Descriptive research provides an answer to the questions of how something happened and who was involved, but not why something happened or why someone was involved (explanatory research). Descriptive research provides a detailed profile of an event, condition or situation using either quantitative, qualitative or a combination of methods. Data gathering techniques such as field research and case studies are for qualitative descriptive research.
Goals of Descriptive Research
Descriptive research seeks to provide a picture of an event, condition or situation. Qualitative descriptive research seeks to provide this picture using data in the form of words or pictures rather than numbers (quantitative).
Examples of Qualitative Descriptive Research
Qualitative descriptive research involves a broad research question. For example, such a research question could be "the relationship between organised crime and politics in Italy." Getting a picture of this relationship might involve interviews with political leaders about the government's level of tolerance of the mafia. A case study of the process used by a school district to select a new superintendent is another example of qualitative descriptive research.
Gathering Qualitative Descriptive Data
Qualitative data is often gathered using field research. Field research involves selecting an event, condition or situation to study, and observing and interacting with the event, condition or situation in the field setting. Consider the example of the school district process for hiring a new superintendent. A field researcher selects this event, the hiring process and attends the site to observe the hiring process over a period of time. The field researcher takes detailed notes on the hiring process and may interview those involved in the hiring process (formally or informally).
Reporting Qualitative Descriptive Research
After leaving a field site, a qualitative descriptive researcher compiles the data gathered during the field research into a case study report. The report gives a complete picture of the hiring process as observed in the field study.
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- "Criminal Justice Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches; W. Lawrence Neuman, Bruce Wiegand and John Winterdyk; 2004.
- AECT; The Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technolgy; "What is Descriptive Research"; 2001
- Hunter College-City University of New York-Department of Curriculum & Teaching; "EDSTATS Primer Session 6 - Descriptive Research"; Dr. Anthony G. Picciano