Descriptive Research 101: Definition, Methods, and Examples (with examples) (2023)

Imagine that you are a detective called to a crime scene. Your job is to survey the scene and report what you find: whether it's the half-smoked cigarette on the table or the big "RACHE" written in blood on the wall. That, in a nutshell, isdescriptive research.

Researchers often need to do descriptive research on a problem before trying to solve it. So, in this guide, we'll take you through:

  • What is descriptive research + characteristics
  • Descriptive research methods
  • Types of descriptive research
  • Examples of Descriptive Research
  • Tips to stand out in the descriptive method

Click to jump to the section that interests you.

What is Descriptive Research?

Definition:As its name implies, descriptive researchdescribethe characteristics of the problem, phenomenon, situation or group under study.

Therefore, the goal of all descriptive studies is toto explorethe background, details and existing patterns in the problem to fully understand it. In other words, preliminary investigation.

However, descriptive research can bepreliminary and conclusive. You can use data from a descriptive study to report and gather information for further planning.

What descriptive research is not:Descriptive Research Findingswhat when whereof a problem, not thebecause like.

Because of this, we cannot use the descriptive method to explore cause-and-effect relationships where one variable (such as a person's job title) affects another variable (such as their monthly income).

Key Features of Descriptive Research

  1. Responds to “what”, “when” and “where”of a research problem. For this reason, it is popularly used inmarket research,awareness surveys, miopinion polls.
  2. set the stagedue to a search problem. As an initial part of the research process, descriptive studies help you dig deeper into the topic.
  3. Open the doorfor future research. You can use descriptive data as a basis for further investigation, analysis, and study.
  4. qualitative and quantitative. It is possible to obtain a balanced combination of numerical responses and open responses from the descriptive method.
  5. No control or interference in variables. The researcher simply observes and reports on them. However, specific survey software hasfilterswhich allow you to expand a variable.
  6. Made in natural environments. You can get the best results from descriptive research by talking to, researching, or observing people in a suitable setting. For example, suppose you are awebsite beta testan application resource. In this case, descriptive research invites users to test the feature by tracking their behavior and thenasking for your opinions.
  7. It can be applied to many research methods and areas.Examples include healthcare, SaaS, psychology, political studies, education, and pop culture.

Descriptive Research Methods: The Top Three You Need To Know!

Descriptive Research 101: Definition, Methods, and Examples (with examples) (1)


Briefly,studyis a short interview or conversation with a set of prepared questions on a topic.

(Video) What is Descriptive Research Design l Definition l Methods and Examples l step by step guide

So, you create a questionnaire, share it, and analyze the collected data for further action. Learn more about the differences between surveys and questionnaireshere.

You may come infree survey templates, aboutMore than 20 types of questions, mipass data to more than 1500 applicationswith survey software likeSurveySparrow. It allows you to create surveys, share them and capture data with very little effort.

Sign up today to launch awesome surveys for free.

14 day free trial• No credit card required • No commitment


  • Surveys can be hyperlocal, regional, or global, depending on your goals.
  • Share surveys in person, offline, via SMS, email, or QR many options!
  • Easy to automate if you want to run a lot of searches over a period of time.

Descriptive Research 101: Definition, Methods, and Examples (with examples) (2)


The observation method is a type of descriptive research in which you, the researcher, observe ongoing behavior.


Now, there are several (non-creepy) ways to watch someone. In fact, observational research has three main focuses:

  • secret note:In true espionage style, the investigator blends in with the group undetected or watches from a distance.
  • open observation: Investigator identifies himself as Investigator – “Name is Bond. J Bond. – and explains the purpose of the study.
  • participatory observation: The researcher participates in what he is observing to better understand his topic.


  • Observation is one of the most accurate ways to obtain data on the behavior of a subject in a natural environment.
  • You don't have to depend on people's willingness to share information.
  • Observation is a universal method that can be applied to any area of ​​research.

Descriptive Research 101: Definition, Methods, and Examples (with examples) (3)

case studies

In the case study method, you conduct a detailed study of a specific group, person, or event over a period of time.

This brings us to a frequently asked question: "What is the difference between case studies and longitudinal studies?"

A case study isveryin depth on the subject with individual interviews, observations and archival research. They are also qualitative, although sometimes they use numbers and statistics.

An example of longitudinal research would be a study of the health of night shift workers versus general shift workers over a decade. An example of a case study would include in-depth interviews with Casey, an assistant director of nursing who has managed the night shift at the hospital for ten years.


  • Because they focus on just a few people, case studies can provide an enormous amount of information.
  • Due to the time and effort involved, a case study involves both the researchers and the participants.
  • Case studies are useful for ethically investigating unusual, complex, or challenging issues. An example would be a study of the habits of long-term cocaine users.

