Descriptive Research Design: Definition, Examples & Types

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  • 0:07 Definitions
  • 1:06 Observational
  • 2:33 Survey
  • 3:18 Case Study
  • 4:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

This lesson explores the different ways that a researcher can understand individuals or groups of people, both in terms of psychological research as well as general research in other fields.

Descriptive Research: Definitions

Sometimes an individual wants to know something about a group of people. Maybe the individual is a would-be senator and wants to know who they're representing or a surveyor who is looking to see if there is a need for a mental health program.

Descriptive research is a study designed to depict the participants in an accurate way. More simply put, descriptive research is all about describing people who take part in the study.

There are three ways a researcher can go about doing a descriptive research project, and they are:

  • Observational, defined as a method of viewing and recording the participants
  • Case study, defined as an in-depth study of an individual or group of individuals
  • Survey, defined as a brief interview or discussion with an individual about a specific topic

Let's look at specific ways we can use each of these.


If I say, 'chimpanzees,' what do you think? Okay, after you think of bananas. Okay, after you remember that their babies are adorable. Yes! Jane Goodall - the researcher who spent years observing chimpanzees in the wild.

Observational studies are all about watching people, and they come in two flavors. Naturalistic, also known as field observation, is a study where a researcher observes the subject in its natural environment. This is basically what Jane Goodall did; she observed the chimpanzees in their natural environment and drew conclusions from this. This makes the observations more true to what happens in the chaotic, natural world. But, it also means you have less control over what happens.

The other flavor is laboratory observation, where a researcher observes the subject in a laboratory setting. This gives the researcher a little more control over what happens so they don't have to fly out to some tiny little island in the middle of a war zone to observe something. However, it does ruin some of the naturalness that one might get from field observation. An example of a laboratory observation in psychology would be done to understand something about children at a certain age, such as the process of how a child learns to speak and mimic sounds.


A survey comes in different flavors, be it interviewing people face to face or handing out questionnaires to fill out. The main difference between surveys and observations is that in a survey, you don't watch people; you ask them about themselves.

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