Descriptive Research

Purpose & Types of Research Questions

Descriptive studies describe the educational situation as it naturally occurs. Its purpose is to describe the classroom experience and to illustrate the way events unfold-what typically happens, how teachers teach, what students believe or value, how a school functions as a community, and so forth. The sort of questions researchers attempt to answer by using descriptive research include the following:


Which strategies do first-year teachers use to motivate their students?

What do adolescents think the purpose of school is?

What obstacles do teachers encounter when they implement cooperative learning in their classrooms?

To answer these questions, the researcher typically records what he or she observes in the classroom and then analyzes those data in ways that describe what occurred. The researcher might visit the classroom and tally the frequency with which teachers engage in a particular behavior, as in the first research question above. Alternatively, the researcher might audiotape or videotape the educational experience of interest and then carefully analyze the tapes to extract the meaning or significance of what occurred. Or, the researcher might administer a questionnaire or conduct interviews, as with the second research question above in which researchers learned that adolescents think that the purpose of school is "to hang out with their friends."