Chapter 2





Quantitative descriptive or survey research involves collecting data in order to answer questions about the current status of the subject or topic of study. Note that qualitative research also relies heavily on description, but qualitative description is usually in the form of verbal reports and narratives, not quantitative results. Quantitative descriptive studies are carried out to  obtain information about the preferences, attitudes, practices, concerns, or interests of some group of people. For example, a pre-election political poll or a survey about the public’s perception of the quality of its local schools are examples of a descriptive research. A substantial portion of all the quantitative research conducted today is descriptive research.

      Quantitative descriptive research data are mainly collected through questionnaires  that are self-administered by those chosen to provide data. Another common  form  of survey data is the telephone interview.

      There is considerably more to conducting descriptive research than just asking  questions and reporting answers. Since one is often asking question that have not been asked before, instruments must be developed to suit each specific descriptive study. Instrument development is not easy. It requires clarity, consistency, and tact in constructing questions. Other major problems that face descriptive  researchers are participants failure to return questionnaires, to agree to be surveyed over the phone, and to attend scheduled data collection sessions. The descriptive researcher depends on the chosen individuals to care enough to make the time to provide the desired information. If the response rate is low, valid conclusions about the issues studied cannot be drawn. Suppose you were doing a study to determine attitudes of principals toward research in their schools. You send a questionnaire to 100 principals and ask the question, “Do you usually cooperate if your school is asked to participate in a research study?” suppose 40 principals respond and they all answer yes. Could you then conclude that principals in general cooperate with researchers? No! even though all those who responded said yes, 60 principals did not respond to your questionnaire. They may never cooperate with researchers. After all, they didn’t cooperate with you! Without their responses it is not possible to make judgments about how all principals feel about research in their schools.

       Here are some examples of questions investigated by quantitative  descriptive research studies:

  1. How do second-grade teachers spend their teaching time? categories of teaching time would be identified (e.g., lecture, discussion, asking and answering questions, individual student help). Second-grade teacher would be asked to fill out a questionnaire and results would probably be presented as percentages (e.g., 50% of their time is spent lecturing, 20% asking or answering questions, 20% discussion, and 10% individual student help).
  2. How will citizens of your town vote in the next presidential election? A survey of your town citizens would be taken (questionnaire or interview), and results would be presented as percentages (e.g., 70% indicated they will vote for Mr. X, 20% for Mrs. Y, and 10% are undecided).
  3. how do parents feel about a 12-month school year? Parents would be surveyed and results would probably be presented in terms of the percentages for, against, or undecided.


      The descriptive method is useful for investigating a variety of educational problems and issues. Typical descriptive studies are concerned with the assessment of attitudes, opinions, preferences, demographics, practices, and procedures. Examples of educational survey topics are: How do teachers in our school district rate the qualities of our new teacher evaluation program? What do high school principals consider their most pressing administrative problems? Descriptive data are usually collected by questionnaire, interview, telephone, or observation.

      Descriptive research sounds very simple—just ask some people some questions and count responses—but there is considerably more to it than just asking questions and reporting answers. A set of basic steps should guide descriptive research studies. Each step must be conscientiously executed: identify a topic or problem, select an appropriate sample of participants, collect valid and reliable data, and analyze and report conclusions. In addition, descriptive studies involve a number of unique problems. For example, self-report studies, such as those utilizing questionnaires or interviews, often suffer from lack of participant response: man potential participants do not return mailed questionnaires or attend scheduled interviews. This makes it difficult to interpret findings, since people who do not respond may feel very negatively about the year-round school concept and might avail themselves of every opportunity to express their unhappiness, including on your questionnaire.


Construction of the Questionnaire

Many types of items are commonly used in questionnaires, including scaled items (Likert and semantic differential), ranked items (rank the following activities in order of their importance), checklist items (write in your own words the main reasons you became a teacher). These item types are all self-report measures. Most surveys consist of closed-ended items (i.e., items that are answered by circling a letter, checking a list, or numbering preferences).







Comparison of Descriptive Data Collection Methods











can be confidential or anonymous

easy to score most items

standardized items and


response rate may be small

cannot probe or explain items

only used by people

can read possibility of response sets


can probe and explain items

usually high return rate

can be recorded for later analysis

flexibility of use

time consuming to use

no anonymity

bias of interviewer

complex scoring of unstructured  items

training needed


usually unobtrusive

examines naturalistic behaviors

tends to provide a true picture of observees

time consuming and expensive

interpretation can be difficult

training needed

observer bias and effects


high response rate

quick data collection

can reach a wide range of locales and respondents

requires phone numbers

difficult to get in-depth data

requires training


Types of items are commonly used in questionnaires




For each of the following items, put an X beside the choice that best describes you.

     1. Gender:            Male _____   Female ______

     2. Total years teaching : 1–5 __ 6–10 __ 11–15 ___ 16–20 ___ 21–25 ___

     3. Department (please list) ___________________




Below is a list of educational resources. Put a check in front of each resource you think is adequately available in your school.

     4. _____ up-to-date textbooks

     5. _____ VCRs

     6. _____ classroom computers

     7. _____ games

     8. _____ trade books




Following are a number of statements describing a school’s curriculum. Read each statement and circle whether you strongly agree (SA), agree (A), are uncertain (U), disagree (D), or strongly disagree (SD) that it describes your school.

In my school the curriculum:

     9. is up to date                                                                            AS   A   U   D   SD

   10. emphasizes outcomes more complex than memory      AS   A   U   D   SD

    11. is familiar to all teachers                                                      AS   A   U   D   SD

    12. is followed by most teachers                                               AS   A   U   D   SD

    13. can be adapted to meet student needs                             AS   A   U   D   SD




    14. Circle how would rate quality of teaching in your school:

            Very good      good   fair      poor

    15. Write a brief explanation of why you do about the quality of teaching in your school.

    16. Please indicate other additional comments you have about this topic.


      The items should also be constructed according to a set of guidelines. Include only items that relate to the purpose of the study. Collect demographic information about the sample if you plan to make comparisons between different subgroups of the sample. Each question should deal with a single concept and be worded as clearly as possible.

Tue, 10 May 2011 @14:57

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