What is Descriptive Research ?

Descriptive research is a type of research that aims to observe, document, and describe the characteristics, behaviors, or phenomena of a particular subject or population without manipulating variables.

When the objective of the research is to describe the characteristics of a phenomenon or population, the researchers select descriptive research. It can provide and describe the critical features and information about the target population or environment. It describes the answers for questions like what, who, how, when, where, etc. The objective of descriptive research is to reveal the already present data or feature in the given population. In other words, it can be said that descriptive research seeks to explain phenomenon and the reasons and assumptions behind the specific behavior.

For example, archaeologists explained the Harappan civilization and described many significant findings such as urban planning, baked brick houses, drainage system, water supply system, etc., which has influenced modern society to a great extent.

Descriptive research emphasizes an explaining the phenomenon by providing factual and accurate information, but does not discuss the variables responsible for a situation. Also the effect of a particular variable cannot be measured; it can only be described. Therefore, it cannot be used for describing the cause and effect relationship among the variables.

Descriptive research focuses on the status of a given environment. It is very suitable for research in education, management, epidemiology, and social sciences, behavioral sciences, etc. Both qualitative and quantitative data are produced through descriptive research that helps in describing the state of nature at a given time.

Types of Descriptive Research Designs

In order to derive answers to the questions like who, what, when, 'where, and how, researchers take the help of descriptive research. It helps in determining who the buyers are, what products they buy, the time or situation when they buy, the place where they buy, and how they buy. Descriptive research is also used to explore findings of a given research project. Descriptive research is of two types. Descriptive research method are as follows :

1) Cross-Sectional Research :
Using sample of a given population to explore its features is called 'cross-sectional research', only if the sample is used once in a time. Different entities like individuals, retail stores, dealers or households can be used as samples. Generally, cross-sectional study is used for descriptive research purposes. 
For example, in order, to determine the attitude of different scholars on the issue of adding an internship curriculum to the course of a degree program, cross sectional study would be helpful as the attitude of scholars are measured once. Cross sectional research is also called 'snapshot' of the target population as measurement is done only once.

Most of the organisations use cross-sectional studies to test their advertising and its effect. 
For example, a 'storyboard' is prepared by organisations to test their advertisements. Storyboard is made-up of proposed advertisement copy and drawings of major clips of the proposed ad. After showing the storyboard to a small group of customers, few relative questions are asked to determine if the ad is clearly understood by them or not. Their level of interest is also measured. Customers' reactions help organisations in determining the effectiveness of ad copy, ad appeal or its creative contents. A.typical question intended to measure the intention of customers to purchase the proposed product is also asked.

Small as well as very large samples can be used for cross-sectional research. These samples may or may not necessarily be representatives of any larger population. When large-sized samples being representative of any larger population are used in cross-sectional research, these are called "sample surveys".

Types of Cross-Sectional Research

Two types of cross-sectional researches are found : 

i) Single Cross-Sectional Research : 
In this a single sample of the larger population is used only once for data collection. 

ii) Multiple Cross-Sectional Research : 
In this, more than one samples are selected from the larger population and data is collected only once from each of the samples. Often, a long time gap is taken in collecting data from different samples.

2) Longitudinal Research :
When a sample (or group of samples) of a larger population is repeatedly measured over a period of time, it is called longitudinal research. Longitudinal research is also called 'movies' (with reference to cross-sectional research being called 'snapshot of the population). of the target population as samples are measured multiple times. Generally, panel methods and panel data are used in such researches. A panel is a group of entities being interviewed again and again and panel data represents the repeated measurements of such panel.

For example, when a group of families is asked to record its purchases of different kinds of products at regular intervals like, weekly, monthly or quarterly, il is called longitudinal research and it helps in identifying the changes in buying behavior of the target families.

It is very necessary for the researchers to measure same samples for repeated measurements so as to bring effectiveness in the process of longitudinal research. The most crucial task in such research is to maintain the panel of the respondents. There are numerous research firms in the market which maintain different consumer panels to be used in different longitudinal researches. Almost fifty per cent of the business researches are based on longitudinal research.

