Descriptive research is a systematic search for a specific topic to come up with new and useful information. It is mainly classified into two types: basic or fundamental research and applied research.

Applied research is one type that is used to answer a specific question with direct application.

On the other hand, basic research, also known as fundamental or pure research, is a type of research that mainly driven by curiosity or the purpose of increasing your knowledge about a specific topic.

Applied research is known to be theoretical, It is utilized to develop and solve problems of a certain topic while basic research is practical in nature and is meant to add a better understanding to a piece of existing knowledge.

In this article, we’ll primarily focus on one type of basic research: descriptive research.

What is descriptive research?

Descriptive research is a type of research method under basic research that aims to accurately describe a certain topic being studied – may it be a population, situation, or phenomenon.

This focuses more on the question “what” rather than “why”. In fact, we apply this in our everyday life – from answering school works to finding the new fashion trends.

“What will be the purpose of the research?”

“What will it be used for?”

“What is the specific topics and your goals for this research?”

For example, you are planning to set up a food business. You may think about doing a demographic survey about the place where you want to put up your business. Some of the possible questions you want to ask are the following:

  • What is the age group with the most number of population?
  • What are the foods that they like the most?
  • When are the peak hours?
  • How am I going to reach out to customers?
  • Where will I put up my business?

Characteristics of Descriptive Research

Foundation of the research

In order for you to go further with the “why”, you have to start answering the questions what, when, where, and how. If your case study is about the best ice cream in town, you begin with simple questions like, “What flavors are the best seller?”, “When does the store open?”, and “How do they come up with the pricing?” before you jump into, “Why do people like the chocolate flavored ones?”, “How cheap are the ingredients of each flavor?”, and “Why do most people visit the ice cream store at night?”.


Descriptive research usually involves numbers, as this type of research attempts to collect quantifiable information to come up with a statistical analysis. This is why a demographic survey is often applied especially on market research.


Descriptive research is known to be a cross-sectional study that is observational in nature. In medical research, for example, when a case of dengue fever in an area is being studied, they study other sections such as the lifestyle of each patient instead of focusing on the area or the place of the study.

Descriptive Research Methods

Descriptive Research Methods

The three main types of descriptive research methods: observational, survey, and case study.

Observational Method

This type of descriptive research is usually being done to observe plants, animals, or humans. It may be done through naturalistic or laboratory observation. Naturalistic observation has its greatest advantage, especially when checking for ecological validity. While laboratory observation is less time-consuming compared to naturalistic observation, this type of descriptive research method requires you to do a replica of the natural environment of your subject.

Observational method sometimes needs two or more specimen to be able to come up with comparisons and a more accurate answer. For example, for the basic study about how a plant grows, you have to observe at least three plants: one with proper sunlight and water, one with proper sunlight but without water, and another one without proper sunlight but with water.

Case Study Method

A case study is another type of descriptive research that involves a deeper investigation about an individual, a group, or a specific event. It is done with testable hypotheses but is limited and does not determine the cause and effect. Case studies help create new ideas to be tested by other research methods. Basically, data ate gathered by other sources and research methods.

Survey Method

In the survey method, a number of participants are being asked to answer questions through interviews or a set of questionnaires.

Questionnaires are generally done by answering using paper and pencil. However, with the advancement of technology, questionnaires can now be created using excel, word document, and other platforms such as Google and Facebook that are also used for descriptive writing.

Interview surveys, on the other hand, is done by asking respondents face-to-face rather than filling out questionnaires. It sometimes requires other instruments such as a video camera or a recorder to better review and analyze the findings.

Here are some tips to build effective surveys:

  • Make sure that each question is valid and necessary.
  • Keep each question short and understandable.
  • Avoid using jargons especially for questionnaires.
  • Ask questions one by one.
  • Provide a set of choices as much as possible

Pros and Cons of Descriptive Research


  • The collection of data is quick and easy to conduct, especially when doing surveys.
  • It allows you to collect data in a natural environment that gives high-quality and honest data collection.
  • It is easier to make decisions and go further for data analysis
  • A better understanding of the research topic due to qualitative and quantitative data collection.


  • When it comes to confidentiality, some respondents won’t give answers to questionnaires and interviews.
  • It doesn’t answer the question “why”, which makes it limited and won’t come up with the cause and effect of a research topic.
  • It is tough to validate an accurate and complete representation of a study.

The purpose of descriptive research, aside from describing a certain population or situation, is to know the basic knowledge of a study. Descriptive research is always the beginning of every answer to solving a problem and development of a certain idea so it is always a must before jumping into conclusions.

Image by Dariusz Sankowski