type II errors. They do not want to desk reject a manuscript that might end up being a high-quality, impactful article. Making the wrong decision can mean a loss for the journal as well as deny the authors timely publication. On the other hand, forwarding for full review a manuscript that does not meet fit, quality, and contribution thresholds and has little chance of reaching publication is an inefficient use of the time, attention, and effort of editors and reviewers. It also bogs down authors who end up having devoted time pursuing an ultimately fruitless review process rather than improving the manuscript and submitting it elsewhere.

Because there are recurring patterns in the types of issues that lead to a desk reject, reviewing editors use heuristics in making their assessments. In general, a manuscript is desk-rejected if there is not a good fit with the aims and scope of the journal. For the Journal of International Business Studies , this implies the topic has to address an international business topic as explained in the editorial guidelines. Footnote 5 Manuscripts should address topics from an international comparative and/or cross-border angle. This means that ‘just’ analyzing a cross section of countries is not sufficient to be considered for this journal. Similarly, ‘just’ adding some country-specific variables as control variables is not sufficient to qualify as making a contribution to international business. Single-country studies without an IB dimension are a substantial portion of all desk-rejected articles. The heuristics that reviewing editors use can be categorized into two main domains: (1) effective communication and (2) theory- and method-related rigor. Each domain consists of a series of do’s and don’ts. These do’s and don’ts are summarized in the Appendix.

Effective communication

Writing a good manuscript involves reading prior research, data analysis, sense-making, writing, re-analyzing, presenting to colleagues, re-writing, and eventually accepting a certain degree of imperfection. A positive correlation exists between manuscript quality and the time spent on it, but that correlation is far from 1. Certainly, as some seem to believe, a manuscript does not merit review simply because the author claims a lot of time has been spent on it. Underestimation of the importance of effectively communicating with readers is at the root of many desk rejects. We discuss five of them here.

Develop a story

Human beings are pattern-seeking, sense-making, story-telling animals (Leamer, 2009 ). A good manuscript tells a story, one that is believable and memorable. The story may be based on a phenomenological observation or be a theory-based narrative, but a good story is critical to scholarly understanding because storytelling is a cognitive process with sense-making at its core.

It is a mistake to think that storytelling in science is limited to manuscripts using interviews, for which it is a recommended theory-development strategy. It is also a critical part of effective communication for manuscripts based on secondary data where there is often a focus on statistical relationships without a clear understanding of underlying processes. To minimize the probability that a regression result becomes merely a statistical artefact, authors should understand what is driving the statistically significant relationships between the variables. If they do, their story is much better than that of authors who rely on statistical software packages to tell the story for them. In other words, a coefficient that differs significantly from zero is never the essence of the story, but only a part of it. This is one important reason why authors who first analyze the data and then develop hypotheses on that basis (i.e., who practice what is called harking –  h ypothesizing a fter r esults a re k nown) are generally not good storytellers. Harking is not only unscientific, but it also results in unpersuasive stories.

What does make for a good story? In a word, focus. We do not mean honing in on detail to such an extent that the result is a marginal contribution. Far from it. Still, the most valuable contributions are typically very focused. By focus we mean that the core concept is succinctly stated and concisely explained in just a few sentences. The key takeaway should be delivered in plain English understandable to a non-academic audience. Preparing 15-min mock presentations and rehearsing—out loud—the opening and concluding sections can be especially useful in developing a focused story.

Focus alone will not suffice. Delivery is extremely important. Good writing enhances storytelling. We hasten to add that reviewing editors do not reject manuscripts out of hand because of low readability—although obviously the manuscript must be intelligible. Nonetheless, there can be a horn’s effect. A carelessly put together manuscript with typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors that could have easily been caught by running a spelling and grammar check, or table and figure headings that do not match content, or referencing that is incomplete, inconsistent or not applicable, raise doubts about the rigor and precision with which theory is developed and data analyzed. Authors need to take the time to polish their manuscripts; even established researchers spend a considerable amount of time doing that. Poor writing can be fixed by careful language editing down the line.

