Non-experimental research: What it is, overview & advantages

Non-experimental research is the type of research that lacks an independent variable. Instead, the researcher observes the context in which the phenomenon occurs and analyzes it to obtain information.

Unlike experimental research, where the variables are held constant, non-experimental research happens during the study when the researcher cannot control, manipulate or alter the subjects but relies on interpretation or observations to conclude.

This means that the method must not rely on correlations, surveys, or case studies and cannot demonstrate an actual cause and effect relationship.

Characteristics of non-experimental research

Some of the essential characteristics of non-experimental research are necessary for the final results. Let’s talk about them to identify the most critical parts of them.

characteristics of non-experimental research

  • Most studies are based on events that occurred previously and are analyzed later.
  • In this method, controlled experiments are not performed for reasons such as ethics or morality.
  • No study samples are created; on the contrary, the samples or participants already exist and develop in their environment.
  • The researcher does not intervene directly in the environment of the sample.
  • This method studies the phenomena exactly as they occurred.

Types of non-experimental research

Non-experimental research can take the following forms:

Cross-sectional research: Cross-sectional research is used to observe and analyze the exact time of the research to cover various study groups or samples. This type of research is divided into:

  • Descriptive: When values are observed where one or more variables are presented.
  • Causal: It is responsible for explaining the reasons and relationship that exists between variables in a given time.

Longitudinal research: In a longitudinal study, researchers aim to analyze the changes and development of the relationships between variables over time. Longitudinal research can be divided into:

  • Trend: When they study the changes faced by the study group in general.
  • Group evolution: When the study group is a smaller sample.
  • Panel: It is in charge of analyzing individual and group changes to discover the factor that produces them.

When to use non-experimental research

Non-experimental research can be applied in the following ways:

  • When the research question may be about one variable rather than a statistical relationship about two variables.
  • There is a non-causal statistical relationship between variables in the research question.
  • The research question has a causal relationship, but the independent variable cannot be manipulated.
  • In exploratory or broad research where a particular experience is confronted.

Advantages and disadvantages

Some advantages of non-experimental research are:

  • It is very flexible during the research process
  • The cause of the phenomenon is known, and the effect it has is investigated.
  • The researcher can define the characteristics of the study group.

Among the disadvantages of non-experimental research are:

  • The groups are not representative of the entire population.
  • Errors in the methodology may occur, leading to biases.

Non-experimental research is based on the observation of phenomena in their natural environment. In this way, they can be studied later to reach a conclusion.

Difference between experimental and non-experimental research

Experimental research involves changing variables and randomly assigning conditions to participants. As it can determine the cause, experimental research designs are used for research in medicine, biology, and social science. 

Experimental research designs have strict standards for control and establishing validity. Although they may need many resources, they can lead to very interesting results.

Non-experimental research, on the other hand, is usually descriptive or correlational without any explicit changes done by the researcher. You simply describe the situation as it is, or describe a relationship between variables. Without any control, it is difficult to determine causal effects. The validity remains a concern in this type of research. However, it’s’ more regarding the measurements instead of the effects.


Whether you should choose experimental research or non-experimental research design depends on your goals and resources. If you need any help with how to conduct research and collect relevant data, or have queries regarding the best approach for your research goals, contact us today! You can create an account with our survey software and avail of 88+ features including dashboard and reporting for free.

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