How to Conduct Descriptive Research to Advance Your Business

How to Conduct Descriptive Research to Advance Your Business

Descriptive research is one of the main types of survey research and makes up the majority of online surveys.

Many times, researchers need to conduct descriptive research before they attempt to problem solve, as this sort of research aims to set the scene of a problem. Moreover, it is used prior to an issue being fully realized by researchers, as it is used to probe into the background of a problem.

Because of this, descriptive research is often used as a preliminary research method. However, this is not always the case, as when researchers are fully aware of an issue, they can perform experimental research or correlational research, which can be conducted first.

But in most cases, to fully understand a situation, descriptive research is useful in that it paints a clear picture of the problem, so it is often conducted in the early stages of research, just after exploratory research.

This article offers a deep dive into descriptive research, how it’s conducted and how it can help advance your business.

Defining Descriptive Research

As its name suggests, this form of research seeks to describe the key factors of a problem, phenomenon, situation or the behaviors of a population.  

Descriptive research expounds on a population, occurrence or situation that a researcher chooses to or requires to study. As such, it aims on discovering latent details about a particular situation to fully understand it.

A preliminary research method, descriptive research forms the what, how, when and where surrounding a subject of study rather than on the why.

Before conducting research that explains why a phenomenon exists, it is critical to understand that it exists in the first place. It is also important to understand its full context, including particulars you may not have known about before conducting descriptive research. 

Descriptive research is conclusive in nature, as the data derived from this research can be used to create statistics and make educated inferences on a target population

The Key Aspects of Descriptive Research

Now that we have established the core meaning of descriptive research, it is critical to understand its makeup. This form of research has various qualities researchers ought to look into, to better understand its characteristics.

The following enumerates the key features of this research:

  1. Provides basic details regarding a research problem.
  2. Performed after exploratory research: it delves deeper into a hypothesis or theoretical idea established in exploratory research, while still being an early part of the overall research process.
  3. Fills in missing data: this is especially true when exploratory research is first performed.
  4. Preplanned and structured: Designed for further research around a phenomenon.
  5. Quantitative in nature: this research gathers numerical data used for making statistical analyses and drawing conclusions in relation to the studied population.
  6. Incorporates qualitative research: it can also include elements of qualitative research, to describe the research problem thoroughly. This is because descriptive research is more explanatory than exploratory or experimental.
  7. Uses uncontrolled variables: variables in this research are not controlled, as the researcher’s job is simply to observe and report, but not to interfere with the variables. 
  8. Creates statistical relevance: this method studies a population to draw statistical inferences about it. 
  9. Gateway for deeper research: After the results of descriptive research are collected, they can be used to power further analysis and research methods. 
  10. Cannot make predictions or find causal relationships: it covers the what, how, etc. aspects that can be later used for further research such as experimental, causal and prospective research. 

Why Your Business Needs Descriptive Research

Businesses need descriptive research for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it provides additional information about a topic, with details that exploratory research alone cannot. Dovetailing to this is the fact that descriptive research is still a part of the early stages of a research campaign, as it does not explain the “why” around a problem. 

Businesses benefit from this research as it is used to measure the opinions, attitudes of your current customers and potential ones, i.e., those in your target market. You can also gather information about their behaviors to help you segment them.

In addition, the information acquired through descriptive research can be used for advanced data analysis that allows business owners and marketers to draw conclusions, segment audiences, measure trends, and make well-informed decisions on how to move forward

Several common descriptive research surveys include the following list. You’ll notice that these deal with differing topics and purposes, though still fall under descriptive research. As such, descriptive research helps businesses better understand their customers, their employees, their communities and much more. 

Descriptive Research Survey Examples

  1. The NPS survey (Net Promoter Score) 
    1. To understand how likely your customers will recommend your brand or particular product or service. 
  2. The cross-sectional survey
    1. Studies a particular population at one particular point in time.
    2. Can help confirm or disprove a hypothesis of, for example, shopping behavior during an ad campaign.   
  3. The community survey
    1. Ideal for brick and mortar businesses seeking to understand their community and community needs better.
  4. The employee feedback survey
    1. Sets the scene on employee sentiment and satisfaction with a business.
    2. Useful during mergers, acquisitions, growth spurts or simple quarterly reviews.
  5. The Product satisfaction survey
  1. Focuses on the product side of a business.
  2. Helps you business understand how your product is being received, including the presence of any glitches. 