It is also a mistake to overcomplicate the story by trying to do too much. This typically happens when an author tries to eclectically mix different theories. Reviewing editors are not likely to forward manuscripts in which authors use multiple theories, e.g., the resource-based view of the firm, transaction costs theory, population ecology, and institutional theory. First, each theory comes with its own set of assumptions, causal mechanisms, and boundary conditions, and these can be hard—if not impossible—to integrate into one overarching framework. Second, combining multiple theories tends to result in convoluted arguments with no real punchline.

Another mistake is to center the story around the use of a different method or a distinctive sample to empirically examine relationships that have already been studied extensively. While that strategy might work when submitting to a second-tier journal, top journals expect there to be a clear theoretical contribution and novelty beyond a new method or distinctive sample. Showing that a relationship already examined in other studies holds when expanding the sample, e.g., to different countries or perhaps by using an alternative method, will trigger interest only if there is an unusual theoretical rationale for using the new method or sample. For example, suppose a specific theory has been tested primarily in economically developed countries and that good theoretical arguments exist for why the theory may not apply outside that context; then expanding the sample to less economically developed countries makes sense. The same holds true for a manuscript that an author attempts to ‘sell’ based on the use of a new method. With the exception of method-focused journals such as Organizational Research Methods , most reviewing editors will only forward a method-focused manuscript if the method element has interesting theoretical implications.

What makes for a good story is to some extent time-specific. Management trends come and go, and so does what is seen as a legitimate story. For a long time, authors specified what was called a ‘gap’ in the literature. They would claim to have uncovered a theoretical hole and then outline it in the introduction of their manuscript. Their story was essentially based on their observation that aspect A of theory X had not yet been addressed. As time has passed, phenomenological research has become popular and it is now increasingly legitimate for authors to start their story with a new, interesting, even odd empirical observation. With that, a good story has become one that piques the interest of readers and makes them curious about what comes out. It leaves them thinking to themselves, “Good point. Why didn’t I think of that?” An effective way of gauging what is trending in a particular community of scholars is to read the introductions of conference papers and recently published articles to see what kind of ‘hook’ is used.

Write a clear introduction that explains the what, so what, and now what

The introduction can be a make-or-break point. A desk reject is likely if the introduction is not clear. The reviewing editor will look for focus, a good story, convincing theorizing, and tight empirical tests. There is no universal template for a high-quality introduction, but that does not mean that crafting one is a random process. The best introductions include several recurring elements (Grant & Pollock, 2011 ). The introduction of articles published in top journals may differ from the pattern explained below because of differences in topic, method, data, field, research tradition, and findings. Still, we can discuss several elements that all reviewing editors look for when reading an introduction. Often those elements correspond to the four paragraphs that we propose should form the introduction.

The first paragraph should set the scene. It should include (1) the topic, (2) why it matters, and (3) what is already known about it, including theories used. Writing the opening paragraph is quite challenging because the author must summarize in just a few sentences the state-of-affairs in a field. The second paragraph discusses what we do not yet know about the topic. This can be theory or phenomenon-driven. For example, there is well-established and vast literature on why people resign and change jobs, but we do not yet really understand the recently identified phenomenon of quiet quitting. Describing why quiet quitting could be important is key because it provides the motivation behind the manuscript. The third paragraph describes what the author does to address the question, specifically the theory used, key characteristics of the data (e.g., sample size and country context), as well as the method used. In this paragraph the author should also summarize the findings. In the fourth and final paragraph, authors should circle back to the broader topic – in our example, quiet quitting. They should show why their findings matter as well as the implications. The contribution should be as explicit as possible, not just repeat the empirical findings, but discuss their broader meaning. The last paragraph often ends with a road map indicating how the manuscript is structured.

