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Descriptive research: defining your respondents and drawing conclusions

What is descriptive research?

It’s conclusive in nature, as opposed to exploratory. This means that descriptive research gathers quantifiable information that can be used for statistical inference on your target audience through data analysis. As a consequence, this type of research takes the form of closed-ended questions, which limits its ability to provide unique insights. However, used properly it can help an organization better define and measure the significance of something about a group of respondents and the population they represent.

When it comes to online surveying, descriptive is by far the most commonly used form of research. Most often, organizations will use it as a method to reveal and measure the strength of a target group’s opinion, attitude, or behaviour with regards to a given subject. But another common use of descriptive research would be the surveying of demographical traits in a certain group (age, income, marital status, gender, etc.). This information could then be studied at face value, measuring trends over time, or for more advanced data analysis like drawing correlations, segmentation, benchmarking, and other statistical techniques.

The trick to conducting any type of research is to gain only valuable information. In the case of online surveying, your collected data should allow you to take action on a particular problem or opportunity facing your organization. This is why it is essential to create research objectives before you jump into your survey design. Research objectives identify exactly what you are trying to discover in order to make educated decisions on the issues facing your organization. For example, let’s say a website wanted to collect visitor feedback. They could divide their research objectives based different aspects of their site, like navigation, quality of information, and aesthetics. With properly defined research objectives you’ll be able to create a questionnaire that provides relevant insights that give a clear direction towards action.

The next step to effective descriptive research is to ensure your results’ accuracy. This stems from limiting bias and error in your surveying design and research method. With sample surveys, error is unavoidable. That being said, it is important to control your margin of error and confidence levels by having a proper survey sample size.

Need an audience for conducting your descriptive research? Learn how SurveyMonkey Audience can help you build the right set of contacts to survey.

The different ways organizations use descriptive research is almost limitless. We already know that going into the survey design phase with research goals is critical, but how do we know that our research plan will provide fruitful information? To understand what your research goals should entail, let’s take a look at the three main ways organizations use descriptive research today:

All closed-ended questions aim to better define a characteristic for your respondents. This could include gaining an understanding of traits or behaviors, like asking your respondents to identify their age group or provide how many hours they spend on the internet each week. It could also be used to ask respondents about opinions or attitudes, like how satisfied they were with a product or their level of agreement with a political platform.

In essence, all this information can be used by an organization to make better decisions. For example, a retail store that discovers that the majority of its customers browse sale items online before visiting the store would give it insight on where it should focus its advertising team.

With the statistical capabilities of descriptive research, organizations are able to measure trends over time. Consider a survey that asks customers to rate their satisfaction with a hotel on a scale of 0-10. The resulting value is mostly arbitrary by itself. What does an average score of 8.3 mean? However, if the hotel management makes changes in order to better meet their customer needs, they can later conduct the same survey again and see whether the new average score has risen or fallen. This allows the hotel to effectively measure the progress it is making with customer satisfaction over time, as well as measure the effects of new initiatives and processes.

Organizations also use descriptive research to draw comparisons between groups of respondents. For example, a shampoo company creates a survey asking the general public several questions measuring their attitudes on the company’s products, advertising, and image. In the same survey they may ask various demographic questions like age, gender, income, etc.

Afterwards, the company will be able to analyze the data to compare different groups of people and their attitude. For example, the company can statistically identify the difference in opinion between genders and age. Maybe they find that there is a statistically low opinion of their company’s image from young adult males. This could mean creating a new line of products attempting to cater to this demographic.

If your research goals fit under one of these three categories, you should be on the right track. Now all you have left to do is decide how the data collected will help your organization take action on a certain issue or opportunity. Remember, conducting a successful survey is only half the battle. It is what you do with the information gathered that makes your research project useful!

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