Non-experimental research- definition,methodology,methods,characteristics,advantages & disadvantages

1.1 Definition

Non-Experimental research is a sub-set of quantitative research where by the researcher does not manipulate the independent variable but rather measure or collect data pertaining the variable as it exists naturally. It involves a systematic or step by step investigation on how to practically solve a research problem.  As the name suggests, in all the processes of investigating the subject matter, there is no element of experimenting. This term non-experimenting means that there are no alterations done on a variable. So, if it is a case of non-experimental, it means that variables in the study are NOT tempered with by the researcher (i.e., non-experimental). Therefore, using this criterion, the researcher/investigator advocates those variables should be observed when in their natural or physical phenomenon.


Types of non-experimental research

In a nutshell, non-experimental research falls under the following categories; namely;

  1. Quantitative Descriptive Research
  2. Quantitative Correlational Research
  3. Quantitative Causal-Comparative Research

Applicability of non-experimental research

The big question is, when should a researcher use non-experimental research other than experimental?


The following are some of the cases where non-experimental research applies. That is;

  1. When the researcher is investigating the characteristic of a single variable. Non-experimental research is more suitable when the researcher wants to find out the behavior of one aspect of a subject matter other than the relationship between two or more variables.
  2. Non-experimental research commonly applies where the research question does not have a cause-effect link. Especially when the main objective of the researcher is to find if there is any mere association between two variables.
  3. Used in cases where the nature of investigation by the researcher is exploratory. That is, the researcher is trying to discover the character that dominates or describes the subject matter.
  4. Non-experimental research applies also where the study is of causal-effect relationship but the conditions are that the researcher cannot manipulate the independent or predictor variable (dependent variable).

Non-experimental research methodology

Does non-experimental research methodology for formulating a research problem the same as quantitative non-experimental research method for data analysis? The answer is NO. Look at the definitional differences as per our explanation below.


2.1 Definition

Non-experimental research methodology is the sensible evolution or step by step design on how to solve a research problem through gathering of the pertinent evidence. Non-experimental research methodology entails selection of logical procedure on the topic to be studied. That is the research problem, how specific objectives will be acknowledged/or formulated. identification of knowledge gaps to be filled, research hypotheses to construct, the methods utilized to identify population and sample size, nature of data to be collected and how it will be analyzed, data presentation and interpretations thereof and the reporting of the research findings.

The above-mentioned account on non-experimental research methodology is in tandem with Kothari (1984) application who was of the idea that research methodology is the base behind the methods we use in the context of our research study. This provides a logic as to why one is using a particular method or technique at a specific phase in the research process and not others so that research output is accomplished as expected.



2.2 Questions Non-Experimental Research Methodology tries to Answer

The non-experimental research question focuses on influence of the predictor variable on the dependent variable where by the predictor variable is not manipulated. In other words, it is invariant. It focuses on “what type of questions” which address the aspect of causal comparative, correlational and descriptive type of research questions. For example, “Does night preps improve the academic performance of form three students in Klip high school in County K?”.


The following matrix depicts the link between non-experimental research and the type of research methodology adopted and then a clarification of the lucid method linked with this type and then in the last column, the research method(s) used in formulating the research problem. Remember these methods are specifically for non-experimental research which is a sub-set of Quantitative research.

2.3 Non-Experimental research Methodology-Diagrammatic Approach


The following diagram represents a summary of logical roadmap to be adhered to in non-experimental research methodology where by the independent variable is not manipulated.

2.4 Logical Steps; Research Methodology

The following logical steps describe the non-experimental research methodology. From step one to five, it represents a logical way of how systematically the subject matter need to be dealt with. Remember that in this approach, the researcher is only curious of establishing why similar groups differ with one another. 

Step 1: Identification of the research problem

This is the first step that the researcher needs to consider so as to establish the most ideal question to answer. The type of research question will be based on the nature of the problem being studied. Is it descriptive, causal-comparative or correlational?

Step 2: Research planning

The researcher has to lay down strategies to achieve the set objective of answering the research question. The planning process entails assessment of secondary data needed, qualitative assessment, planning on how to collect quantitative data and definition of the information required in the study. further setting of how to measure the variables, sampling approach and questionnaire designing and lastly how data will be analyzed.


Step 3: Data Collection

After laying down the roadmap on how the non-experimental research will be undertaken, the researcher has to do actual data collection which entails acquiring the right information needed to solve the study problem at hand.  The process of data collection may entail either of the following approaches, namely; observations, personal interviewing, by telephone or through use of physical mails.

Step 4: Data Analysis

After data collection, just like the other methodologies, the researcher performs the necessary data analysis to establish the research outcome.

Step 5: Reporting of the Research Findings

Reporting of the research outcome is the feedback needed by the end users of the non-experimental research. The process of reporting should be straight forward to enable effective decision making to take place.

Non-experimental research data collection methods

Research methods are all the techniques that are utilized in all the stages of research processes. They are tools used to ensure the end results of research task are accomplished. These techniques vary from one stage of research process to another. These methods are further classified in to two categories, namely;

a) Pre-Data analysis methods

b) Data Analysis related methods

Non-experimental research uses either quantitative descriptive design, quantitative causal-comparative design and quantitative correlational research methods for the purposes of formulating the research problem which are some of the methods which fall under pre-data analysis category.  However, in this discussion of non-experimental research, we will focus on main methods of data collection which are also pre-data analysis in nature. That is; questionnaire, interviews, naturalistic Observation and correlational methods.