The typical introduction in management journal articles is around 600 words, divided more or less equally between the paragraphs described above. This means that in each case the material to be covered is handled in just six to eight sentences. The first and last sentences of each paragraph are critical. If those two alone convey the message, the manuscript is probably properly focused. In fact, one way of checking whether a paragraph makes sense is to read those sentences, ignoring the ones in between, to see if the core message is still conveyed. If so, the manuscript is focused and the storyline clear. Another test is to string together the opening sentence of each paragraph. There should be a coherent story supported by a clear line of reasoning. Obviously there are many variations in the way successful authors craft introductions. We describe here what we, as reviewing editors, have found effective introductions have in common.

Know your audience and the language they speak

Imagine entering a room in which the ten most-cited scholars in your area are debating the very topic on which you are writing. They turn to look at you. You have their attention. What can you say about your manuscript that would interest them? Would it impress them if you were to say that you show that the relation between X, Y, and Z—something which they have already analyzed – holds true using your data? What if instead you were able to tell them a powerful story in field-specific language, words that carry a particular connotation and labels with well-known associations? The point is, in a twist to the normal advice to use your own words, you need to tell the story in their kinds of words.

Authors need to immerse themselves in the language used in their area. They need to read the classic articles and books as well as the latest ones on the topic, bearing in mind that there is a significant time lag between manuscript submission and final publication. They need to stay on top of what is happening in the scholarly community in other ways as well. Taking part in academic conferences is one of them—attending panels, observing debates, engaging in discussions, especially delivering papers—all help in understanding where a field is heading. Topics, methods, approaches, and terminology are ‘in the air’ at workshops and during webinars. All of this is part of knowing the audience. Despite all recent advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), this aspect of targeting your audience has so far not been successfully integrated in existing AI tools.

One less tacit, more formal aspect of audience expectations is understanding the style and format in which core ideas are communicated. Journals have set limits on the number of words used. It is important for authors to stick to them. Reviewing editors do sometimes wade through manuscripts that are considerably longer than the norm, but they are ever mindful of the contribution-to-length ratio. Authors should not try to be exhaustive in providing references. Peppering a text with references, especially when placed mid-sentence, reduces readability. Reviewing editors are familiar with a wide range of research areas. They will catch careless referencing, such as backing up a statement with a reference to an article or book in which no such support can be found, or misattributing a contribution. Inaccurate or excessive referencing reflects badly on the scholarship of a submitting author and may lead to a desk reject. It is important to use current references, as submissions with references ending 15 or 20 years ago signal the manuscript is outdated. Finally, there is no formal rule regarding what particular works authors should reference, but if none of the references have been published in the journal to which they are submitting, it is likely to be taken as evidence of not being in touch with ongoing discussions in the journal, thereby raising the question of fit.

Avoid vague wording

Words matter. Scientific research requires precision. Formal modeling provides it in economics, finance, operations research, and some subfields in sociology and political science. Social sciences, including business and management, rely on precise, unambiguous language. Unfortunately, many authors are not so meticulous. Reviewing editors are not taken in by meaningless jargon or pretentious verbiage. Rather, such language might be taken as an indication that an author has not totally grasped the topic or is attempting to oversell the contribution.

Consider the following seven examples taken from actual manuscripts—followed by our critical comments. (1) We show that an integrated approach is required. This kind of generic statement holds for virtually all topics . (2) We provide a nuanced picture of the complex relationship between X and Y. Attempting to add nuance to a complex concept is an endless exercise—not a goal in itself. The goal should be to make the complex simple without making it simplistic. We mean E = mc 2 simple. (3) Managers should take care of their international HR function. No study is needed to reach this obvious conclusion. (4) We discuss some implications of… Some? Are there others? Vague statements like these make us wonder what is left unsaid, or unresearched, or if the author is unsure of what the implications might be or how to explain them. (5) We uncover heterogeneity that has not been addressed before. To our knowledge, we are the first to analyze... An author may have found something of importance that escaped all others, but maybe it is not sufficiently interesting or indeed even relevant enough to merit publication. (6) We draw upon… What exactly does this mean? Does the author intend to take – in whole or in part – elements from a theory and eclectically combine them? (7) The relation between subsidiary and headquarters: some insights from country X . This last example has to do with crafting meaningful titles. The manuscript title, as well as those of the figures and tables, should be precise and specific and convey meaningful information.