Types of Longitudinal Research

Two types of panel are used in longitudinal research : 

i) Traditional Panel : 
Here, a same variable is measured repeatedly at regular intervals.

ii) Omnibus Panel : 
Here, the nature of information is different each time it is collected from the respondents.

Uses of Descriptive Research Designs 

Descriptive research can be used in following areas : 

1) Highlighting Social Problems : 
Descriptive research highlights the prevalent social problems in a region. It helps in designing related policies as well as social actions so as to combat such problems. For example, different social problems like poverty, drug addiction, hunger, child abuse/ child labour, public education, environment pollution, crime, medical issues, etc., are described with the help of descriptive research only.

2) Real Life Situations : 
Descriptive research is also used in exploring real life situations or issues. It helps in identifying problems, taking decisions or formulating theories about what other people do in the similar situation.

3) Identification of Relationship : 
It is also used in identifying relevant relationships between different factors. 
For example, relation between a disease and risk factors can easily be described by descriptive research. A relation may be described between the data collected and the situational variables of the study or between data collected and the behavioral variables of the participants. 
For example, training program of a given retail institution or the qualities of successful salespersons can be easily explored by the descriptive research design.

4) Acquiring Knowledge : 
In case a particular situation or topic is not researched earlier or very small amount of information is available on a particular issue, descriptive research is used to acquire knowledge about such events. It generates need for or acts as a basis for further research on such topics in the future.

5) Observing Natural Behaviors : 
In order to observe natural behaviors of respondents, descriptive research is used by researchers. Different social scientists, psychologists. anthropologists, etc., use descriptive study to. collect natural behavior of the target object. For example, organisations aiming to analyse the morale of the staff or the marketers wishing to identify the buying habits of customers, use descriptive research design.

Importance of Descriptive Research Designs 

Significance of descriptive research can be understood by following heads : 

1) Wider Scope : 
Descriptive research has wider scope as it tries to describe the characteristics of population. The tools and techniques of descriptive research are applied in many areas such as opinion polling, media or advertising research, educational research, market research etc.

2) Provides Life Experiences : 
The speciality of a descriptive research is that, it does not only rely upon qualitative data, but also on quantitative data. Both these types of data have their own relative benefits. Such large amount of data provides enormous insight to the life experiences.
For example, observational technique helps the researchers to get various life experiences and facilitates knowledge about other's point of view.

3) Provides Relevant Data : 
Due to the combination of both the qualitative and quantitative aspects, the data collected through this research is relevant and comprehensive. The researcher is able to collect data from all possible sources like panels, observations, case analysis. etc. With the help of descriptive research techniques, the researcher can have in-depth information about the research problem through both the theoretical and numerical approaches.

4) Reduces Risk : 
Descriptive research identifies the distinctive features or characteristics that allow the researchers to identify the risk factors or errors which can be highlighted and eliminated to produce the accurate outcome.

Limitations of Descriptive Research Designs 

Descriptive research has following limitations :

1) Unwillingness to Answer : 
The major limitation of descriptive research is the unwillingness of participants to answer. The respondents selected for data collection may not provide true information. These respondents may manipulate their responses to match with the researcher's need. Similarly, the respondents may also refuse to answer the personal or little complicated questions.

2) Manipulation of Responses : 
Observer's paradox is another limitation of the descriptive research. The respondents do not reflect their natural behavior in the case they know that they are being observed. The observer is able to record only the altered behavior of the respondents, which affect the accuracy of the result.

3) Errors : 
Errors may be there in the result of descriptive researches. For all the descriptive researches, the questions are pre-designed and fixed according to the nature of the research. There is always a possibility of error in the process of study. The researcher decides which information is to be utilized and which to be discarded, according to the hypothesis formed. The whole process is based on the experience of the researcher, and hence, outcomes may be erroneous,

4) Requires More Skills : 
For effective completion of the descriptive research, more skilled executives and researchers are needed.

5) Unreliable and Unscientific : 
Descriptive research may be unreliable and unscientific due to the absence of analytical methods. The results of descriptive techniques cannot be reproduced for reviewing the research findings.