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A Guide To Descriptive Research Design: Definition & Types

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The generic procedure of any research is to investigate, collate and interpret data pertaining to a particular phenomenon, concept, claim. The primary aim is to observe and identify the various factors & variables that contribute to the phenomenon.

Descriptive research design is a central investigatory paradigm employed by researchers across numerous domains, such as academics, social sciences, linguistics, etc. This article takes a deep dive into the descriptive research method as it explores the underlying techniques, processes, procedures, effectiveness, and other critical factors.

So, without any more ado, let’s dive in.

The Descriptive Research Design: Definition, Procedure & Types

The descriptive research design is a method of performing exploratory research in any domain. Descriptive studies and surveys are primary modes of probing and analysis in this design with investigative procedures that involve gathering & understanding qualitative data.

Surveys remain the dominant research instrument for descriptive research design. Different kinds of surveys with varying designs allow researchers to make different inquiries and gather different data. Examples include census surveys, sample surveys, comparative surveys, cross-section surveys, evaluation studies, document analysis, etc.

A formal definition of Descriptive Research Design follows:

“Descriptive research involves acquiring relevant and precise information concerning a phenomenon to identify critical factors and draw valid generalizations, without interfering, influencing or exerting control over the event.”

Despite notable similarities with qualitative research (such as gathering naturalistic data), descriptive research focuses on describing a phenomenon. In contrast, qualitative research focuses on gaining a deeper understanding of participants.

Descriptive studies do not just involve making observations and analyses but the formulation of principles of knowledge and solution to significant problems. Descriptive research designs typically gather three primary types of information:

  • Existing information regarding the involved variables or conditions about a situation;
  • Identifying the standard norms, procedures, preparations, considerations & resources required for conducting said research;
  • The means of achieving objectives by exploring possible ways & means based on observations;

Descriptive research design is considered by many to be primitive as it studies phenomena in their natural setting. Focused primarily on gathering approximate and characterizing data, descriptive research design help in creating a pool of field data. Thus, such databases become a vital resource for subsequent analysis of a more fundamental nature using an organized body of scientific laws.

Thus, the defining nature of Descriptive Research Design is its aim to observe and describe the behavior of a subject or phenomenon without causing any interference.

One important thing to note is that results & observations from descriptive research cannot be considered as definitive answers or be used to contest a research hypothesis. However, when the constraints and limitations are known, it is a valuable tool in different kinds of scientific research.

Applications Of Descriptive Studies

  1. Different scientific disciplines, such as social science and psychology, employ descriptive studies to obtain a general overview of any subject.
  2. Descriptive research tools such as case studies are helpful when subjects cannot be observed without interfering with their normal behavior.
  3. Qualitative research becomes the preferred method of investigation when quantitative experimentation & analysis becomes unfeasible.
  4. Anthropologists, psychologists, social scientists use these types of approximating experiments to observe natural behaviors. Market researchers ascertain customer buying habits, and companies judge staff morale & perspectives using descriptive research designs.

A Comprehensive List of Excellent Descriptive Research Examples

Understand the nuances of writing descriptive research with these expertly written examples. Clear your doubts on how to use spatial or temporal characteristics in the research. Learn how to describe any phenomenon accurately and systematically. Refer to this list and become a pro! 

Descriptive Research Design: Definition & Types Example

Check This Descriptive Research Design Example

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Advantages and Disadvantages

The most prominent advantage of descriptive research designs is that it allows researchers to develop a sound and helpful database for further research. To make any inquiry, researchers need access to accurate information sources that give them a solid idea about a situation.

Exploratory surveys reveal and provide vital information, data and evidence about the status, trends & developments, perceptions, associated events, and an understanding of the dependent & independent variables. Supportive empirical evidence gathered through surveys help in generating databases that help researchers identify critical factors, variables, etc. Furthermore, such databases aid in the formulation of hypotheses and in ascertaining the different variables involved.

