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Descriptive Research


Overview: Descriptive Research

Descriptive research methods are used when the researcher wants to describe specific behaviour as it occurs in the environment. There are a variety of descriptive research methods available, the nature of the question that needs to be answered drives which method is used. It does not answer questions about how/when/why the characteristics occurred. 

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.

Descriptive research involves gathering data that describe events and then organizes, tabulates, depicts and describes the data collection.(Glass and Hopkins)

What is Descriptive Research Method?

A descriptive study is one in which information is collected without changing the environment ( i.e. nothing is manipulated).

Focuses on ‘what’ rather than ‘Why’

It is used to obtain information concerning the current status of the phenomena to describe “what exists” with respect to variable or education in a situation.

Present trends, beliefs, public mind, their viewpoint and attitudes, their effects or development of new trends are described.

It is done without influencing the subjects.

Nature of Descriptive Research

Descriptive studies are more than just a collection of data; they involve measurement, classification, comparison, and interpretation.

Collect and provide three types of information:

  1. of what exists with respect to variables of conditions in a situation;
  2. of what we want by identifying standards of norms with which to compare the present conditions or what experts consider to be desirable;
  3. of how to achieve goals by exploring possible ways and means on the basis of the experience of others or the opinions of experts.

Steps of Descriptive Research

The activities of researchers in descriptive studies are:

  • Identify and define their problem;
  • State their objectives and hypotheses;
  • List the assumptions upon which their hypotheses and procedures are based;
  • Choose appropriate subjects and source materials;
  • Select or construct tools for collecting data;
  • Specify categories of data that are relevant for the purpose of the study, and capable of brining out significant similarities, differences, or relationships
  • Describe, analyse, and interpret their data in clear and precise terms;
  • Draw significant and meaningful conclusions.

Types of Descriptive Research

Survey Studies

Conducted to collect detailed descriptions of existing phenomena with the intent of employing data to justify current conditions and practices or to make more intelligent plans for improving them. 

It involves determining the views or practices of a group through interviews or by administering a questionnaire.

Their objective is not only to analyse, interpret, and report the status of an institution, group, or area in order to guide practice in the immediate future, but also to determine the adequacy of status by comparing it with established standards.

Gather three types of information: 1. data concerning existing status, 2. comparison of existing status with the established status and standards, and 3. means of improving the existing status.

Survey studies describe and specify the properties of educational phenomena. They include:

  • School Surveys : used to gather data concerned with internal or external characteristics of a school system
  • Job Analysis : used to gather information to be used in structuring a training program for a particular job.
  • Public Opinion Surveys : used to enhance the decision making process by governmental officials.
  • Social/Community Surveys : used to gather data concerned with internal or external characteristics of a community.

Interrelationship Studies

Some researcher in the field of education do not merely gather facts to obtain an accurate description of existing phenomena; they attempt to trace relationships between facts that will provide deeper insight into the phenomena. The studies that endeavour to discover relationship between facts of the existing phenomena are called as interrelationship studies.

These include: 

1. Case Studies

2. Ex-post-facto or Casual-comparative Studies

3. Correlation and prediction Studies

4. Cross-cultural and Comparative Studies  

Case Studies

Probes in depth into an individual situation or personality with the intent of diagnosing a particular condition and recommending corrective measures.

Case studies are undertaken to examine a social unit as a whole and in depth. The unit may be a person, a programme, an event, a process, an activity, a social group, a family, an institution, or a community. The basic question in a case study is: “what are the characteristics of this single case or of these comparison?” since the roots of the case study are interdisciplinary, many different concepts and theories are used to describe explain the case. It classified into three types:

1. Intrinsic Case Study: the objective is to understand the particulars of the case.
2. Instrumental Case Study: the objective is to understand something more general than the case.
3. Collective Case Study: The objective is to study and compare multiple cases in a single research study.

Case studies are used in the fields of social sciences, law, education, psychology and medicine because of multidisciplinary roots.

Ex-post Facto or Casual Comparative Studies

In such cases, the aim of the researcher is to compare the likeness and differences among phenomena to discover what factors or circumstances seem to accompany or contribute to the occurrence of certain events, conditions or practices. The researcher attempts to explore not only what a phenomenon is like, but how and why it occurs.

