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. 

Understanding the 3 Main Types of Survey Research & Putting Them to Use

Understanding the 3 Main Types of Survey Research & Putting Them to Use

Surveys establish a powerful primary source of market research. There are three main types of survey research; understanding these will not merely organize your survey studies, but help you form them from the onset of your research campaign.

It is crucial to be proficient in these types of survey research, as surveys should never be used as lone tools. A survey is a vehicle for granting insights, as part of a larger market research or other research campaigns. 

Understanding the three types of survey research will help you learn aspects within these forms that you were either not aware of or were not well-versed in.

This article explores the three main types of survey research and teaches you when to best implement each form of research. 

Putting the Types of Survey Research into Perspective 

With the presence of online surveys and other market research methods such as focus groups, there are ever-growing survey research methods. Before you choose a method, it is critical to decide on the type of survey research you need to conduct.

The type of survey research points to the kind of study you are going to apply in your campaign and all of its implications. The survey research type essentially hosts the research methods, which house the actual surveys. As such, the research type is one of the highest levels of the process, so consider it as a starting point in your research campaign.

Remember, that while there are various research types, the three presented in this article delineate the main types used in survey research. Researchers can apply these types to other research techniques (such as focus groups, interviews, etc.), but they are best suited for surveys.

Descriptive Research

The first main type of survey research is descriptive research. This type is centered on describing, as its name suggests, a topic of study. This can be a population, an occurrence or a phenomenon. 

Descriptive research is often the first type of research applied around a research issue, because it paints a picture of a topic, rather than investigating why it exists to begin with. 

The Key Aspects of Descriptive Research

The following provides the key attributes of descriptive research, so as to provide a full understanding of it.

  1. Makes up the majority of online survey methods.
  2. Concentrates on the what, when, where and how questions, rather than the why.
  3. Lays out the particulars surrounding a research topic, but not its origin.
  4. Handles quantitative studies.
  5. Deemed conclusive due to its quantitative data.
  6. Provides data that provides statistical inferences on a target population.
  7. Preplanned and highly structured.
  8. Aims to define an occurrence, attitude or opinions of the studied population.
  9. Measures the significance of the results and formulates trends.
  10. Can be used in cross-sectional and longitudinal surveys.

Survey Examples of Descriptive Research 

There are various types of surveys to use for descriptive research. In fact, you can apply virtually all of them if they meet the above requirements. Here are the major ones:

  1. Descriptive surveys: These gather data about different subjects. They are set to find how different conditions can be gained by the subjects and the extent thereof. Ex: determining how qualified applicants are to a job are via a survey checking for this.
  2. Descriptive-normative surveys: Much like descriptive surveys, but the results of the survey are compared with a norm. 
  3. Descriptive analysis surveys: This survey describes a phenomenon via an analysis that divides the subject into 2 parts. Ex: analyzing employees with the same job role across geolocations. 
  4. Correlative Survey: This determines whether the relationship between 2 variables is either positive or negative; sometimes it can be used to find neutrality. For example, if A and B have negative, positive or no correlation.

Exploratory Research 

Exploratory research is predicated on unearthing ideas and insights rather than amassing statistics. Also unlike descriptive research, exploratory research is not conclusive. This is because this research is conducted to obtain a better understanding of an existing phenomenon, one that has either not been studied thoroughly or is lacking some information.

Exploratory research is most apt to use at the beginning of a research campaign. In business, this kind of research is necessary for identifying issues within a company, opportunities for growth, adopting new procedures and deciding on which issues require statistical research, i.e., descriptive research. 

The Key Aspects of Exploratory Research

Also called interpretative research or grounded theory approach, the following provides the key attributes of exploratory research, including how it differs from descriptive research. 

  1. Uses exploratory questions, which are intended to probe subjects in a qualitative manner.
  2. Provides quality information that can uncover other unknown issues or solutions.
  3. Is not meant to provide data that is statistically measurable. 
  4. Used to get a familiarity with an existing problem by understanding its specifics.
  5. Starts with a general idea with the outcomes of the research being used to find related issues with the research subject.
  6. Typically exists within open-ended questions.  
  7. Its process varies based on the new insights researchers gain and how they choose to go about them.
  8. Usually asks for the what, how and most distinctively, the why.
  9. Due to the absence of past research on the subject, exploratory research is time-consuming,
  10. Not structured and flexible.

Examples of Exploratory Research

Since exploratory research is not structured and often scattered, it can exist within a multitude of survey types. For example, it can be used in an employee feedback survey, a cross-sectional survey and virtually any other that allows you to ask questions on the why and employs open-ended questions. 

Here are a few other ways to conduct exploratory research:

  1. Case studies: They help researchers analyze existing cases that deal with a similar phenomenon. This method often involves secondary research, unless your business or organization has case studies on a similar topic. Perhaps one of your competitors offers one as well. With case studies, the researcher needs to study all the variables in the case study in relation to their own. 
  2. Field Observations: This method is best suited for researchers who deal with their subjects in physical environments, for example, those studying customers in a store or patients in a clinic. It can also be applied by studying digital behaviors using a session replay tool. 
  3. Focus Groups: This involves a group of people, typically 6-10 coming together and speaking with the researcher, as opposed to having a one on one conversation with the researcher. Participants are chosen to provide insights on the topic of study and express it with other members of the focus group, while the researcher observes and acts as a moderator. 
  4. Interviews: Interviews can be conducted in person or over the phone. Researchers have the option of interviewing their target market, their overall target population, or subject matter experts. The latter will provide significant and professional-grade insights, the kind that non-experts typically can’t offer. 

