Descriptive research is used to obtain information concerning the current status of the phenomena to describe “what exists” with respect to variables or conditions in a situation. The methods involved range from the survey which describes the status quo, the correlation study which investigates the relationship between variables, to developmental studies which seek to determine changes over time.
Descriptive Research Methods
1. Case Studies
Detailed analysis of a single (or limited number) of people or events. Case studies are usually interesting because of the unusualness of the case .The major problem with case studies is the problem of objectivity. The person who is presenting the case usually has some theoretical orientation. It is acceptable for a theoretical orientation to affect one’s interpretation of events. In a case study the theoretical orientation can also lead to the selection of the facts to include in the case. It is not surprising that case studies often seem to provide very compelling evidence for a theory. Case studies can therefore assist psychology by illustrating how a theory could be applied to a person or events and by assisting with the development of hypotheses for more systematic testing.
2. Observational Research
Accounts of the natural behavior of individuals or groups in some setting. Unless the observation is unobtrusive, there may be some subject reactivity to being observed. This often decreases with time, a process called habituation. Observers cannot usually observe all behaviors all of the time. They may use a behavioral checklist and may also use time sampling or event sampling procedures. It is important to assess observer bias by the use of interobserver reliability. Observational research may also pose ethical problems. These can arise when the behaviors being observed are not public behaviors and when the observer joins a group in order to observe the members’ behavior – participant observation.
3. Survey Research
Structured questions to assess peoples beliefs, attitudes, and self-reports of behavior. If the researcher wishes to generalize the responses to a population, it is important to have a representative sample. Surveys that rely on self-selection (respond if you are interested) produce non-generalizable results. Surveys also provide information for co relational research. One can correlate responses to some questions (often demographic questions) with responses to other questions (often attitudes or reports of behavior). Survey question must be clear and unambiguous. Even if the questions are unambiguous and non-leading, people may display a social desirability bias and give positive or socially acceptable and desirable answers. Survey methods include: (1) the interview or face-to-face method which is generally viewed as the best method for obtaining a high rate of responses but is also very costly; (2) phone surveys, which are less expensive but have a higher non-response rate (which has probably increased with caller ID); and (3) written or mail surveys, which are least expensive but have a very high non-response rate. Follow-up messages can help increase the response rate.
4. Archival Research
Analysis of pre-existing data or records. Archival research often involves content analysis, a qualitative analysis of material. For example, one would use content analysis to determine whether there had been an increase in the frequency with which women and minorities were mentioned in US history books between 1920 and 2000. Some archival research is quasi-experimental.