Finally, a word of caution about acknowledging limitations. It is not a recommended strategy to discuss all possible limitations, especially when done at the end of a manuscript, as this may leave readers wondering why they have taken the time to read something the authors themselves think is significantly flawed. Two types of limitations should be identified, but not necessarily addressed in a specific section labeled as such and found at the end of the manuscript. Methodological limitations are ideally addressed in the Method section along with steps taken to mitigate or overcome them. Theoretical limitations relate specifically to what interpretations or conclusions can be drawn from the empirical findings. Rather than listing them as limitations, they can be framed as future lines of inquiry opened up as a result of what was learned from the study.

Write a clear self-standing abstract

Many authors underestimate the importance of the abstract. This is hard to understand because a good abstract gets the attention of potential readers and can entice them to continue reading. An article read is possibly one cited. The abstract is also important in the review process. It is the first thing that a reviewing editor reads. The abstract should give the topic and research question (the motivation), the theoretical angle taken, what the author does (the empirical setting if relevant), the findings, and why the study matters (the contribution). In short, it must convey a considerable amount of information. Writing one takes time and attention, and the abstract should not be the last quick thing authors attend to before submission. All too often abstracts are overly technical and hard to understand without having read the full manuscript.

What can authors do to be sure that what they write in the abstract is meaningful? One way of testing is to draw a line through the key construct named in the abstract and put in its place some other construct in the field. If the abstract makes just as much sense after plugging in that randomly chosen construct, the original abstract is probably uninformative and unconvincing. Let us illustrate the point with a concrete example. Do the following test on this hypothetical abstract: “Institutions have been recognized as a crucial topic in international business research with wide-ranging implications for internationalizing firms. As a result, there are a wide variety of studies in different contexts, using different methods, a diverse set of theories, and a variety of empirical measures. In this article, we review the existing literature, evaluate current approaches critically, and highlight directions for future research.” Now, suppose ‘institutions’ were to be substituted by ‘headquarter–subsidiary relationships’. There is nothing jarring about the resulting version, a sign of an abstract that is too generic.

Theory- and method-related rigor

Distinguish between theory and literature review.

Authors sometimes confuse the literature review with the theory section. Whereas a literature review provides an overview of established findings thereby providing the frame into which a manuscript fits, a theory section provides a set of arguments (embedded in underlying assumptions) that logically lead to a proposition or testable hypothesis. A theory is about the arrows linking construct A to construct B (Thomas et al., 2011 ). In short, theories explain relationships. But rather than providing an integrated framework based on causal theoretical arguments, the theory section in many manuscripts is just a literature review that provides an overview of what other authors have argued or found in their empirical studies. The lack of a strong theory section is an important reason for a desk reject.

Theoretical arguments are often not precise because authors work with overly broad concepts. The result is loosely linked arguments. Another common mistake is to mix arguments from different schools of thought, leading to theoretical imprecision. This, as noted before, leads to poor stories. Reviewing editors are senior scholars and thus aware of the most important differences between the core theories used in a field. This does not mean that manuscripts need only develop narrow arguments derived from a single theoretical framework, but it is generally recognized that combining lenses is challenging (Okhuysen & Bionardi, 2011 ).

Finally, reviewing editors are likely to desk-reject a manuscript when the author excessively uses quotations. Instead of relying on others to say what you want to argue, it is far better to explain the mechanisms directly and explicitly in your own words. There is a risk of misstating what the cited author means to say because quotations are snapshots of broader arguments, and often individual sentences are taken from longer paragraphs.

