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Strengths & Weaknesses of Descriptive Research

by Janine Murphy, Demand Media

    Descriptive research is an innovative tool for researchers. It presents an opportunity to fuse both quantitative and qualitative data as a means to reconstruct the "what is" of a topic. However, descriptive research also has specific advantages and disadvantages. A skilled researcher can focus on both the good and the bad of descriptive research to implement a descriptive research design that accounts for variables that may affect the research project's objective.

    Data Collection

    Using a descriptive research design requires the use of specific forms of data collection. This can include case studies, observation or surveys. These data collection techniques present several advantages as they provide a multifaceted approach for data collection. For example, a survey can provide statistics about an event while also illustrative how people experienced that event.

    Life Experiences

    Descriptive research designs also offer a unique means of data collection. Case studies can be based on various sources such as newspaper reports or personal accounts. These accounts provide insight into life experiences. An observational technique for data collection can be an organic means to study life experiences and can often remove the barriers of strict academic approaches as the researcher witnesses how others experience an event.

    Confidentiality

    Confidentiality is the primary weakness of descriptive research. Often subjects are not truthful as they feel the need to tell the researcher what they think the researcher wants to hear. This is particularly difficult during interviews. Participants may also refuse to provide answers to questions they view to be too personal. Furthermore, the idea that someone is watching can turn an observation into an event where people are acting how they perceive they should act.

    Objectivity and error

    Descriptive research also presents the possibility for error and subjectivity. For example, when a researcher designs a questionnaire, questions are predetermined and prescriptive. Furthermore, the study may contain errors, as the researcher may record what she wants to hear and ignore data that does not conform to the research project's hypothesis. Overcoming a research bias is an extreme difficulty for descriptive research practitioners and those who chose to use a descriptive research approach must be aware of their influence on the outcome of the research.

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    About the Author

    Janine Murphy has worked since 2006 as a researcher, and editor for academic theses. She completed her Masters of Arts in cultural history in 2006 at Memorial University of Newfoundland and is one year away from completing her Ph.D. in 19th-Century German history at the University of Frankfurt, Germany.

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