What Is Descriptive Research?

Jan 29, 2020

There are many methods of marketing research that traverse a variety of industries. We’ve already talked about ethnographic research and how it compares to marketing research methods. Descriptive research, while somewhat similar, is different in that specific marketing research methods actually fall under it.

3 Methods

Descriptive research is a methodology that is not exclusive to market researchers but one that can apply to a variety of research methods used in healthcare, psychology, and education. At its core, descriptive research seeks to describe the characteristics or behavior of an audience. While it’s not grounded in statistics, and usually leans towards more qualitative methods, it can include quantifiable data as well.

The purpose of descriptive research is, of course, to describe, as well as explain, or validate some sort of hypothesis or objective when it comes to a specific group of people. There are three main methods of descriptive research:

  1. Observation: There are two methods of observation including in-field and lab observation. In-field observation requires viewing or recording of an audience in their natural environment. Lab observation, on the other hand, is driven by the scientific method and audiences undergo observation in a more controlled test environment.
  2. Case Studies: Case studies involve a more in-depth analysis of an individual or smaller audience.
  3. Surveys: Likely the most familiar method of descriptive research, surveys involve interviews or discussions with larger audiences and are often conducted on more specific topics.

Each of these three methods of descriptive research serves its own purpose. However, we find that leveraging a unique combination of surveys and discussions is often the most effective in meeting many marketing objectives.

Leveraging Descriptive Research Methods

Too often surveys depart from the primary objectives of descriptive research. For example, a need for quantifiable data and validation can detract from descriptive objectives and the need to understand an audience first. However, focus groups and our exploratory research design supplement this departure.

Specifically, exploratory research is meant to do exactly what descriptive research hopes to achieve but in a more manageable way. Through online discussions, researchers can interpret conversations that describe, evaluate, or document behaviors. Respondents are able to portray everything from attitudes and feelings to processes, reactions, relationships, and more.

When taking advantage of any research method, there are always considerations to keep in mind. In the case of descriptive research, there are two specific types of bias to avoid in order to remain objective and avoid errors in insights:

  1. Ecological Fallacy: Drawing conclusions about an individual based on the analysis of a larger group.
  2. Exception Fallacy: The opposite of ecological fallacy, this is drawing conclusions about a group of people based on one individual—similar to stereotyping.

Targeting the appropriate audience will help avoid this bias. The right respondents who find the topic of research relatable and applicable to their daily lives will also help garner more detailed discussions. To learn more about how we incorporate both qualitative and quantitative methods of descriptive research, download the eGuide below. You’ll also learn the differences and benefits of combining the two methodologies.

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