Spell out the theoretical mechanisms

Ultimately, the theoretical contribution lies in highlighting the set of mechanisms that logically explain the relationship between A and B. Hypotheses are testable predictions derived from a set of arguments that causally and logically relate to one another. Often authors present hypotheses as the result of a set of empirical findings. This leads to truisms—claims that are so self-evident that they are too obvious to mention. In these cases, reviewing editors are inclined to reject manuscripts. Examples can be an effective way to present arguments, but they are no substitute for clear theoretical argumentation. In other words, the plural of anecdote may be data, but data cannot by themselves be the basis for hypotheses.

Hypotheses make testable statements on the relationship between abstract constructs. A good hypothesis is the logical outcome of proper theorizing (Santangelo & Verbeke, 2022 ). Because they are unable to examine theoretical relationships directly, researchers rely on empirical proxies, e.g., patent filings as a proxy for firm innovation, and return on investment for firm performance. It is not uncommon for authors to shift focus from constructs to proxies, and to make statements on relationships between empirical proxies while overlooking the theoretical constructs the proxies are purported to represent. As a general rule of thumb, one should not discuss measurement-related issues (e.g., the variables used as proxies) in the theory section. This makes it possible to keep it as clean as possible and reduces the risk of conflating the theoretical argument supporting hypotheses with the empirical tools used to test them.

Many phenomena in international business are multi-level by nature. For example, country-level variables, such as national cultural differences, may moderate lower-level relationships, such as the dynamic between team leaders and team members. When data are nested in countries, firms, teams, and individuals, one needs to use multi-level methods to disentangle the impact of variations at each level. The real challenge is often not in using multi-level methods, but in developing multi-level theories. Reviewing editors look for a description of the mechanisms linking the micro and the macro levels. If they are not made explicit, a desk reject is likely. To avoid that, authors should make sure they discuss the causal relationships between the different levels.

As a rule, authors should also avoid hypotheses that involve more than one relationship. For example, a model where an increase in A is theorized to cause a decrease in B and the A–B relationship is moderated by C should have two hypotheses, not one. Compound hypotheses are inherently complex and consequently often poorly worded, and this may lead to a desk reject.

Isolate the theoretical channels empirically

In addition to clearly specifying the nature of the theoretical argument, empirical tests of hypothesized relationships need to get as close as possible to a direct test of the proposed mechanisms. This is done by providing convincing theoretical arguments and a series of empirical tests that serve two goals. First, to show that the mechanism that is theorized exists empirically. Second, to rule out alternative plausible explanations. Ruling out alternative explanations is at least as important as providing evidence for the theoretical mechanisms. This should be taken into account when designing the study and prior to data collection. A number of methods are available to identify mechanisms, including—but not limited to—instrumental variables, natural or quasi experiments, regression discontinuity design, difference-in-difference analysis, randomized control trials, propensity score matching, and longitudinal studies.

Increasingly, authors combine multiple methods to corroborate the main effects found, combining quantitative and qualitative methods, including AI. In all cases, it is critical to explain why a specific method was used, the problem it addresses, and how it helps us better understand the theoretical mechanisms. Reviewing editors will evaluate whether the methods used are adequate to test the proposed theoretical relationship between constructs. If the answer is no, a desk reject is likely. Using multiple inadequate methods does not substitute for using a (single) adequate one.

Although theorizing is all about developing causal arguments, establishing causation is often empirically difficult. Authors should therefore avoid mentioning causation unless they can empirically test for it. Language should be precise and distinguish between association, e.g., an increase in political risk is associated with a decrease in foreign direct investment, and causation, e.g., an increase in an MNE’s foreign investments reduces its organizational slack. Note that all journals prefer to see evidence of causality, but will often accept association.

Match construct and empirical measure

Empirical research relies on proxy measures for theoretical constructs. More often than not, proxy measures are imperfect. The alignment between construct and measurement is critical in empirical research, and ideally already addressed at the design stage of a research project. Researchers doing survey-based studies typically develop custom-made measurement instruments, other researchers using those instruments in later studies need to make sure that the instruments align definitionally with their own theoretical constructs. Similarly, secondary data-based research often relies on data collected for other purposes, and hence the variables used to measure the theoretical constructs are often imperfect proxies.

One way to check if proxies are distal is to write the definition of a construct and the way the construct is measured on separate pieces of paper, and to then, without looking at the rest of the text, ask whether the two are aligned. With survey instruments, it can be useful to examine the individual items used to measure the construct. For example, research using Hofstede’s power distance dimension might compare Hofstede’s definition of the power distance construct with the original items used to measure it. Distal proxies are relatively easy for reviewing editors to detect, and are a common reason for desk rejects. Harking not only leads to poor stories, as explained earlier, but also to the use of distal proxies as authors try to retrofit an already-existing measure to a theoretical construct.

Link research question, theory, hypotheses, and implications

By the time the reviewing editor reaches the Discussion section, the primary focus is on the third criterion—contribution. It is not enough to provide a convincing answer to the research question. Authors must demonstrate that the answer contributes to a broader or deeper understanding of theoretical concerns or practical phenomena. Often described in terms of ‘implications’, what the Discussion section ideally accomplishes is an explanation of how the findings of the study should be understood, i.e., what the findings mean. A failure to position a manuscript’s contribution into a broader theoretical context may lead the reviewing editor to conclude that the manuscript’s contribution is narrow or trivial.

Theoretical implications are difficult to describe, yet doing so well is essential. One way to elicit them is by asking what changes should be made to extant theory to account for the empirical results found. When stating theoretical and empirical implications, it is best not to overreach and claim overly bold implications that do not logically follow from the findings. To sum up: reviewing editors look for a logical fit between the research question, the hypotheses, and the overall theoretical implications; and they expect the implications to be substantive.

Authors as prosecuting attorneys

The metaphor of trying a case in a court of law is useful when conceptualizing the challenges facing authors in getting their manuscripts published. Authors are like prosecuting attorneys in that they must have a convincing story supported by reliable witnesses and credible evidence. Prosecuting attorneys need to relate the various elements of a crime—motive, means, and opportunity—in a compellingly persuasive way. Likewise, authors must craft a story that explains a phenomenon, gather evidence—primary and secondary data, elicit reliable testimony from unimpeachable witnesses—authors of other relevant research, and finally, validate their closing arguments using quantitative and qualitative analytical tools. In essence, both prosecuting attorneys and authors are saying, “This is my story and I can back it up, so believe me.” In this metaphor, reviewing editors act like judges overseeing preliminary hearings in that they weigh the validity of the case before them. Is it strong enough, i.e., sufficiently credible, to warrant proceeding further? If a manuscript does not communicate persuasively that it is sufficiently compelling in terms of theory, method, analysis, and conclusion, the answer will be no, a desk reject.

We have attempted to demystify the desk-review stage of the review process by sharing our insights and the heuristics we use as reviewing editors. We trust that authors will find our suggestions helpful and look forward to reviewing their manuscripts. Our suggestions are subject to some limitations. Most of the articles published in the Journal of International Business Studies , and business and management journals more broadly, are hypothesis-testing. Thus, our recommendations are predominantly derived from reviewing such manuscripts. Relatedly, most manuscripts submitted to social science journals, including the Journal of International Business Studies , fall within the domain of the logical positivist tradition. Despite these limitations, we believe that following our suggestions can increase the probability a manuscript will pass the desk-review stage, which is a critical step towards publication.

Appendix: How to minimize the probability of a desk rejection

figure a

Can I explain the story of my paper in 2 min in non-academic language?

Suppose I take out the first and final sentence of each paragraph, do the two sentences make sense?

Is my story focused, straightforward, and not complicated?

Is my story about a theory or practice, not about a sample or method?

If I have a story on method or sample, do I explain why this matters theoretically?

Did I present the paper before submitting it?

Did I rehearse a 15-min presentation out loud?

Do figures and diagrams add substantively to descriptions and explanations in the text?

Write a clear introduction

Is my introduction in the range of 500 to 750 words?

