The 3 Basic Types Of Descriptive Research Methods

Descriptive research is a type of research methodology that describes or measures the characteristics of a population, phenomenon or event. It is often used to answer research questions that begin with “what” or “how.” This type of research is descriptive in nature, meaning it seeks to describe events or phenomena without manipulating them. In this article, we will explore the three basic types of descriptive research methods.

1. Observation Method

The observation method is a research technique that involves observing and recording behavior or events without interfering or manipulating them. This method is suitable for studying natural social situations without changing the behavior of the subjects. Observational research can be conducted in a natural or structured setting, and the data are collected through direct observation, audio or video recording, questionnaires or interviews.

There are two types of observation methods – participant observation and non-participant observation. In the participant observation method, the researcher becomes part of the group being studied, while in the non-participant observation method, the researcher observes the group from a distance. The type of observation method chosen will depend on the research question, the subject of study, and the resources available.

For example, a researcher may use the observation method to study the behavior of shoppers in a mall. The researcher could observe the shoppers from a hidden location or could directly interact with them by asking questions.

2. Survey Method

The survey method is a research technique that involves collecting data from a sample population with the aim of generalizing the results to the larger population. Surveys are conducted using questionnaires, interviews or online surveys. The survey method is commonly used in research that requires the collection of information from a large population quickly and efficiently.

There are two types of surveys – open-ended surveys and closed-ended surveys. Open-ended surveys require respondents to answer questions in their own words, while closed-ended surveys provide a list of possible answers to choose from. Closed-ended surveys are easier to analyze as they provide numerical data that can be quantified.

For example, a researcher may use the survey method to study the attitudes of college students towards climate change. The researcher could use a closed-ended survey to ask students to rate their level of concern for climate change on a scale of one to ten.

3. Case Study Method

The case study method is a research technique that involves the in-depth study of a particular individual, group, or situation. Case studies are used in psychology, sociology, and other social science disciplines. The case study method is suitable for researching complex phenomena that are difficult to understand through quantitative methods.

The case study method involves collecting data through observation, interviews, and documents. The data is then analyzed for patterns and themes that emerge. The researcher can use a single case or multiple cases to understand the phenomenon being studied. The case study method is commonly used to investigate rare or extreme cases.

For example, a researcher may use the case study method to study the effects of a traumatic event on a particular individual. The researcher could collect data through interviews with the individual, their family and friends, and any medical records available.


Descriptive research provides valuable information about a population, phenomenon, or event. The three basic types of descriptive research methods are observation, survey, and case study. While each method has its strengths and weaknesses, the method chosen will depend on the research question, the subject of study, and the resources available. By using these methods, researchers can gain a deeper insight into the phenomenon being studied and provide a more accurate portrayal of the world around us.


FAQs About The 3 Basic Types of Descriptive Research Methods

1. What are the three types of descriptive research methods?

The three basic types of descriptive research methods are observational, case study, and survey methods. Observational research methods involve observing and describing a phenomenon in its natural setting. Case study methods involve examining an individual or group in depth to gain insight into a particular issue or problem. Survey methods involve collecting data from a larger population by asking a specific set of questions.

2. What are the advantages of using descriptive research methods?

Descriptive research methods are particularly useful in providing a detailed understanding of a specific topic or issue. They allow researchers to examine a particular phenomenon in depth and provide insights that may not be obtained through other research methods. Additionally, descriptive research methods are often less expensive and time-consuming compared to experimental research methodologies.

3. How can I choose the best descriptive research method?

The choice of descriptive research method will depend on the research question, the population being studied, and the data that needs to be collected. Observational research methods may be suitable for topics where it is not possible to manipulate the subject. Case study methods may be useful in situations where the research is focused on a specific individual or group, and survey methods may be appropriate when investigating a larger population. It is important to carefully consider the strengths and limitations of each method before making a final decision.


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2. Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Sage Publications, Inc.

3. Neuman, W. L. (2013). Social research methods: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Pearson.