Descriptive research is commonly used in social sciences to study characteristics or phenomenons. Also known as statistical research, researchers look into the frequency, average or other qualitative methods to understand a subject being studied. It involves case studies, observation, survey and archival research. You can use descriptive research to find out the prevalence of an illness in a certain demographic area.

Case Study

This type of research method 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. Start by defining the research question and selecting the cases you want to probe. You then have to determine data gathering and analysis techniques. Data collected is 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.


This kind of research is used to understand the behavior and characteristics of demographics. Market researchers, for instance, 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 what they purchase. Passive observation involves watching what customers are purchasing, whereas you look at the way a customer is interacting with a product in active observation before asking questions. Observational research involves the use of sampling to reach a research conclusion.

Survey Research

Survey research is one of the most commonly used research methods in social sciences. 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.

Archival Research

This type of descriptive research method uses existing data or records to answer a research question. It involves content and qualitative analysis of research material. You can, for instance, use data in an archive including the U.S. Census, economic and political surveys to reach a research conclusion. You can also use it to determine, for example, the number of women taking up the role of breadwinner in America in 2011 has increased compared to 1990 and the reason behind the phenomenon.