Descriptive Qualitative Research Design

What is a descriptive qualitative research design? Qualitative description is another name for this research design. It can answer questions like what, who, where, and when. The answers to these questions are not possible form first hand experiments, or observations. Therefore, the researcher asks these questions from people who know about the phenomenon. Or gathers information from secondary sources like books and periodicals etc. As the name suggests this type of research describes the phenomenon it does not inquire about the questions like “how” and “why”. While, these questions are answered in causal, explanatory, or exploratory studies.

According to Kumar, 2011, “a study in which the main focus is on description, rather than examining relationships or associations, is classified as a descriptive study. A descriptive study attempts systematically to describe a situation, problem, phenomenon, service or programme, or provides information about, say, the living conditions of a community, or describes attitudes towards an issue”.

The researcher asks respondents about their knowledge relevant to a particular phenomenon. The phenomenon that the researcher is addressing has happened sometime in past and the researcher cannot find any other way to describe it. It can relate to a historical event like a war that took place sometime and somewhere in the past.

The phenomenon can relate to some current situation as well. In this case, the aim of the researcher is to collect some descriptive information before conducting experiments or survey. For example, in health care the researcher gathers information from a selected respondents about a diet plan or a diabetes medicine etc. Later the researcher uses this information to formulate questionnaire or conduct experiments. Therefore, descriptive study can also add depth to a quantitative research.


  • Kim, Hyejin et al. “Characteristics of Qualitative Descriptive Studies: A Systematic Review.” Research in nursing & health vol. 40,1 (2017): 23-42. doi:10.1002/nur.21768
  • Kumar, R. “Research Methodology: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners.” Sage Publications: 3rd Ed. Pp-334.



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