Differences between Descriptive and Analytical Essays
rodrigo | March 15, 2013
This guide looks at the difference between descriptive and analytical essays. Other guides we’ve written help you write essays in general, and also different sorts of essay. This guide doesn’t attempt to help you write either descriptive or analytical essays, but rather helps you see how the two types differ.
- The most straightforward type of academic writing is descriptive. The aim is to give facts to the reader. An example of a descriptive essay is one which summarises a number of articles, or gives an overview of current research
- Descriptive essays do not develop an argument, rather they give a comprehensive snapshot of a topic.
- Descriptive essays can have one or more purposes: to describe what happened, to pick out the most important points, to summarise a field of knowledge. The type of descriptive essay required is liable to differ from subject to subject.
- Key words to identify where descriptive writing is required, or to signify that you are writing in a descriptive way are describe, summarise, how
- Descriptive essays should be clear, precise and accurate; ordered logically; to-the-point; and able to indicate the significance of what is described. While easier than analytic writing, descriptive writing can still display differences in quality.
- However, experts may disagree about the facts. A descriptive essay needs to either acknowledge where controversy exists or stick to facts which are generally agreed.
- The key to an analytic approach in essays is taking things apart. Analysis is the process of breaking something down into its constituent parts and seeing how those parts relate to each other.
- Analytical writing includes descriptive writing, but it gives a new perspective on what is described. It doesn’t simply present information but re-organises it, for example comparing and contrasting categories, making new groupings, dividing data into groups or types, or creating new relationships.
- Analytical writing might apply already existing categories to data, or create new organisational categories.
- Analytical essays are more challenging than descriptive ones, and usually attract higher marks.
- Many essays require a balance between description and analysis. It can be tempting to use most of the word count in description, but this can lead to lower marks.
- Analytical writing involves understanding relationships between things. It therefore involves a greater ability to think abstractly.
- Writing an analytical essay can involve developing an analytical framework (taxonomy) to describe the way information elements are grouped and how they relate to each other
- Key words to identify where analytic writing is required, or to signify that you are writing in an analytic way are compare, contrast, analyse
- Good analytic writing offers evidence to support the writer’s position; critically evaluates evidence; considers the merits of alternative positions bringing out their strengths and weaknesses.
- Analytic writing is often associated with critical writing (see our guide on this for more details). Critical analytic essays use analytic tools to argue for a particular position or point of view.
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Angela Ruskin University (2013) ‘A Helpful Guide to Essay Writing’ [online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from
Edge Hill University (2013) ‘Academic Writing Guide: Critical Analysis Explained’, [online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from
London Metropolitan University (2013) ‘Essay writing’, [online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from
University of Surrey (2013) ‘The difference between descriptive writing and critical writing’,
[online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from
University of Sydney (2013) ‘What is the difference between descriptive, analytical, persuasive and critical writing? [online] (cited 13th February 2013) available fromhttp://sydney.edu.au/stuserv/learning_centre/help/analysing/an_distinguishTypes.shtml
University of Sydney (2013) ‘Module 5: Analytic Writing? [online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from
Also review our Free Essay on Journalism: Technology and Journalism
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Category: Essay Writing Guide
Descriptive research can be explained as a statement of affairs as they are at present with the researcher having no control over variable. Moreover, “descriptive studies may be characterised as simply the attempt to determine, describe or identify what is, while analytical research attempts to establish why it is that way or how it came to be”.
Descriptive research is “aimed at casting light on current issues or problems through a process of data collection that enables them to describe the situation more completely than was possible without employing this method.”
In its essence, descriptive studies are used to describe various aspects of the phenomenon. In its popular format, descriptive research is used to describe characteristics and/or behaviour of sample population.
An important characteristic of descriptive research relates to the fact that while descriptive research can employ a number of variables, only one variable is required to conduct a descriptive study. Three main purposes of descriptive studies can be explained as describing, explaining and validating research findings.
Descriptive studies are closely associated with observational studies, but they are not limited with observation data collection method. Case studies and surveys can also be specified as popular data collection methods used with descriptive studies.
Examples of Descriptive Research
Research questions in descriptive studies typically start with ‘What is…”. Examples of research questions in descriptive studies may include the following:
- What are the most effective intangible employee motivation tools in hospitality industry in the 21stcentury?
- What is the impact of viral marketing on consumer behaviour in consumer amongst university students in Canada?
- Do corporate leaders of multinational companies in the 21stcentury possess moral rights to receive multi-million bonuses?
- What are the main distinctive traits of organisational culture of McDonald’s USA?
- What is the impact of the global financial crisis of 2007 – 2009 on fitness industry in the UK?
Advantages of Descriptive Research
- Effective to analyse non-quantified topics and issues
- The possibility to observe the phenomenon in a completely natural and unchanged natural environment
- The opportunity to integrate the qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection
- Less time-consuming than quantitative experiments
Disadvantages of Descriptive Research
- Descriptive studies cannot test or verify the research problem statistically
- Research results may reflect certain level of bias due to the absence of statistical tests
- The majority of descriptive studies are not ‘repeatable’ due to their observational nature
- Descriptive studies are not helpful in identifying cause behind described phenomenon
My e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Dissertation in Business Studies: a step by step assistance contains discussions of theory and application of research designs. The e-book also explains all stages of the research process starting from the selection of the research area to writing personal reflection. Important elements of dissertations such as research philosophy, research approach, methods of data collection, data analysis and sampling are explained in this e-book in simple words.
 Ethridge, D.E. (2004) “Research Methodology in Applied Economics” John Wiley & Sons, p.24
 Fox, W. & Bayat, M.S. (2007) “A Guide to Managing Research” Juta Publications, p.45