Descriptive field study

Descriptive Research Studies | Research Connections

Descriptive research is a type of research that is used to describe the characteristics of a population. It collects data that are used to answer a wide range of what, when, and how questions pertaining to a particular population or group. For example, descriptive studies might be used to answer questions such as: What percentage of Head Start teachers have a bachelor's degree or higher? What is the average reading ability of 5-year-olds when they first enter kindergarten? What kinds of math activities are used in early childhood programs? When do children first receive regular child care from someone other than their parents? When are children with developmental disabilities first diagnosed and when do they first receive services? What factors do programs consider when making decisions about the type of assessments that will be used to assess the skills of the children in their programs? How do the types of services children receive from their early childhood program change as children age?

Descriptive research does not answer questions about why a certain phenomenon occurs or what the causes are. Answers to such questions are best obtained from randomized and quasi-experimental studies. However, data from descriptive studies can be used to examine the relationships (correlations) among variables. While the findings from correlational analyses are not evidence of causality, they can help to distinguish variables that may be important in explaining a phenomenon from those that are not. Thus, descriptive research is often used to generate hypotheses that should be tested using more rigorous designs.

A variety of data collection methods may be used alone or in combination to answer the types of questions guiding descriptive research. Some of the more common methods include surveys, interviews, observations, case studies, and portfolios. The data collected through these methods can be either quantitative or qualitative. Quantitative data are typically analyzed and presenting using descriptive statistics. Using quantitative data, researchers may describe the characteristics of a sample or population in terms of percentages (e. g., percentage of population that belong to different racial/ethnic groups, percentage of low-income families that receive different government services) or averages (e.g., average household income, average scores of reading, mathematics and language assessments). Quantitative data, such as narrative data collected as part of a case study, may be used to organize, classify, and used to identify patterns of behaviors, attitudes, and other characteristics of groups.

Descriptive studies have an important role in early care and education research. Studies such as the National Survey of Early Care and Education and the National Household Education Surveys Program have greatly increased our knowledge of the supply of and demand for child care in the U.S. The Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Program have provided researchers, policy makers and practitioners with rich information about school readiness skills of children in the U.S.

Each of the methods used to collect descriptive data have their own strengths and limitations. The following are some of the strengths and limitations of descriptive research studies in general.


  • Study participants are questioned or observed in a natural setting (e.g., their homes, child care or educational settings).

  • Study data can be used to identify the prevalence of particular problems and the need for new or additional services to address these problems.

  • Descriptive research may identify areas in need of additional research and relationships between variables that require future study. Descriptive research is often referred to as "hypothesis generating research."

  • Depending on the data collection method used, descriptive studies can generate rich datasets on large and diverse samples.


  • Descriptive studies cannot be used to establish cause and effect relationships.

  • Respondents may not be truthful when answering survey questions or may give socially desirable responses.

  • The choice and wording of questions on a questionnaire may influence the descriptive findings.

  • Depending on the type and size of sample, the findings may not be generalizable or produce an accurate description of the population of interest.

Descriptive Research: Definition, Characteristics, Methods, Examples and Advantages

Suppose an apparel brand wants to understand the fashion purchasing trends among New York’s buyers, then it must conduct a demographic survey of the specific region, gather population data, and then conduct descriptive research on this demographic segment. The study will then uncover details on “what is the purchasing pattern of New York buyers,” but will not cover any investigative information about “why” the patterns exist. Because for the apparel brand trying to break into this market, understanding the nature of their market is the study’s main goal. Let’s talk about descriptive research.

Descriptive research is a research method describing the characteristics of the population or phenomenon studied. This descriptive methodology focuses more on the “what” of the research subject than the “why” of the research subject.

The descriptive research method primarily focuses on describing the nature of a demographic segment without focusing on “why” a particular phenomenon occurs. In other words, it “describes” the subject of the research without covering “why” it happens.

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Characteristics of descriptive research

The term descriptive research then refers to research questions, design of the study, and data analysis conducted on that topic. We call it an observational research method because none of the research study variables are influenced in any capacity.