7 types of descriptive research

TypeGetting closer
cross-sectional researchStudy a particular group of people or their sections at a particular time. Example: current social attitudes of Gen Z in the US.
longitudinal researchStudy a group of people over a long period of time. Example: Tracking changes in social attitudes among Gen-Zers from 2022 to 2032.
normative researchCompares the results of a study with existing standards. Example: Compare a verdict in a legal case with similar cases.
Correlational/relational researchInvestigate the type of relationship and patterns between 2 variables. Example: musical genres and mental states.
comparative researchCompares 2 or more similar people, groups, or conditions based on specific characteristics. Example: Job titles of employees in similar jobs at two different companies.
classification searchOrganize data into classes according to certain criteria for better analysis. Example: the classification of newly discovered insects into species.
file searchSearch and extraction of information from previous records. Example: Tracking US Census data over decades.

Descriptive Research 101: Definition, Methods, and Examples (with examples) (4)

Descriptive research: examples to build your next study

1. Case Study: Airbnb Growth Strategy

In an excellent case study, Tam Al Saad, Principal Consultant, Strategy + Growth at Webprofits, delves intohow Airbnb attracted and retained 150 million users.

“What Airbnb offers is not a cheap place to sleep when you're on vacation; it's the chance to experience your destination like a local would. It is an opportunity to meet local people, experience markets and find non-touristy places.

(Video) Descriptive Statistics 101: 6 Things You NEED TO DO (With Examples) 📋

Sure, you can visit the Louvre, see Buckingham Palace and climb the Empire State Building, but you can do it like it's your hometown while staying somewhere that has character and makes you feel like home.” –Tam al Saad, Principal Consultant, Strategy + Growth in Webprofits

2. Note: Better Tech Experiences for Seniors

We often think that our elders are so desperate for technology. Butthey wereIt's not getting any younger either, and technology is changing fast!This articleby Annemieke Hendricks shares a wonderful example where researchers compare levels of familiarity with technology across age groups and how this influences usage.

“In general, it is assumed that older people have difficulty using modern electronic devices, such as cell phones or computers. As this age group is growing in most countries, it is increasingly important to change products and processes to suit their needs. “-Annemieke Hendricks, Marketing Communications Specialist, Noldus

3. Surveys: decoding sleep with SurveySparrow

SRI International (formerly the Stanford Research Institute), an independent, nonprofit research center, wanted to investigate the impact of stress on adolescent sleep. To obtain these insights, two actions were essential: tracking sleep patterns through wearable devices and sending surveys at a preset time: the pre-sleep period.

"With SurveySparrow's recurring surveys feature, SRI was able to share compelling surveys with their participants exactly when they wanted and with the frequency they preferred."

Read more about this project:How SRI International decoded sleep patterns with SurveySparrow

Tips for Excelling at Descriptive Research

1:Answer the six W's:

  • Who should we consider?
  • What information do we need?
  • When should we collect the information?
  • Where should we collect the information?
  • Why are we receiving the information?
  • How to collect information

#2:Present and explain your methodological approach

#3:Describe your methods of data collection and/or selection.

(Video) Research Methodology 101: Simple Explainer With Examples (+ FREE Template)

#4:Describe your methods of analysis.

#5:Explain the reasoning behind your choices.

#6:Collect data.

#7:Analyze the data. Use software to speed up the process and reduce overthinking and human error.

#8:Report your conclusions and how you extracted the results.


That's all folks!

Descriptive Research 101: Definition, Methods, and Examples (with examples) (5)

Parvathi Vijayamohan

Growth Marketing Expert at SurveySparrow

Early growing marketing professional. cloud watcher. Aunt of a naughty beagle.

(Video) II.2 Research 101 (11) Qualitative/Descriptive Research


What is an example of a descriptive research method? ›

Some of the more common methods include surveys, interviews, observations, case studies, and portfolios. The data collected through these methods can be either quantitative or qualitative.

What is descriptive research and its methods? ›

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.

What are the four 4 types of descriptive research? ›

Descriptive studies can be of several types, namely, case reports, case series, cross-sectional studies, and ecological studies.

What are descriptive research questions examples? ›

Common descriptive research questions will begin with “How much?”, “How regularly?”, “What percentage?”, “What time?”, “What is?” Primarily, a descriptive research question will be used to quantify a single variable, but there's nothing stopping you covering multiple variables within a single question.

Can you give another 3 examples of descriptive type of research? ›

Primarily, there are three descriptive research methods: Observation, Survey, & Case Study.

What are the examples of descriptive? ›

Example Sentences

She gave a descriptive account of the journey. a talent for descriptive writing a poem full of descriptive detail The black cat was given the descriptive name “Midnight.” The book is a descriptive grammar.

What are the three descriptive methods of research and what does each involve? ›

There are 3 main data collection methods in descriptive research, namely; observational method, case study method, and survey research.

What are the major types of descriptive analysis methods? ›

There are four major types of descriptive statistics:
  • Measures of Frequency: * Count, Percent, Frequency. * Shows how often something occurs. ...
  • Measures of Central Tendency. * Mean, Median, and Mode. ...
  • Measures of Dispersion or Variation. * Range, Variance, Standard Deviation. ...
  • Measures of Position.

