Strengths & Weaknesses of Descriptive Research

Strengths & Weaknesses of Descriptive Research

Descriptive research is an innovative tool for researchers as 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 implement descriptive research designed to account for positive and negative variables while taking into account how those results may affect the research project’s objective. Some aspects of descriptive research which can be examined for advantages and disadvantages include data collection, life experiences, confidentiality, objectivity and error.

1 Data Collection

Using a descriptive research design requires the use of specific forms of data collection related the process. These data collection forms can include case studies, observation or surveys. These techniques present several advantages as they provide a multifaceted approach for data collection that gives a broader view of the information. For example, a survey can provide statistics about an event while also illustrating how people experienced that event. A disadvantage of data collection can relate to human error in the collection of that data.

2 Life Experiences

Descriptive research designs also offer a unique means of data collection in the form of examining life experiences. 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. It can also often remove the barriers of strict academic approaches as the researcher witnesses how others experience an event.

3 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 might want to hear. This can be particularly difficult during in-person interviews. Participants may also refuse to provide answers to questions they view to be too personal. Further, the idea that someone is watching can turn an observation into an event where people are acting how they perceive they should act or speak.

4 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. Additionally, the study may contain errors as the researcher may record only what she wants to hear ignoring data that does not conform to the research project’s hypothesis. Overcoming a research bias is an extreme difficulty for descriptive research practitioners. Therefore, those who choose to use a descriptive research approach must be aware of their own influence on the outcome of the research.

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.