Some distinctive characteristics of descriptive research are:

  1. Quantitative research: Descriptive research is a quantitative research method that attempts to collect quantifiable information for statistical analysis of the population sample. It is a popular market research tool that allows us to collect and describe the demographic segment’s nature.
  2. Uncontrolled variables: In descriptive research, none of the variables are influenced in any way. This uses observational methods to conduct the research. Hence, the nature of the variables or their behavior is not in the hands of the researcher.
  3. Cross-sectional studies: Descriptive research is generally a cross-sectional study where different sections belonging to the same group are studied.
  4. The basis for further research: Researchers further research the data collected and analyzed from descriptive research using different research techniques. The data can also help point towards the types of research methods used for the subsequent research.

Applications of descriptive research with examples

A descriptive research method can be used in multiple ways and for various reasons. Before getting into any survey, though, the survey goals and survey design are crucial. Despite following these steps, there is no way to know if one will meet the research outcome. How to use descriptive research? To understand the end objective of research goals, below are some ways organizations currently use descriptive research today:

  • Define respondent characteristics: The aim of using close-ended questions is to draw concrete conclusions about the respondents. This could be the need to derive patterns, traits, and behaviors of the respondents. It could also be to understand from a respondent, their attitude, or opinion about the phenomenon. For example, understanding from millenials the hours per week they spend on browsing the internet. All this information helps the organization researching to make informed business decisions.
  • Measure data trends: Researchers measure data trends over time with a descriptive research design’s statistical capabilities. Consider if an apparel company researches different demographics like age groups from 24-35 and 36-45 on a new range launch of autumn wear. If one of those groups doesn’t take too well to the new launch, it provides insight into what clothes are like and what is not. The brand drops the clothes and apparel that customers don’t like.
  • Conduct comparisons: Organizations also use a descriptive research design to understand how different groups respond to a specific product or service. For example, an apparel brand creates a survey asking general questions that measure the brand’s image. The same study also asks demographic questions like age, income, gender, geographical location, etc. This consumer research helps the organization understand what aspects of the brand appeal to the population and what aspects do not. It also helps make product or marketing fixes or even create a new product line to cater to high growth potential groups.
  • Validate existing conditions: Researchers widely use descriptive research to help ascertain the research object’s prevailing conditions and underlying patterns. Due to the non-invasive research method and the use of quantitative observation and some aspects of qualitative observation, researchers observe each variable and conduct an in-depth analysis. Researchers also use it to validate any existing conditions that may be prevalent in a population.
  • Conduct research at different times: The analysis can be conducted at different periods to ascertain any similarities or differences. This also allows any number of variables to be evaluated. For verification, studies on prevailing conditions can also be repeated to draw trends.

Advantages of descriptive research

Some of the significant advantages of descriptive research are:

  • Data collection: A researcher can conduct descriptive research using specific methods like observational method, case study method, and survey method. Between these three, all primary data collection methods are covered, which provides a lot of information. This can be used for future research or even developing a hypothesis of your research object.
  • Varied: Since the data collected is qualitative and quantitative, it gives a holistic understanding of a research topic. The information is varied, diverse, and thorough.
  • Natural environment: Descriptive research allows for the research to be conducted in the respondent’s natural environment, which ensures that high-quality and honest data is collected.
  • Quick to perform and cheap: As the sample size is generally large in descriptive research, the data collection is quick to conduct and is inexpensive.

Descriptive research methods

There are three distinctive methods to conduct descriptive research. They are:

  • Observational method

The observational method is the most effective method to conduct this research, and researchers make use of both quantitative and qualitative observations.

A quantitative observation is the objective collection of data primarily focused on numbers and values. It suggests “associated with, of or depicted in terms of a quantity.” Results of quantitative observation are derived using statistical and numerical analysis methods. It implies observation of any entity associated with a numeric value such as age, shape, weight, volume, scale, etc. For example, the researcher can track if current customers will refer the brand using a simple Net Promoter Score question.

Qualitative observation doesn’t involve measurements or numbers but instead just monitoring characteristics. In this case, the researcher observes the respondents from a distance. Since the respondents are in a comfortable environment, the characteristics observed are natural and effective. In a descriptive research design, the researcher can choose to be either a complete observer, an observer as a participant, a participant as an observer, or a full participant. For example, in a supermarket, a researcher can from afar monitor and track the customers’ selection and purchasing trends. This offers a more in-depth insight into the purchasing experience of the customer.

