What Is a Descriptive-Normative Survey?

A descriptive-normative survey combines two research methods: gathering information to describe the object of study as it is, has been or is viewed (descriptive method); and critiquing of the object to identify ways to improve it (normative method). Descriptive-normative surveys do not involve making or testing recommended improvements.

Descriptive surveys provide information regarding how things are and normative surveys describe things as they could be. Descriptive surveys are used most frequently to begin research in a new area. These surveys gather data and descriptive information without making judgment. Descriptive research can lead to the identification of key variables that may then be used in normative research.

In normative surveys, information about how things should be or how they can be improved is gathered through evaluative case studies, critique of the object or process being studied, testing of ways to remove or correct an identified problem, and planning ways to improve the object or process. For example, a descriptive-normative survey might be conducted to describe various types of car seat belts and how often each is used, followed by evaluative studies regarding efficiency and possible improvements. If recommended improvements are implemented and tested, the project becomes one of research and development.