The aim of descriptive research is to describe a population, situation or phenomenon in an accurate and systematic manner. The questions asked in descriptive research aim to answer what, where, when and how, but not why.
A descriptive research design can use various research methods to investigate one or more variables. Unlike in experimental research, the researcher here does not control or manipulate any of the variables, but only observes and measures them. The descriptive method of research is employed when the research aim is to identify characteristics, categories, frequencies and trends.
Although descriptive research usually comes under the category of quantitative research, qualitative research can also be used for descriptive purposes. The descriptive research design should be carefully developed to ensure that the results are reliable and valid. Some common methodologies employed in descriptive research are:
- observations, and
- case studies.
Descriptive research involves uncontrolled variables, i.e. the variables used in it are not influenced in any way. Additionally, descriptive quantitative research is generally a cross-sectional study and the data collected from it provides the basis for further research.
List of recommended resources #
For a broad overview #
The guide, written by Linda G. Morra and Amy C. Friedlander for the World Bank, provides guidance and advice on the use of descriptive research methods in case studies.
This module developed by the International Program for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET) outlines the process of creating and using different types of evaluation questions for a variety of purposes, highlighting how descriptive questions contribute to research.
This blog post by Ann K. Emery looks at different ways of displaying qualitative data to facilitate the ease of reading and comprehension.
For in depth understanding #
The guide, written by Greet Peersman for UNICEF, looks at the different types of data collection and analysis methods that can be used for impact evaluation. It teaches how to plan for data collection and analysis and outlines the importance of good data management practices.
Case study #
The research paper provides a descriptive analysis of the nature of structural change and its potential welfare implications in Tanzania and its effect on welfare, using a recent household panel dataset, which was collected between 2015 and 2021.
This study provides a descriptive analysis of data from more than 15,000 detailed interviews of representative samples of informal businesses operating in 24 cities across seven countries, namely, India, Iraq, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mozambique, Somalia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
The brief, compiled by Shona McCombes, provides a general overview of descriptive research, its basic definition, types, methods and examples.
The blog post gives a broad overview of descriptive research along with its characteristics, applications and advantages.