DESCRIPTIVE AND HISTORICAL RESEARCH METHOD
Descriptive research is used to describe characteristics of a population or phenomenon being studied. It does not answer questions about how/when/why the characteristics occurred. Rather it addresses the “what” question (what are the characteristics of the population or situation being studied?) while the historical method is employed by researchers who are interested in reporting events and/or conditions that occurred in the past. An attempt is made to establish facts in order to arrive at conclusions concerning past events or predict future events.
Descriptive research does not fit neatly into the definition of either quantitative or qualitative research methodologies, but instead it can utilize elements of both, often within the same study. The term descriptive research refers to the type of research question, design, and data analysis that will be applied to a given topic. Descriptive statistics tell what is, while inferential statistics try to determine cause and effect.
The type of question asked by the researcher will ultimately determine the type of approach necessary to complete an accurate assessment of the topic at hand. Descriptive studies, primarily concerned with finding out “what is,” might be applied to investigate the following questions: Do teachers hold favorable attitudes toward using computers in schools? What kinds of activities that involve technology occur in sixth-grade classrooms and how frequently do they occur? What have been the reactions of school administrators to technological innovations in teaching the social sciences? How have high school computing courses changed over the last 10 years? How do the new multimediated textbooks compare to the print-based textbooks? How are decisions being made about using Channel One in schools, and for those schools that choose to use it, how is Channel One being implemented? Descriptive research can be either quantitative or qualitative. It can involve collections of quantitative information that can be tabulated along a continuum in numerical form, such as scores on a test or the number of times a person chooses to use a-certain feature of a multimedia program, or it can describe categories of information such as gender or patterns of interaction when using technology in a group situation. Descriptive research involves gathering data that describe events and then organizes, tabulates, depicts, and describes the data collection (Glass & Hopkins, 1984). It often uses visual aids such as graphs and charts to aid the reader in understanding the data distribution. Because the human mind cannot extract the full import of a large mass of raw data, descriptive statistics are very important in reducing the data to manageable form. When in-depth, narrative descriptions of small numbers of cases are involved, the research uses description as a tool to organize data into patterns that emerge during analysis. Those patterns aid the mind in comprehending a qualitative study and its implications.
Descriptive research is unique in the number of variables employed. Like other types of research, descriptive research can include multiple variables for analysis, yet unlike other methods, it requires only one variable (Borg & Gall, 1989). For example, a descriptive study might employ methods of analyzing correlations between multiple variables by using tests such as Pearson’s Product Moment correlation, regression, or multiple regression analysis
On the other hand, descriptive research might simply report the percentage summary on a single variable. Examples of this are the tally of reference citations in selected instructional design and technology journals by Anglin and Towers (1992); Barry’s (1994) investigation of the controversy surrounding advertising and Channel One; Lu, Morlan, Lerchlorlarn, Lee, and Dike’s (1993) investigation of the international utilization of media in education (1993); and Pettersson, Metallinos, Muffoletto, Shaw, and Takakuwa’s (1993) analysis of the use of verbo-visual information in teaching geography in various countries. Some examples of descriptive research include case studies and preliminary observation of a group. Case studies are examples of a relevant event that can be analyzed to learn about a specific group or topic. Observation is an essential part of descriptive research, and is the main way of gathering information.
Historical method comprises the techniques and guidelines by which historians use primary sources and other evidence, including the evidence of archaeology, to research and then to write histories in the form of accounts of the past. The question of the nature, and even the possibility, of a sound historical method is raised in the philosophy of history as a question of epistemology. The study of historical method and of different ways of writing history is known as historiography.
Historical research can also mean gathering data from situations that have already occurred and performing statistical analysis on this data just as we would in a traditional experiment. The one key difference between this type of research and the type described in the first paragraph concerns the manipulation of data. Since historical research relies on data from the past, there is no way to manipulate it. Studying the grades of older students, for example, and younger students may provide some insight into the differences between these two groups, but manipulating the work experience is impossible. Therefore, historical research can often lead to present day experiments that attempt to further explore what has occurred in the past.
An important goal of the research scientist is the publication of the results of a completed study. Scientific journals do not allow for literary embellishments and expressions, often seen in other journals, as the purpose is to communicate the scientific findings as clear as possible, in a highly stylized, distinctive fashion. This often makes it difficult for the applied professional to grasp all that the article has to offer. The purpose of this article is to help bridge much of that communication breach in scientific writing.
In almost every research article you read you will see a definite methodology develop that will help you understand the study. Fortunately, most research journals begin each article with an Abstract that summarizes the study for you Historical research involves understanding, studying, and explaining past events. Its purpose is to arrive at some conclusions concerning past occurrences that may help to anticipate or explain present or future events. Understanding past research from high-impact aerobics injuries has helped our industry design step and slide programs that offer safer means of achieving similar goals. Descriptive research often involves collecting information through data review, surveys, interviews, or observation. This type of research best describes the way things are. A review paper of previously reported research is descriptive research. The music and exercise article in this edition of IDEA Today is an example of this type of research. Often new ideas and theories are discovered and presented from this descriptive process.
C. Behan McCullagh, Justifying Historical Descriptions, Cambridge University Press: New York (1984). ISBN 0-521-31830-0.
Gilbert J. Garraghan, A Guide to Historical Method, Fordham University Press: New York (1946). ISBN 0-8371-7132-6
Louis Gottschalk, Understanding History: A Primer of Historical Method, Alfred A. Knopf: New York (1950). ISBN 0-394-30215-X.
Martha Howell and Walter Prevenier, From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods, Cornell University Press: Ithaca (2001). ISBN 0-8014-8560-6.
Shields, Patricia and Rangarjan, N. 2013. A Playbook for Research Methods: Integrating Conceptual Frameworks and Project Management. . Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press. See Chapter 4 for an in-depth discussion of descriptive research
Shields, Patricia and HassanTajalli. 2006. Intermediate Theory: The Missing Link in Successful Student Scholarship. Journal of Public Affairs Education. Vol. 12, No. 3. Pp. 313-334. http://ecommons.txstate.edu/polsfacp/39/