Descriptive Research: Definition, 7 Types, Examples

Descriptive Research: Definition, Types, Examples

Definition of Descriptive Studies

Descriptive studies are those used to describe the characteristics of a population or phenomena.

Objectives of Descriptive Studies

The objective of a descriptive study is to focus on ‘who,’ ‘what,’ ‘when,’ and ‘how’ questions. The simplest descriptive study aims at

  • Describing phenomena or characteristics associated with a population by univariate questions;
  • Estimating the proportions of a population that have the characteristics outlined above, and
  • Discovering association (but not causation) among different variables.

Descriptive studies may be carried out on a small or large scale. Such a study may often be completed within a few months, weeks, or even a few hours.

When its findings pertain to a smaller population and are of short duration, we may call it a descriptive case study or micro-study, and by nature, it is an explorative type study.

However, if one wishes to test whether the findings pertain to a larger population, a more extensive study has to be designed.

7 Types of Descriptive Studies

Cross-sectional study

It is a single unrepeated descriptive study aimed at studying a cross-section of the population at a single point in time.

By cross-section, we mean a broad sampling of persons of different ages, different educational levels, different religions, and so on.

The cross-sectional study is sometimes referred to as the ‘snapshot approach’ because although the single study can provide a momentary representative portrait of a population, it cannot trace the process of changes.

A national census is a good example of a cross-sectional study. A population census provides enormous descriptive information on such cross-sectional characteristics as age, sex, religion, ethnicity, occupational composition, household structure, and the like.

These characteristics can be expressed in absolute terms (e.g., number of illiterate persons) or proportion (e.g., percentage of illiterate persons).

One might attempt to examine also the relationship between household structure and occupational composition by a simple cross-tabulation of these variables.

A cross-tabulation of the level of education and occupation may also reveal a close association. A census is considered a macro study since its unit of analysis is a large aggregate of persons covering a large geographical area.

A descriptive study may go much beyond the simple relationship, as we perceive above.

Such studies are more complex and involve studying inter-relationships of many factors, suggesting a multivariate analysis.

Such a descriptive study might indicate causal relationships between the dependent and independent variables. This may ultimately suggest useful hypotheses.

Longitudinal study

A descriptive study may also be longitudinal. The difference between a cross-sectional and a longitudinal study is in how they deal with time.

Longitudinal studies are repeated over an extended period to measure the rate and degree of change occurring in response patterns.

Trend study

One type of longitudinal study is the trend study, which consists of several successive surveys based on a different sample of subjects.

Such a study involves studying the same topic (for example, attitude towards the use of traditional methods of contraception) by re-interviewing over some time, but with no attempt to re-interview the same respondents each time.

Gallup polls are conducted in this way, and comparisons of the results of several different polls can be quite useful for analyzing trends.

Panel study

The panel study is also a longitudinal study designed specifically to minimize the effects of repeated sampling error as encountered in trend study.

A sample or a panel is chosen in a panel study, and the same group of respondents is re-surveyed at selected intervals.

Thus the later responses of any subject or the sample as a whole can be directly compared to responses given earlier.

Baseline study

A baseline study is a research in which data on pre-project socio­economic and business aspects are generated to assess the future impact of project intervention.

A baseline survey is conducted without available published data on various socio­economic and business aspects.

Impact Assessment study

The research, which is undertaken to measure the quantitative benefits derived from project intervention and qualitative changes that occurred due to intervention, is known as impact assessment research.

This type of research also provides information for identifying the project’s negative impact.

Assessment research primarily involves characterizations-objective description, while evaluation research involves characterizations and appraisals-determinations of merit and/or worth.

Feasibility study

This type of study is undertaken before starting any business enterprise or business-related project to assess the project’s technical, economic, market, and financial viability.

The issue of whether the project is socially desirable and environmentally acceptable is also considered.

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