  • Case study method

Case studies involve in-depth research and study of individuals or groups. Case studies lead to a hypothesis and widen a further scope of studying a phenomenon. However, case studies should not be used to determine cause and effect as they can’t make accurate predictions because there could be a bias on the researcher’s part. The other reason why case studies are not a reliable way of conducting descriptive research is that there could be an atypical respondent in the survey. Describing them leads to weak generalizations and moving away from external validity.

  • Survey research

In survey research, respondents answer through surveys or questionnaires or polls. They are a popular market research tool to collect feedback from respondents. A study to gather useful data should have the right survey questions. It should be a balanced mix of open-ended questions and close ended-questions. The survey method can be conducted online or offline, making it the go-to option for descriptive research where the sample size is enormous.

Examples of descriptive research

Some examples of descriptive research are:

  1. A specialty food group launching a new range of barbecue rubs would like to understand what flavors of rubs are favored by different people. To understand the preferred flavor palette, they conduct this type of research study using various methods like observational methods in supermarkets. By also surveying while collecting in-depth demographic information, offers insights about the preference of different markets. This can also help tailor make the rubs and spreads to various preferred meats in that demographic. Conducting this type of research helps the organization tweak their business model and amplify marketing in core markets.
  2. Another example of where this research can be used is if a school district wishes to evaluate teachers’ attitudes about using technology in the classroom. By conducting surveys and observing their comfortableness using technology through observational methods, the researcher can gauge what they can help understand if a full-fledged implementation can face an issue. This also helps in understanding if the students are impacted in any way with this change.

Some other problems and research questions that can lead to descriptive research are:

  • Market researchers want to observe the habits of consumers.
  • A company wants to evaluate the morale of its staff.
  • A school district wants to understand if students will access online lessons rather than textbooks.
  • To understand if its wellness programs enhance the overall health of the employees.

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What is field research: it's simple - Definition

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Field research is a type of marketing research focused on a comprehensive study of an object in real market conditions.

Field research begins with the collection of primary data on sales and demand for a specific product or group of products that the company intends to research. As the name suggests, this market research requires direct contact with buyers, distributors, dealers, and in some cases even competitors. nine0013

The main objective of the field research is to discover and analyze the desires and habits of the target audience, collect information about the current situation in the market, in the marketing environment, as well as identify risks and growth points for the company.

There are three main types of field research.

  1. Observation . They analyze the behavior of consumers, their habits, motives for making decisions without direct contact with them.
  2. Experiment . They create theoretical mathematical models of a certain market situation. On the other hand, it is possible to experiment in real market conditions, but on a limited scale and with time frames.
  3. Poll . Through surveys, interviews, calls, online forms, companies ask respondents questions and collect data directly from customers.

The most effective and reliable will be a field study that uses all three methods. nine0013

Updated: 04/14/2021

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  • Field research

    Field research (eng. field research, field work; from field - field, space) - for the purpose of collecting primary data marketing analysis. The difference from secondary methods of obtaining information, incl. desk analysis, is the presence of direct contact with the object of research.

    The concept of field research came to marketing from sociology; in turn, sociology borrowed it from ethnography and anthropology, where it meant the collection of information in real conditions at an existing object.

    In marketing research, the traditional place for field research is after the process of identifying a problem, establishing a method for solving it, and drawing up a plan accordingly. Their use is due to the inaccessibility or objective impossibility of obtaining the necessary information to solve the problem and conduct marketing activities (strategic, tactical decisions, advertising and PR campaigns), when using secondary search methods. nine0013

    Obtaining primary information involves its identification and collection in the form of an array of data directly or indirectly from subjects that are somehow related to the marketing problem under study.

    A field study by the type of sampling of these subjects, called respondents, can be full (continuous) if the group of respondents is covered by it entirely, and partial if obtaining information from the entire group of subjects is impractical due to their large number or geographical fragmentation. nine0013

    Continuum surveys, characterized by a high level of statistical accuracy, but at the same time high resource and time consumption, are usually used to study relatively small target audiences, such as large firms or localized geographically small populations. Partial surveys are most commonly used to obtain information in field surveys.

