“What it is.” – a primer on descriptive studies

What is a “single descriptive or qualitative study”?

A single descriptive or qualitative study is a study in which the researcher watches and listens, then describes what s/he sees and hears. In these studies the researcher does NOT try out a new treatment and measure the results. The descriptive researcher only describes.

The description may be reported in:

  • Numbers & Statistics (called a quantitative study) OR
  • Words & Themes (called a qualitative study).

If the researcher reports BOTH numbers/statistics AND word/themes, it is called a mixed methods study.

Descriptive studies are listed as pretty weak evidence for changing practice, but remember that it is weak only in terms of Not being able to show that one event is causing another event.   They are still excellent in terms of describing what is.    (For more on strength of evidence refer back to: “I like my coffee—and my evidence—strong!)

CRITICAL THINKING: (sing with me) “One of theseQUESTION things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong. Can you guess which one is not like the other?” Two are descriptive studies. One is not.

  1. Thomas, D., et al., (2015). Pediatric Pain Management in the Emergency Department: The Triage Nurses’ Perspective. The aims of the study were to describe the triage pain treatment protocols used, knowledge of pain management modalities, and barriers and attitudes towards implementation of pain treatment protocols.
  2. Ucuzal & Dogan. (2015). Emergency nurses’ knowledge, attitude and clinical decision making skills about pain. The aim of this study was to examine emergency nurses’ knowledge, attitude and clinical decision-making skills about pain.
  3. Harrison et al., (2015). Sweet tasting solutions for reduction of needle-related procedural pain in children aged one to 16 years.  The aim of the study was to determine the efficacy of sweet tasting solutions or substances for reducing needle-related procedural pain in children beyond one year of age.

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