Disadvantages of the descriptive research design involved lack of statistical & in-depth analysis and the somewhat superficial nature of the investigatory process.

Let us now look at the different types of descriptive studies, surveys and tools employed across other domains.

Type Of Descriptive Research Design Mechanisms

Descriptive studies are of several kinds. The most prominent ones are case reports & case series (a format of case studies), cross-sectional studies, census surveys, sample surveys, and comparative studies.

  1. Case Reports & Case Series

A case report is generally utilized in the healthcare and medical industry to describe the symptoms and situation of a patient afflicted by an unusual disease or exhibiting a wide range of symptoms. Case series are similar to case reports but aggregate multiple similar cases.

In general, case reports and series are anecdotal and do not hold much investigatory value. However, they are a valuable collection of notable observations of a hitherto unknown affliction in some cases. In addition, there have been numerous instances where case reports & series have been instrumental in advancing medical science, such as aiding in the first recognition of HIV/AIDS.

Case reports have also helped open a new avenue of investigation, such as during research dwelling into the adverse effects of medicines.

  • Cross-Sectional Studies

Descriptive research designs involve collecting information from various interest levels as they exist in a defined population over a while.

When the data in these studies are used to determine the distribution of the variables involved, they are considered descriptive. However, often, these studies assess the relationships between the variables involved and in such cases, these studies exhibit analytical properties.

Cross-sectional studies offer a snapshot of the frequency and characteristics of a phenomenon in a population. They are pretty inexpensive and straightforward to do and do not pose any challenge from an ethical standpoint.  However, the risk of selection and measurement bias is a significant limitation of these studies.

  • Census Surveys

Census surveys involve collating pertinent information about different elements of a particular population. These units generally comprise people, families, institutions, objects, attributes & properties, etc.

Governments and organizations conduct large-scale census surveys to benchmark data about the households in a region. However, the monumental scale of such census surveys limits the scope of the factors to surface level demographic data such as age, sex, income, education, properties possession, domestic facilities, etc.

Databases constructed from these surveys can be utilized to identify widely prevalent issues & in trend analysis, which in turn aid in making policy-making decisions. However, limitations of these surveys lie in the nominal or superficial nature of the surface data gathered, besides faulty data collection procedures.

  • Sample Surveys

Sample surveys are another descriptive research design that collates information from a sample of a particular population. The data gathered through sample surveys are projected or generalized to the broader population under study.

Sample surveys offer some significant advantages over census surveys.

  • The process of collecting data from a small fraction of the population consumes less time and resources.
  • The actual process is much faster since the number of respondents, and the volume of data is smaller.
  • Sample surveys allow a more significant scope of observing and analyzing different kinds of data.
  • Greater accuracy is a given as the focus remains upon a specific sample. In addition, there is a greater chance of acquiring valid data due to the reduced volume of work involved.
  • Comparative Studies

The purpose of these surveys is the comparison of the status or nature of the two subjects.  The subjects under study can range from research variables, institutions, strategies, persons, etc.

Three key factors determine the success and accuracy of comparative studies: Comparison Points, Assumption of Similarities, and the Criteria of Comparison.

And that rounds up this article on descriptive research design.  Hope it was informative for every reader alike.

Proper and accurate research requires careful planning and diligent effort. If you are struggling with choosing & implementing the right descriptive research design, then is here to help you out.

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Emma Jones

Hi, I am Emma Jones, a Genetic Counsellor by qualification, CDR writer by profession who has a flair for writing. Quite an interesting profile to stop by, isn't it? Well, being a CDR was a decision that was born out of necessity. My field of qualification requires one to create appropriate CDRs to land suitable jobs. Since I was struggling too hard to create one for myself, I decided to take it up as a challenge and trained myself to nail the art of CDR writing. Now, I work as a full-time CDR writer and English essay expert to help students who have to face similar struggles. When I am not working, I like surfing or trying foods in different places.

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