Descriptive Studies: Definition & Example

Instructor: Laura Foist

Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.

In science, there are many different types of questions that we try to answer. In this lesson, we will learn what questions are answered with descriptive studies and how they are answered.

Types of Questions

In science, there are many different types of questions that we try to answer. We may want to know what diseases trees are contracting, or we may want to know why they are contracting those diseases.

There are two main types of studies, analytical and descriptive. Analytical studies answer questions such as how and why, while descriptive studies answer questions such as who, what, when, and where.

Types of Descriptive Studies

When doing descriptive studies, there are several different ways to answer the who, what, when, and where questions. These questions can be answered on an individual basis, as a community, or as a population. The types of studies are: case reports, case series, incidence, and ecologic.

Case reports are in-depth descriptions of single cases. So, this is a report answering who, what, when, and where about a single person, incidence, animal, etc. We don't use these types of studies to apply to the general population.

A case report might be a detailed report on a single tree.

Case series are like case reports, except case series are in-depth descriptions of several similar cases. With these, we can begin getting a better idea of how a specific case will affect the general population. We can start making connections between what is similar with the different cases.

A case series is a detailed report on all of the trees in the forest.

Incidence studies look at an entire population or sample and determine what proportion meet the criteria of interest. When a new disease breaks out, we may track how many people in the United States develop the disease.

An incidence study may report the percentage of trees in a forest attacked by beetles.
Diseased tree

Ecological studies make observations of a group where a variable is measured. These types of studies can be a pre-study for an analytical study in order to give casual hypotheses.

Example Descriptive Study

If someone developed a new cancer that had never been seen before, this would be the perfect opportunity for a case report. In this instance, the researcher (or the doctor) would keep a detailed report of what treatments were given and how the patient responded. A detailed background report of the patient would also be included.

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