Difference Between Descriptive and Correlational Research

Descriptive vs Correlational Research
 

Although both descriptive and correlational research are variations of research that are widely used, there exist certain differences between these two types. When speaking of research, they can be categorized in different ways based on the nature of the research, objective, findings, and methods used. Descriptive research is mostly conducted with the intention of gaining a better understanding of the study population. On the other hand, correlational research focuses on finding whether a relationship exists between two or more factors (variables) and also focuses on the nature of the relationship. This is the main difference between descriptive and correlational research. Through this article let us examine this difference in depth. First, let us concentrate on descriptive research.

What is Descriptive Research?

As mentioned above, a descriptive research aims at providing an in-depth understanding of the study population. This can include both qualitative and quantitative data. The researcher not only explores the surface level, but also attempts to explore the research problem at a deeper level.

A researcher who conducts a descriptive research collects detailed information from the participants. He can use a number of techniques for this purpose. Some of the widely used techniques in the social sciences are surveys, interviews, case study, and even observation. For an example, a researcher who wants to explore the attitudes of teenagers towards the commodification of language education can conduct a descriptive research. This is because his research aims at understanding the attitudes of a particular age group on the phenomenon of commodification of language. For this particular research, he can use survey method and also in-depth interviews as data collection methods. The researcher does not try to find any causes or answer the question ‘why’ but merely seeks for an understanding or a detailed description. However, correlational research is different.

Difference Between Descriptive and Correlational Research

What is Correlational Research?

Unlike in the case of descriptive research where the focus is on collecting descriptive data, in correlational research the researcher attempts to identify associations that exist between variables. The researcher also makes an effort to understand the nature of the relationship as well. However, it is vital to point out that although the researcher identifies whether there is a relationship between factors, he does not manipulate the variables to come to conclusions. He can neither predict which variable influences the other.

For an example, a researcher who studies on suicide can come up with an idea that there is a relationship between teenage suicide and love affairs. This is a prediction that he makes. However, in a correlational research to identify the connection between variables, the researcher needs to find patterns in his data corpus.  This highlights that there exist a clear difference between these two types of research. Now let us summarize the difference as follows.

Descriptive vs Correlational Research

What is the Difference Between Descriptive and Correlational Research?

Definitions of Descriptive and Correlational Research:

Descriptive Research: A descriptive research aims at providing an in-depth understanding of the study population.

Correlational Research: In correlational research, the researcher attempts to identify associations that exist between variables.

Characteristics of Descriptive and Correlational Research:

Description:

Descriptive Research: This research provides thick descriptive data.

Correlational Research: Correlational research does not provide descriptive data; however, it explores associations.

Predictions:

Descriptive Research:  In descriptive research, predictions cannot be made.

Correlational Research: In correlational research, predictions about possible relationships can be made.

Causality:

Descriptive Research: In descriptive research, causality cannot be explored.

Correlational Research: Although causality cannot be explored in correlational research, the relationship between variables can be identified.

 

Image Courtesy:

1. “Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures” [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

2. “Correlation vs causation” by Rcragun – Own work. [CC BY 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons