Descriptive Research Designs – concept, types and uses

 The Concept of Descriptive Research

A descriptive study is one that is designed to describe the distribution of one or more variables, without regard to any causal or other hypothesis.

Descriptive research aims to accurately and systematically describe a population, situation or phenomenon. It can answer what, where, when and how questions, but not why questions.

A descriptive research design can use a wide variety of research methods to investigate one or more variables. Unlike in experimental research, the researcher does not control or manipulate any of the variables, but only observes and measures them.

The descriptive research design involves observing and collecting data on a given topic without attempting to infer cause-and-effect relationships. The goal of descriptive research is to provide a comprehensive and accurate picture of the population or phenomenon being studied and to describe the relationships, patterns, and trends that exist within the data.

When to use a descriptive research design

Descriptive research is an appropriate choice when the research aim is to identify characteristics, frequencies, trends, and categories.

It is useful when not much is known yet about the topic or problem. Before you can research why something happens, you need to understand how, when and where it happens.

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Types of Descriptive Research Design

1. Survey Research

Surveys are a type of descriptive research that involves collecting data through self-administered or interviewer-administered questionnaires. Additionally, they can be administered in-person, by mail, or online, and can collect both qualitative and quantitative data.

2. Observational Research

Observational research involves observing and collecting data on a particular population or phenomenon without manipulating variables or controlling conditions. It can be conducted in naturalistic settings or controlled laboratory settings.

3. Case Study Research

Case study research is a type of descriptive research that focuses on a single individual, group, or event. It involves collecting detailed information on the subject through a variety of methods, including interviews, observations, and examination of documents.

4. Focus Group Research

Focus group research involves bringing together a small group of people to discuss a particular topic or product. Furthermore, the group is usually moderated by a researcher and the discussion is recorded for later analysis.

5. Ethnographic Research

Ethnographic research involves conducting detailed observations of a particular culture or community. It is often used to gain a deep understanding of the beliefs, behaviors, and practices of a particular group.

 Uses of Descriptive Research Designs

Descriptive research designs are used to systematically collect and analyze data to describe characteristics, patterns, and trends in a population or phenomenon. They do not attempt to establish causal relationships or draw inferences about the general population from a small sample.

Common uses of descriptive research designs include:

  1. Profiling a population: Descriptive research can be used to describe the characteristics of a population, such as demographics, attitudes, behaviors, or opinions. This information can be used to develop marketing strategies, public health programs, or social services.

  2. Identifying trends: Descriptive research can be used to track changes in a population over time, such as changes in consumer preferences, crime rates, or disease prevalence. This information can be used to inform policy decisions and resource allocation.

  3. Comparing groups: Descriptive research can be used to compare two or more groups to identify differences in their characteristics. This information can be used to understand the factors that contribute to different outcomes, such as educational achievement or health status.

  4. Describing a phenomenon: Descriptive research can be used to provide a detailed description of a phenomenon, such as a new disease, a natural disaster, or a social movement. This information can be used to understand the nature of the phenomenon and its impact on individuals or society.

Specific examples of how descriptive research designs are used in different fields include:

  • Public health: Descriptive research is used to track the prevalence of diseases, identify risk factors, and evaluate the effectiveness of interventions.

  • Marketing: Descriptive research is used to understand consumer behavior, preferences, and attitudes. This information is used to develop marketing strategies and products that meet the needs of consumers.

  • Education: Descriptive research is used to identify factors that contribute to student success or failure, assess the effectiveness of teaching methods, and evaluate school programs.

  • Social work: Descriptive research is used to understand the needs and challenges of vulnerable populations, such as homeless individuals, victims of abuse, or people with disabilities. This information is used to develop social services and support programs.


1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6371702/

2. https://www.enago.com/academy/descriptive-research-design/

3. https://www.scribbr.com/methodology/descriptive-research/

4.  https://www.educba.com/descriptive-research/



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