What are the methods used in descriptive statistics? ›

Descriptive statistics consists of three basic categories of measures: measures of central tendency, measures of variability (or spread), and frequency distribution. Measures of central tendency describe the center of the data set (mean, median, mode).

What is the best method for descriptive research? ›

The observational method is considered the most effective method for carrying out descriptive research. It involves the collection of both qualitative and quantitative data.

Which is the most common method of descriptive research? ›

The observational method is the most effective method to conduct this research, and researchers make use of both quantitative and qualitative observations. A quantitative observation is the objective collection of data primarily focused on numbers and values.

How do you write a descriptive research problem? ›

Structure of descriptive research questions
  1. Choose your starting phrase.
  2. Identify and name the dependent variable.
  3. Identify the group(s) you are interested in.
  4. Decide whether the dependent variable or group(s) should be included first, last or in two parts.
  5. Include any words that provide greater context to your question.

What are the 3 types of research questions for descriptive research? ›

They can be further categorized into three types: descriptive, comparative, and relationship. Descriptive research questions aim to measure the responses of a study's population to one or more variables or describe variables that the research will measure.

What are the 6 W's of descriptive research? ›

The six W's of descriptive research are Who (who should we consider?), What (what information do we want to collect?), When (when should we collect the information?), Where (where should we collect the information?), Why (why are we obtaining the information?), and Way (how are we going to collect the information?).

What are some example of exploratory and descriptive research? ›

Data from exploratory studies tends to be qualitative. Examples include brain- storming sessions, interviews with experts, and posting a short survey to a social networking website. Descriptive studies have more guidelines. They describe people, prod- ucts, and situations.

What is a good example of descriptive writing? ›

3 Descriptive Writing Examples. 1. “In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels.

What are 3 examples of descriptive text? ›

My dog's fur felt like silk against my skin and her black coloring shone, absorbing the sunlight and reflecting it back like a pure, dark mirror. The sunset filled the sky with a deep red flame, setting the clouds ablaze. The waves rolled along the shore in a graceful, gentle rhythm, as if dancing with the land.

What is the best example of descriptive text? ›

Some examples of descriptive text include: The sunset filled the entire sky with the deep color of rubies, setting the clouds ablaze. The waves crashed and danced along the shore, moving up and down in a graceful and gentle rhythm like they were dancing.

What are the three types of descriptive methods? ›

The three main types of descriptive studies are case studies, naturalistic observation, and surveys.

What are the 3 basic research methods? ›

Types of research
  • Qualitative Research.
  • Quantitative Research.
  • Mixed Methods Research.
Feb 7, 2023

What are 3 primary research methods? ›

Examples of primary research are: Interviews (telephone or face-to-face) Surveys (online or mail) Questionnaires (online or mail)

What are the three purposes of descriptive research? ›

Three main purposes of descriptive studies can be explained as describing, explaining and validating research findings. This type of research is popular with non-quantified topic.

What is the definition of descriptive research question? ›

Descriptive research questions. Descriptive research questions simply aim to describe the variables you are measuring. When we use the word describe, we mean that these research questions aim to quantify the variables you are interested in.

Is descriptive research Qualitative or quantitative? ›

Because descriptive research spans both quantitative and qualitative methodologies, it brings the ability to describe events in greater or less depth as needed, to focus on various elements of different research techniques, and to engage quantitative statistics to organize information in meaningful ways.

What are the two examples of descriptive statistics? ›

There are two types of descriptive statistics: measures of central tendency, also called measures of center, and measures of dispersion, also called measures of variability or spread.

What are the 3 types of descriptive research? ›

The Descriptive research has mainly three types such as observation method, the survey method, and the case-study method. In this article, we will discuss each way of the descriptive and their advantages and drawbacks briefly.

What are the methods of descriptive research design? ›

Descriptive research can only be conducted via survey, observation, and case Study. As a researcher, you can only observe and collect valid & reliable responses and analyze them. This research method, like market research, is best used to understand concepts that can help you grow your business.

What are the 5 descriptive statistics? ›

A summary consists of five values: the most extreme values in the data set (the maximum and minimum values), the lower and upper quartiles, and the median. These values are presented together and ordered from lowest to highest: minimum value, lower quartile (Q1), median value (Q2), upper quartile (Q3), maximum value.

How do you write a descriptive statistic example? ›

Interpret the key results for Display Descriptive Statistics
  1. Step 1: Describe the size of your sample.
  2. Step 2: Describe the center of your data.
  3. Step 3: Describe the spread of your data.
  4. Step 4: Assess the shape and spread of your data distribution.
  5. Compare data from different groups.

What are the examples of descriptive analysis of survey data? ›

Examples of descriptive statistics for survey data include frequency and percentage response distributions, measures of central tendency (which include the mean, median and mode), and dispersion measures such as the range and standard deviation, which describe how close the values or responses are to central tendencies ...


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