What Is the Meaning of the Descriptive Method in Research?

Two botanists observing plants in the Everglades.
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Scientists once described such observed natural phenomena as the differences in beak shapes of Galapagos finches. In this type of research, the descriptive method is used. This means that someone makes an observation and then draws conclusions from it, rather than manipulating the system to see what may happen.

1 Descriptive Studies

Descriptive studies are those that do not involve an experimental design with true hypothesis testing. Descriptive research can answer questions such as who, what, when and where. Questions regarding why and how, on the other hand, usually require an experiment. These descriptive studies typically consist of observing behavior over a period of time. For example, you may observe that people on the sidewalk tend to give a wide berth to large dogs on leashes, but they stop to pet smaller dogs. This is the type of descriptive observation that may lead you to ask questions about behavior and design a study that manipulates the environment in some way. Once you begin to manipulate the environment in order to answer a specific research question, you are no longer engaged in descriptive research.

Ari Reid has a bachelor's degree in biology (behavior) and a master's in wildlife ecology. When Reid is not training to run marathons, she is operating a non-profit animal rescue organization. Reid has been writing web content for science, health and fitness blogs since 2008.