Can I explain in one sentence why the topic matters to non-academics? (Don’t answer “yes,” write out the sentence).

Does my first paragraph clearly: (1) identify the topic, (2) explain why it matters, (3) describe what is already known?

Select the first and final sentence of each paragraph, do those two sentences make sense? And do those eight to ten sentences from the paragraphs in the Introduction pull the reader in?

Know your audience

Can I write down three names of scholars that I would like to read the article?

Can I explain why I selected these three names?

Did I check if members of the editorial team have recently published on the topic of my paper?

Do I stay within the recommended word length of the journal?

If I exceed the word length, do I provide an explanation for why in the accompanying cover letter?

Did I check the latest editorials in the journal?

Did I check if there are relevant forthcoming articles published on the website already?

Do I refer to articles published in the journal to which I am submitting?

Did I read the journal’s style guide and prepare my manuscript accordingly?

Am I explicit about what is novel in my paper?

Did I perform a search in the journal to which I am submitting using the key terms in my manuscript?

Is each sentence in the entire manuscript no longer than two lines?

Do I limit the number of abbreviations and acronyms in my article?

If I use an abbreviation, do I explain it the first time I introduce it?

Are figures and diagrams comprehensible without reference to the written text?

Are my tables and figures logically numbered and put at the end of the manuscript, not embedded in the main text?

Write a clear abstract

Does the abstract tell the story in the manuscript?

Does the abstract give the topic, research question (motivation), theoretical approach, empirical setting (if relevant), findings, and why the study matters (contribution)?

In the abstract, if I replace the key construct of the manuscript with some other key construct, does the abstract no longer make sense?

Did I ask colleagues to read my abstract without them knowing the entire paper?

Distinguish between literature review and theory

Does the literature review clearly frame my research question in terms of prior research?

Is my literature review focused on work relevant to my specific research question, the key constructs, and chosen theoretical lens?

Do I identify a specific theory, define key constructs, and delineate relevant premises/assumptions?

Do all references used in the text refer to the statement made in that particular sentence? (In other words, do I make sure there are no ‘casual’ references?)

Spell out theoretical mechanisms

Do I rely on a well-defined theoretical model?

Do I present a compelling logic, e.g., line of reasoning, rather than rely on references to prior empirical works to support my hypotheses?

If I combine multiple theories, do I explain how the assumptions of these theories are compatible?

Do I rule out alternative explanations for the findings I report?

Do my hypotheses have a counterfactual? Put differently, can my hypotheses also not be true?

Do I avoid hypotheses that include more than one relationship?

Do I minimize the use of quotations to make my argument?

Isolate theoretical channels empirically

Are my hypotheses predicated on a theoretical argument? Alternatively: Do I make sure my hypotheses are not predicated on empirical findings (i.e., merely a retest with a different data set of prior empirical findings?)

Do my hypotheses constitute tests of theoretical (as opposed to empirical) relationships?

If I test for moderating/interaction effects, do I discuss the economic effect size of the total effect (e.g., plot the marginal effects in a graph)?

Do I address endogeneity?

Do I discuss how my methods and measures are suitable to test for the mechanisms I theorize?

Do I describe how I arrive at my sample?

Do I explain why my sample is appropriate for answering my research question and testing my hypotheses?

Do I provide a table with the characteristics of the observations and possible subsamples (e.g., countries, firms per country, number of teams, etc.)?

If my data are nested, do I control for the nested structured of my data, for example using multi-level methods?

If I use multi-level methods, do I provide the intra-class correlations?

Do I include a correlation table?

Is each empirical proxy I use in my analysis closely aligned with its respective abstract construct in my theoretical model?

Do I explain how a measure that was developed and used in other studies is appropriate for use in my study?

If I adapt existing measures to my study context, do I explicitly explain why and how?

If my dependent and independent variables are from the same survey instrument, do I address and mitigate common method variance?

Do I provide a list of variables I use in my analysis (e.g., in the appendix)?