Causal Research

The final type of survey research is causal research, which, much like descriptive research is structured, preplanned and draws quantitative insights. Also called explanatory research, causal research aims to discover whether there is any causality between the relationships of variables. 

As such, focuses primarily on cause-and-effect relationships. In this regard, it stands in opposition with descriptive research, which is far broader. Causal research has only two objects:

  • Understand which variable are the cause and which are the effect
  • Decipher the workings of the relationship between the causal variables, including how they will hammer out the effect.

The Key Aspects of Causal Research

The following provides the key traits of causal research, including how it differs from descriptive and exploratory research. 

  1. Considered conclusive research due to its structured design, preplanning and quantitative nature. 
  2. Its two objectives make this research type more scientific than exploratory and descriptive research. 
  3. Focuses on observing the variations in variables suspected as causing the changes in other variables.
  4. Measure changes in both the suspected causal variables and the ones they affect.
  5. Variables suspected of being causal are isolated and tested to meet the aforesaid two objectives.
  6. This experimentation shows researchers whether it is worth investing in a variable or to get rid of it.
    1. For example, an advertisement or a sales promotion
  7. Requires setting objectives, preplanning parameters, and identifying potential causal variables and affected variables to reduce researcher bias. 
  8. Requires accounting for all the possible causal factors that may be affecting the supposed affected variable, i.e., there can’t be any outside (non-accounted) variables.
  9. All confounding variables that can affect the results have to be kept consistent and controlled to make sure no hidden variable is in any way influencing the relationship between two variables. 
  10. To deem a cause and effect relationship, the cause would have needed to precede the effect.  

Examples of Causal Research

Causal research depends on the most scientific method out of the three types of survey research. Given that it requires experimentation, a vast amount of surveys can be conducted on the variables to determine if they are causal, non-causal or the ones being affected.

Here are a few examples of use causal research

  1. Product testing: Particularly useful if it’s a new product to test market demand and sales capacity. 
  2. Advertising Improvements: Researchers can study buying behaviors to see if there is any causality between ads and how much people buy or if the advertised products reach higher sales. The outcomes of this research can help marketers tweak their ad campaigns, discard them altogether or even consider product updates.
  3. Increase customer retention: This can be conducted in different manners, such as via in-store experimentations, via digital shopping or through different surveys. These experiments will help you understand what current customers prefer and what repels them. 
  4. Community Needs: Local governments can conduct the community survey to discover opinions surrounding community issues. For example, researchers can test whether certain local laws, transportation availability and authorizations are well or poorly received and if they correlate with certain happenings.

Deciding on Which of the Types of Research to Conduct

Market researchers and marketers often have several aspects of their discipline that would benefit off of conducting these three types of survey research. What’s most empowering about these types of survey research is that they are not limited to surveys alone.

Instead, they bolster the idea that surveys should not be used as lone tools. Rather, survey research powers an abundance of other market research methods and campaigns. As such, researchers should set aside surveys after they’ve decided on high-level campaigns and their needs.

As such, consider the core of what you need to study. Can your survey be applied to a macro-application? For example, in the business sector, this can be marketing, branding, advertising, etc.

Next, does your study require a methodical approach? For example, does it need to focus on one period of time among one population? If so, you will need to conduct a cross-sectional survey. 

Or does it require to be conducted over some period of time? This will require implementing a longitudinal study. Once you figure out these components, you should move on to choosing the type of survey research you’re going to conduct. However, you can also decide on this before you choose one of the methodical methods. 

Whichever route you decide to take, you’ll need a strong online survey provider, as this does, after all, involve surveys. The correct online survey platform will set your research up for success.  

Frequently asked questions

Why is it important to understand the types of survey research?

The type of survey research informs the kind of study you’ll be conducting. It becomes the backbone of your campaign and all its implications. Basically, the types of survey research host their designated research methods, which house the surveys. Therefore, the types of survey research you decide on are at the highest level of the research process and act as your starting point.

What is exploratory research?

Exploratory research is the most preliminary form of research, establishing the foundation of a research process. focuses on unearthing ideas and insights rather than gathering statistics. It’s not a conclusive form of research-- rather, it is conducted to bolster understanding of a specific phenomenon. It is typically the first form of research, setting the foundation for a research campaign.

What is descriptive research?

Descriptive research focuses on describing a topic of study like a population, an occurrence or a phenomenon. It is performed early on in the overall research process, as it paints an overall picture of a topic, while extracting the key details that you wouldn’t find with exploratory research alone.

What is a cross-sectional survey?

A cross-sectional survey is a survey used to gather research about a particular population at a specific point in time. It is considered to be the snapshot of a studied population.

What is causal research?

Causal research is typically performed in the latter stages of the entire research process, following correlational or descriptive research. It is conducted to find the causality between variables. It involves more than merely observing, as it relies on experiments and the manipulation of variables

How can you decide which types of survey research to conduct?

Take a look at the core of what you need to study. Are you trying to focus on one period of time among a population? Does your survey research need to be conducted over a period of time? Questions like these will lead you to the right research type.