A questionnaire is a tool used for data collection which can either be closed-ended, open ended or both. In other words, the questions engraved therein are of such nature.


1.Large coverage for data collection

When questionnaires are used, so many respondents can be reached hence enriching the study level of validity.

2.Questionnaires help in getting definite answers from the respondents

When a questionnaire is composed of closed ended questions, it avoids confusing respondents for the questions are straight forward.

3.Increased reliability

When questionnaires are used in data collection, this approach increases reliability for they reach a large number of respondents.


1.High chances of getting wrong research findings


Risk of wrong interpretation of the research questions by the respondents may cause adverse effect on the end results. That is, based on how each respondent understand the questions determines how to answer. Therefore, the results gotten can be misleading.

2.Costly to the researcher

If the size of the sample or the population is large, then it will be expensive to furnish each respondent with a tool for data collection.



Interviews are data collection instruments which the researcher can use in research. It entails a cluster of questions which can assume either structured, unstructured, and semi-structured format.


1.Data is collected from relatively large number of respondents although not as compared to a questionnaire. Views from respondents are obtained.

Researcher can have in-depth access of detailed information from the respondent as compared to a questionnaire for he or she can pursue for more information if the one provided in not good enough.

2.Flexibility nature of an interview helps the researcher to get new information not planned for and which can aid in further substantiation of the opinion of the respondents.


1.Reliability of the tool is low


The diverse interpretation of the questions thereof makes the research outcome unreliable. This implies that the same tool may not be used elsewhere in similar research to give the same results as expected.

2.Questions are not standardized

The question the researcher will proceed with is based on the previous question which may differ from one respondent to the other. This makes it difficulty to achieve uniformity in conclusions to be made and even researcher’s interpretation turns to be complex.

Naturalistic Observation

It is an approach used in data collection where by the researcher carries on observation of behavior of the subject matter from the natural way of life. In other words, he/she follows the ethnographic tactic. So, the researcher observes the actions of the subject matter and records the data down. This method of data collection is realistic for it has to do with the researcher observing what is live or happening straight away. So, care must be taken to avoid any unethical undertakings that can infringe the rights of the respondent.


1.Data collected is real

The data collected represents the truth on the ground. In other words, the facts about the character of the subject matter are well known. This helps in maintaining ecological validity.

2.Cheap to administer

The researcher just undertakes the responsibility of observing and recording which implies that it is not a must to use a questionnaire or interview schedule. This makes the process less costly. Hence it is economical.

3.It is possible to infer movement patterns of the variable under study


Just by the fact that the researcher is doing observations only, at the same time he or she can tell the nature of behavior the subject matter assumes in the natural settings.


1.Independent variable is uncontrollable

The data for the variables is collected from its natural or physical phenomenon such that no room to intervene or manipulate the variables. This means that the method cannot apply in a cause-effect model.

2.Biasness in observation process

There are high chances that the researcher will be biased in recording his or her observations for the subject matter may behave otherwise (pretend or masquerade) if realize that someone is watching. This makes the researcher record unwillingly what he or she did not expect. He or she is forced to be biased although it may be beyond his control.

Correlational Approach

It is a design used to collect data to asses the associations thereof between two variables.


1.It is description based

It is a method of data collection that involves considering two variables that have a tendency of relating with one another. The approach ensures that the individual, object or the event is well defined which increases the validity thereof.

2.It promotes the aspect of realism.

 The method advocates collection of data from the subject matter while in its natural niche. This makes the research findings more factual to the researcher.


1.Adverse influence from extraneous variables

The research findings may be aversely influenced by nonsense correlation variables which are uncontrollable in this case. If that be the case, then it can imply that the association witnessed is not genuine. It can be misleading.

Characteristics of non-experimental research 

1.Most studies are based on events that occurred previously and are being analyzed later.

In this method, controlled experiments are not performed for reasons such as ethics or morality.

2.No study samples are created


On the contrary, the samples or participants already exist in their environment.

3.The researcher does not intervene directly in the environment of the sample.

This method studies the phenomena. 

Advantages of non-experimental research

1.Time flexibility

 The researcher can keep on rescheduling the time of collecting data so as to capture the correct behavior. That is, it is possible for the researcher to collect data pertaining the subject matter in its natural phenomenal state when the opportunity to do so happens.

2.Character definition

The researcher is in a position of measuring the characteristic of the subject matter with precision. This helps in improving the validity of the research findings.

3.The phenomenon influencing the behavior of the subject matter is well known.

That is, the researcher is conversant with the environment surrounding the subject matter and it is therefore possible to interrogate the influence it has on the criterion variable. 

Disadvantages of non-experimental research

1.This type of research is subject to researcher’s biasness

  The methodology used by the researcher may suffer biasness as far as judgement is concerned. This may adversely affect the validity of the end results gotten.

2.The study group selected may not be a true representative of the population.

That is, the size of the sample or group is good enough to portray the characteristics of the whole population

About the Author - Dr Geoffrey Mbuva(PhD-Finance) is a lecturer of Finance and Accountancy at Kenyatta University, Kenya. He is an enthusiast of teaching and making accounting & research tutorials for his readers.