Do I write down the names of the variables in full in the tables and figures?

Do I provide data sources for all variables (in the text and in the appendix)?

If I use AI tools to collect my data, am I transparent on the process and coding?

Do I include references to the data sources in the paper (main text, footnote, reference)?

Do I provide references of scholars who have used the same measures?

Do I provide a discussion of the economic effect size?

Do I explain novelty in a consistent manner in the abstract, introduction, and discussion sections?

Do I identify theoretical implications of my findings (being careful not to extrapolate beyond what the method and data allow)?

Do I identify practical implications of my findings, i.e., specific, actionable options?

If I read the practical implications independent of the rest of the manuscript, are they meaningful? (In other words, do I make sure my implications are not obvious/generic?)

Do I clearly describe what I can explain and what I cannot explain (sometimes referred to as ‘limitations’) of my study?


If I submitted this manuscript before to another journal and it was rejected after review, did I incorporate the comments provided?

Did I prepare a cover letter?

Do I have a possible conflict of interest (e.g., colleagues who have reviewed the manuscript before, or an editor with whom I am close friends, or an editor who has been my co-author)? If yes, am I transparent about that in my cover letter?

If my manuscript is based on data I used in other manuscripts (published or not), do I explain this in my cover letter?

If my manuscript is based on data I used in other manuscripts (published or not), can I explain the difference in theory and/or variables used?

If this paper is part of a series of studies on a related topic, do I make sure there is no textual overlap between this new manuscript and other ones?

Did I check if all in-text references are listed?

Are all references in the same style and format and does that format comply with journal’s requirements?

Do I acknowledge the limits of using AI tools in my efforts to speak to the audience I have in mind?

Am I transparent about how, when, and where I have used AI in my study (e.g., literature review or analytical tools)?

Journals differ in who they nominate to handle the desk-reject stage. Sometimes it is the Editor-in-Chief, sometimes the Managing Editor, and sometimes, like at this journal, desk rejects are handled by dedicated reviewing editors.


Section 3.3.5 of the Journals Code of Ethics of the Academy of International Business provides helpful examples of potential conflicts of interest between authors and an editor or reviewer: “(1) one of the Authors is at the same institution as the nominated Editor or Reviewer; (2) one of the Authors was a member of the Editor or Reviewer’s dissertation committee, or vice versa; or (3) one of the Authors, and the Editor or Reviewer, are currently Co‐Authors on another manuscript or have been Co‐Authors on a manuscript within the past three years.”

See for a sample originality matrix.

Ansell, B. W., & Samuels, D. J. (2021). Desk rejecting: a better use of your time. PS: Political Science & Politics, 54 , 686–689.

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Dance, A. (2023). Peer review needs a radical rethink. Nature, 614 , 581–583.

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Grant, A. M., & Pollock, T. G. (2011). Publishing in AMJ part 3: Setting the hook. Academy of Management Journal, 54 (5), 873–879.

Leamer, E. (2009). Macroeconomic patterns and stories . Springer.

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Okhuysen, G., & Bonardi, J. P. (2011). The challenges of building theory by combining lenses. Academy of Management Review, 36 (1), 6–11.

Santangelo, G., & Verbeke, A. (2022). Actionable guidelines to improve ‘theory related’ contributions to international business research. Journal of International Business Studies, 53 (9), 1843–1855.

Thomas, D. C., Cuervo-Cazurra, A., & Brannen, M. Y. (2011). Explaining theoretical relationships in international business research: Focusing on the arrows, NOT the boxes. Journal of International Business Studies, 42 (9), 1073–1078.

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Darla Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina, 1014 Greene Street, Columbia, SC, 29208, USA

Sjoerd Beugelsdijk

Goa Institute of Management, Sanquelim Campus, Poriem, Sattari, Goa, 403505, India

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Correspondence to Sjoerd Beugelsdijk .

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Beugelsdijk, S., Bird, A. How to avoid a desk reject: do’s and don’ts. J Int Bus Stud (2024).

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