These study are based upon John Stuart Mill’s method of discovering casual relationships. Mill’s method of Agreement states that, “ If two or more instances of the phenomenon under investigation have only one circumstance in the circumstance in which alone all the instances agree, is the cause of the given phenomenon.”

Casual- comparative or ex post facto method of research is useful in the situations when the experimental method is impractical or costly in time, money, and effort. In some situation, ethical consideration may prevent to use experimentation as a method of investigation.(Van Dalen)

Correlation and Prediction Studies

Determine the extent of relationship existing between variables.

To obtain description of existing phenomenon and enable a researcher to ascertain the extent to which variations in one variable are associated with variations in another.

The correlation technique will help him to test his hypothesis about the relationship between these two variables as well as to assess the magnitude of the relationship.

It involves the collection of two or more sets of measurement on a sample of subjects and computation of the coefficient of correlation between these sets of measurements. The direction of the relationships may be positive or negative; the degree of relationship between the variables may vary from perfect, to high, to average, to no relationships; the relationship may be linear or curvilinear

Cross-cultural and Comparative Studies

To make explicit comparisons of a number of societies.

Contribution to our understanding of educational and social phenomena, for they seek to demonstrate whether findings concerning human behaviour are valid for all human beings or are confined to one culture.

A review of research in comparative education reveals that a researcher have compared School- state relationship; educational reforms; problems and causes of wastage and stagnation; the accessibility of higher Education; plans for success of compulsory education; problem of caste, colour, religion and other forms of discrimination in education. A number of reports on the comprehensive comparative studies relating to literacy, Juvenile delinquency and education on various level have been published by UNESCO.

Developmental Studies

Developmental studies are used for investigating the characteristics of children and the ways in which these characteristics change with growth and development. Such studies are concerned not only with the present status and interrelationship of phenomena but also with changes that take place as a function of time. Developmental studies may take three different forms:

1. Growth Studies

2. Follow-up Studies

3. Trend Studies

Growth Studies

Growth studies are used to seek knowledge of the nature and rate of changes that take place in human organism. They are helpful to study when various aspect of growth among children are first observable, accelerate further, remain rather stationary, attained optimal development and decline.

Growth studies is studies can be either longitudinal or Cross-sectional.

Longitudinal studies follow the same subject a group of subject or an institution over a relatively long period of time it is a kind of extended case study as it involves a long lifespan of the same subject group or institution.

Cross sectional study when conducting cross sectional studies rather than following the same group of individual and taking their repeated measurement over a relatively long period of time. The random sample of individual of successive ages are selected and one set of measurement of different individual from which age level are taken as the basis for developing growth norms.

Follow-up Studies

Follow-up studies use the method which somewhat resemble the longitudinal method. Such studies aimed at investigating the subsequent development of individual or individuals after a specified treatment or condition.  In case study approach, a researcher may be interested to follow-up a case in order to determine whether the treatment is successful. If the follow-up of a case indicates that it progress is unsatisfactory, a new diagnosis of the problem or problems is made. The technique of experimentation are employed to evaluate the success of treatment or condition.

The studies by Terman and his associates (1947) are good example of follow-up studies. Their studies gifted subject in 1921-222. The subjects are studies after 6 years and again in 1936, 1940 and 1945. After the follow-up it was found that in comparison to other children the gifted children had better physical and mental health as adults and they mature into gifted and successful adults. 

Trend Studies

Trend studies are used to obtain and analyse social, economic, or political data to identify trends and to predict what is likely to take place in future. Some educational or other organization conduct such studies in order to plan effectively and to meet the demands that will be made on them in the future.

Trend studies are undertaken through documentary analysis or surveys at repeated intervals. Such survey help the researcher to study the rate and direction of changes and to use these trends to predict future status. Sometime trend studies may combine historical, documentary, and survey techniques.

For the sake of illustration, a researcher may conduct or examine studies of birth rate trends, the changing age structure of the population, enrolment of children in schools, the amount and direction of population mobility in order to determine when and where to provide new educational facilities in terms of school buildings, teacher training programmes, or recruitment of teachers.

  • Research Methodology - This page provides a list of articles and quizzes published in the Librarianship Studies & Information Technology blog about research, research methods, and research methodology in Library and Information Science Research.