Descriptive research methods help to understand the characteristics of a demographic group.

Descriptive research is commonly used in the social sciences to study characteristics or phenomenons. Also known as statistical research, researchers look into frequency, average or other qualitative methods to understand a subject that is being studied. The research can involve case studies, observation, survey and archival research to understand characteristics of a specific demographic group.

Case Study as Descriptive Research

Case study as a descriptive research definition is used to understand a complex subject. A case study is usually intended to consolidate or extend existing knowledge based on previous research by using qualitative methods to evaluate contemporary real-life situations. Researchers start by defining the research question and then selecting the cases to probe followed by determination of data gathering and analysis techniques. Data collected is then evaluated and analyzed before a report is made. Critics argue the small number of cases normally used doesn't offer sufficient grounds to provide a conclusive outcome. The other problem is the person presenting the case might be biased leading to selectively choosing facts to support a certain conclusion.

Observation as Descriptive Research Method

Another one of the types of descriptive research methods is utilizing observation to understand the behavior and characteristics of demographics. As an example, market researchers use passive and active observational research and ethnography to understand the behavior of consumers in a certain area. Ethnographers spend time interacting with research participants and gleaning data on lifestyle, values, culture influence and consumer purchases. Passive observation involves watching what customers purchase where researchers observe how customers interact with a product in active observation before asking questions. Observational research involves the use of sampling to reach a research conclusion.

Types of Descriptive Research Design

Survey research is one of the most commonly used descriptive research methods in a social sciences research study. Researchers randomly selects respondents from a population to answer a standardized questionnaire or conduct a face-to-face interview or telephone interview to collect data to assess people's behavior, beliefs and attitudes. In these types of descriptive research methods, positives can include cost effective methods, easy administration and the ability to sample a wide range of people. On the negative side, face-to-face surveys can have issues with ambiguity in survey responses and survey participants being unwilling or too uncomfortable to give accurate or honest answers to the questions.

Archival Research Method

This type of descriptive research study as a method uses existing data or records to answer a research question. It involves content and qualitative analysis of research material. Archived data like the U.S. Census, economic and political surveys can be used to reach a research conclusion. For example, the data could also be used to determine how the number of women taking up the role of breadwinner in America has increased over the decades and reasons behind the statistical changes.