A comparison of descriptive research and experimental research

By Priya Chetty on May 18, 2020

Quantitative research refers to data present in numeric form. When collected using a primary method, it uses statistical data collected by means of a questionnaire (Apuke, 2017). The purpose of quantitative research is to emphasize the collection of objective data in order to assess a social phenomenon. There are different types of quantitative research such as survey research, correlational research, descriptive research, experimental research, and causal-comparative research.

Descriptive research

Descriptive research is the research design in which data is collected in a qualitative manner and analyzed using quantitative procedures (Nassaji, 2015). Descriptive research refers to the scientific methodology in which observation of the sampled population is carried out in its natural surrounding. Descriptive research methodology intends to find out ‘what’ related to a phenomenon. In this method, data are collected qualitatively and analyzed through a quantitative method. Data is collected through methods like survey, interview, correlation study, observation study, or content analysis. Moreover, the observer does not intervene in this observation process or influence any of the variables of the study (Lambert and Lambert, 2012). 

Application of descriptive research

The use of descriptive research is mostly restricted to areas like education, nutrition, epidemiology. This is because it centers on the premise that certain problems can be resolved and practices can be improved by observation analysis, and description (Koh and Owen, 2000). Furthermore, this form of research methodology finds its most use in studies that are exclusively restricted to facts rather than hypothetical scenarios. Hence, a major feature of descriptive research is that it is restricted to examining facts and the researcher does not make any additional attempt to find out why the reality occurs in a particular form (Jong and Voordt, 2002).

For example, research to find out the demotivating factors in a Japanese classroom. The descriptive method is the most suitable method where the students can be observed in their natural classroom settings. Data can be collected from all or some of the students through a questionnaire-based survey method. Statistical analysis of the collected data will reveal demotivating factors such as attitude of teachers, nature of textbooks, school facilities, group attitude, etc.

Experimental research

Experimental research is a scientific methodological framework in which the researcher uses a set of variables for studying a given phenomenon. In this method, some of the variables are kept constant and others are altered in order to meet pre-determined research objectives (Mildner, 2019). This type of methodology is used in studies in which accuracy of statement is considered immensely important in the context of explaining cause and effect relationships of a particular phenomenon or issue.

Application of experimental research

Experimental research design is applicable in areas that are high in causal (or internal) validity, i.e. when a researcher wants to understand the cause-and-effect relationship between variables (Tanner, 2018). In experimental research, hypothesis is framed and tested. This type of research is considered to be the most thorough but suffers from lack of validity. This is because often the variables can be manipulated or controlled (Gravetter and Forzano, 2009).

For example, research to find out the effect of absenteeism on students’ academic performance. The researcher hypothesizes can be high absenteeism is directly related to poor academic performance. Experimental research is suitable in this case, as the researcher can survey 250 students of a university to examine the hypothesis.

The challenges of experimental research design include unnaturalness of the research situation because in this method calibrated situations are usually developed by the researchers for carrying a study. Therefore, it is often difficult to apply the study findings to a real-life situation.

Extensions of experimental research

Another type of research is quasi-experimental research, which is similar to pure experimental research, however, it is high in validity as there is no manipulation of variables, and respondents are not selected randomly. It is used mainly in medical studies. All the types of researches share some similarities as well as differences. A researcher must closely review the pros and cons of each type in order to choose the one which is most suitable for his study.


  • Apuke, O. D. (2017) ‘Quantitative Research Methods : A Synopsis Approach’, Kuwait Chapter of Arabian Journal of Business and Management Review. Al Manhal FZ, LLC, 6(11), pp. 40–47. doi: 10.12816/0040336.
  • Gravetter, F. J. and Forzano, L.-A. B. (2009) Research Methods for the Behavioral Sciences. Belmont: Cengage Learning.
  • Jong, T. M. de and Voordt, D. J. M. van der (2002) Ways to Study and Research Urban, Architectural and Technical Design. Delft: DUP Science.
  • Koh, E. T. and Owen, W. L. (2000) ‘Descriptive Research and Qualitative Research’, in Introduction to Nutrition and Health Research. Berlin: Springer.
  • Lambert, V. A. and Lambert, C. E. (2012) ‘Qualitative Descriptive Research: An Acceptable Design’, The Pacific Rim International Journal of Nursing Research, 16(4), pp. 255–256.
  • Mildner, V. (2019) The SAGE Encyclopedia of Human Communication Sciences and Disorders Experimental Research. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: 10.4135/9781483380810.n242.
  • Nassaji, H. (2015) ‘Qualitative and descriptive research: Data type versus data analysis’, Language Teaching Research, 19(2).
  • Tanner, K. (2018) Experimental Research. Chandos Publishing.

Priya is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Project Guru, a research and analytics firm based in Gurgaon. She is responsible for the human resource planning and operations functions. Her expertise in analytics has been used in a number of service-based industries like education and financial services.

Her foundational educational is from St. Xaviers High School (Mumbai). She also holds MBA degree in Marketing and Finance from the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, Delhi (2008).

Some of the notable projects she has worked on include:

  • Using systems thinking to improve sustainability in operations: A study carried out in Malaysia in partnership with Universiti Kuala Lumpur.
  • Assessing customer satisfaction with in-house doctors of Jiva Ayurveda (a project executed for the company)
  • Predicting the potential impact of green hydrogen microgirds (A project executed for the Government of South Africa)

She is a key contributor to the in-house research platform Knowledge Tank.

She currently holds over 300 citations from her contributions to the platform.

She has also been a guest speaker at various institutes such as JIMS (Delhi), BPIT (Delhi), and SVU (Tirupati).



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