    In practice, the following partial examination options are used , differing by sample type:

    • field research based on the researcher's individual assessment of the respondents' compliance with the key requirements of field research, as well as on deterministic sampling methods;
    • field studies focused on random selection of units and probabilistic sampling methods.

    Field research includes the following methods and practices :

    • qualitative methods: in-depth interviews, expert interviews, focus group interviews, observation, experiment; nine0004
    • quantitative methods: surveys (personal interview, telephone interview, mail survey), panel, hall test, home test, mystery shopping.

    According to the purpose of the field research, they are classified according to the typology of N.K. Malhotras are as follows: search, descriptive (descriptive), subdivided into profile and repeated, as well as cause-and-effect studies.

    Exploratory studies , whose task is to provide an understanding of the problem facing the researcher, serve the following purposes:

    • statement of the problem or its clarification;
    • discovery of alternative courses of action;
    • development of a hypothesis;
    • selection of fiducial points and their relationships;
    • substantiation of approaches to problem solving;
    • identification of research priorities.

    Exploratory studies are usually poorly formalized and use qualitative field research methodology to solve their problems. Hypotheses identified by exploratory research are tested by descriptive research. nine0013

    Descriptive research is research whose purpose is to describe something. The key difference between descriptive research and exploratory research is the presence of a basis from existing hypotheses, a clear statement of the problem, and detailed needs for the necessary information. With the aim of describing the market situation or obtaining structured information, this type of research itself must be clearly structured and formalized. Descriptive research requires precisely formulated questions: who, what, when, where, why and how is marketing activity, is affected by marketing factors. Examples of descriptive research are sales analysis by geographic region, market share research, market research that characterizes its size, purchasing power, etc. Rigidity in achieving research goals to a greater extent ties descriptive field research to a methodology that provides factual quantitative information - surveys, panels , observations. nine0013

    Causal field studies implement the experimental methodology. Their purpose is to find out the dependencies between one or more variables that affect the market situation.

    Field research, regardless of the method of conducting from the point of view of the organization, can be carried out either independently (by a specially created group) or by an external organization.

    In any case, the methodologies used in various types of field research require the participation of various field personnel and their prior training. The field research process can be structured as follows:

    • training (education) of field workers;
    • data collection process;
    • process control for data collection;
    • check received data.

    Staff training consists in informing them about the goals, objectives and timing of the study, describing the procedures necessary for conducting field work (in particular, sampling procedures for surveys) and focusing on certain issues or features that require additional attention. nine0013

    The need for training in addition to identifying the key points of the research process is based on the requirement for a uniform approach to methodology on the part of all field workers to achieve maximum data homogeneity. Qualitative research requires the professionalism of the staff interacting with the respondents; there are increased requirements for the experience, psychological and educational basis of interviewers and moderators. The quality of the data obtained is directly dependent on the ability of the interviewer to conduct a conversation with the respondent. nine0013

    In quantitative research, the experience of the interviewer is no less important for effectiveness, but the methodology of their conduct allows the use of less skilled labor due to the high formalization of the process, subject to qualified preparatory work to create a research project. The condition for the best performance of the data collection process is the ability of the field worker to speak “the same language” with the interviewee, or the unity of socio-demographic characteristics in order to reduce the likely dissonance of views, especially in the case of little experience of the field worker. nine0013

    Monitoring the work of field personnel is an objective necessity, it leads to a decrease in the number of errors caused by failure to follow instructions, deviations from the study plan, and incorrect approaches to sampling. Current control in field research is carried out either by special employees - supervisors (in quantitative research), or directly by the organizer in qualitative research. If ongoing monitoring is difficult or impossible, which may be due to the characteristics of the sample or technology, then a thorough check of the data obtained is carried out. nine0013

    Verification, as a rule, includes several stages of determining the validity, which implement the requirements for the received data. First of all, the completeness and quality of the information received during contact with the respondent is checked. The second stage of verification is contact with a certain proportion of interviewees (10-20%) in order to control the authenticity of the data obtained and the reliability of the course, quality and duration of the study, as well as the interviewee's compliance with the sample conditions.

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