How Descriptive Research Differs from Correlational, Exploratory and Experimental Research

Descriptive research differs significantly from the other main types of research methods known as exploratory and correlational research.

Descriptive research is commonly confused with exploratory research. While these two research methods both involve the initial studies of a research process along with identifying a problem or situation, they differ significantly. 

Exploratory research provides information about a problem the researcher faces. It is usually the very initial research method researchers turn to. Alternatively, descriptive research pursues describing something, such as its characteristics and functions.

An exploratory research campaign provides the underpinning of upcoming research (usually descriptive research) to discover if the subject of study can be explained by a theory. Unlike descriptive research, exploratory research is not conclusive, as it is not concerned with stats and quantifying data. 

Descriptive research, on the other hand, is conclusive in nature, as it is primarily quantitative and focused on forming statistics. It is also rigid and structured, while exploratory research is flexible and unstructured. 

Correlational research differs from descriptive research in that it is designed to uncover relationships among variables to see how one may affect another or others

Additionally, the results of correlational research are used to make predictions of future events from present insights.

On the contrary, descriptive research seeks to create a snapshot of a studied subject and does not involve testing variables, whereas correlational research does and is primarily involved with exploring the relationships between variables. 

Experimental research is, like its name implies, highly experimental, as opposed to purely observational, such as descriptive research. Essentially the complete opposite of descriptive research in several regards. Firstly, it is related to correlational research, as it studies relationships between variables, but it takes this concept a step further.

Secondly, it works by interfering with variables. Experimental research involves manipulating variables to come to a conclusion or finding. Unlike descriptive research, it is usually conducted in the final stages of a research project.

Piggybacking off of correlational research, it seeks to find the cause and effect of causal relationships, the kind that correlational research would discover.

Additionally, unlike descriptive research, which answers “what is,” experimental research answers “what if.” 

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Descriptive Research

Descriptive research has various advantages for business owners and researchers alike. However, as with any research method, there are a few drawbacks to keep in mind as well. 

The Advantages

  1. Grants a relatively complete illustration of what is occurring at a given time.
  2. Quantifies and analyses non-quantified issues and subjects. 
  3. Observes a situation naturally, allowing for the observation of variables in their natural environments.
  4. The least time-consuming quantitative initiative.
  5. Can use both quantitative and qualitative research techniques.
  6. Can be used to create new hypotheses, delve into hypotheses and hypotheticals and create new research questions.
  7. Provides an extensive view of a topic, finding gaps and unknown details.
  8. Defines and measures data trends.
  9. Comparisons, ex: how various demographics react with the same and different variables. 
  10. Offers unique data collection, i.e., it can exist in the forms of: 
    1. examining life experiences
    2. reports 
    3. case studies (including personal accounts of participants)
    4. surveys

The Disadvantages

  1. Cannot determine cause and effect relationships, or the causes behind any phenomena. 
  2. Falls prey to survey bias, as respondents may answer questions with answers that are more desirable or in line with social norms. 
  3. Bias can also occur from the researchers’ end when they frame the questions to fit a certain narrative. 
  4. Leaves scarce room for diversity in answers since the question types of descriptive research are close-ended. 

Excelling in Descriptive Research

With all the various research types available, it is key to find the most appropriate type for your needs. Descriptive research is invaluable to use in the early stages of your research around a topic, however, it is not the earliest kind to incorporate. 

It usually follows exploratory research, which lays down the foundation of a research project, including hypotheses and curiosities that descriptive research can further probe. As there are many ways to conduct descriptive research, researchers need to find concrete means for conducting them.

Surveys are a relatively quick and accessible method for carrying out descriptive research. A strong online survey platform will facilitate the descriptive research process.