Descriptive Research

Descriptive research can be explained as a statement of affairs as they are at present with the researcher having no control over variable. Moreover, “descriptive studies may be characterised as simply the attempt to determine, describe or identify what is, while analytical research attempts to establish why it is that way or how it came to be”[1]. 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.

Descriptive research is “aimed at casting light on current issues or problems through a process of data collection that enables them to describe the situation more completely than was possible without employing this method.”[2] To put it simply, descriptive studies are used to describe various aspects of the phenomenon. In its popular format, descriptive research is used to describe characteristics and/or behaviour of sample population. It is an effective method to get information that can be used to develop hypotheses and propose associations.

Importantly, these types of studies do not focus on reasons for the occurrence of the phenomenon. In other words, descriptive research focuses on the question “What?”, but it is not concerned with the question “Why?”

Descriptive studies have the following characteristics:

1. While descriptive research can employ a number of variables, only one variable is required to conduct a descriptive study.

2. Descriptive studies are closely associated with observational studies, but they are not limited with observation data collection method. Case studies and surveys can also be specified as popular data collection methods used with descriptive studies.

3. Findings of descriptive researches create a scope for further research. When a descriptive study answers to the question “What?”, a further research can be conducted to find an answer to “Why?” question.


Examples of Descriptive Research

Research questions in descriptive studies typically start with ‘What is…”. Examples of research questions in descriptive studies may include the following:

  • What are the most effective intangible employee motivation tools in hospitality industry in the 21stcentury?
  • What is the impact of viral marketing on consumer behaviour in consumer amongst university students in Canada?
  • Do corporate leaders of multinational companies in the 21stcentury possess moral rights to receive multi-million bonuses?
  • What are the main distinctive traits of organisational culture of McDonald’s USA?
  • What is the impact of the global financial crisis of 2007 – 2009 on fitness industry in the UK?



Advantages of Descriptive Research

  1. Effective to analyse non-quantified topics and issues
  2. The possibility to observe the phenomenon in a completely natural and unchanged natural environment
  3. The opportunity to integrate the qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection. Accordingly, research findings can be comprehensive.
  4. Less time-consuming than quantitative experiments
  5. Practical use of research findings for decision-making


Disadvantages of Descriptive Research

  1. Descriptive studies cannot test or verify the research problem statistically
  2. Research results may reflect certain level of bias due to the absence of statistical tests
  3. The majority of descriptive studies are not ‘repeatable’ due to their observational nature
  4. Descriptive studies are not helpful in identifying cause behind described phenomenon

My e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Dissertation in Business Studies: a step by step assistance contains discussions of theory and application of research designs. The e-book also explains all stages of the research process starting from the selection of the research area to writing personal reflection. Important elements of dissertations such as research philosophyresearch approachmethods of data collectiondata analysis and sampling are explained in this e-book in simple words.

John Dudovskiy

Descriptive research


[1] Ethridge, D.E. (2004) “Research Methodology in Applied Economics” John Wiley & Sons, p.24

[2] Fox, W. & Bayat, M.S. (2007) “A Guide to Managing Research” Juta Publications, p.45