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Last Edited: 6/2/2001

What is a descriptive study?

Descriptive epidemiologic studies examine differences in disease rates among populations in relation to age, gender, race, and differences in temporal or environmental conditions. In general, these studies can only identify patterns or trends in disease occurrence over time or in different geographical locations but cannot ascertain the causal agent or degree of exposure. These studies are often very useful for generating hypotheses for further research. Descriptive studies include case reports or case series, surveillance systems, correlational (sometimes called ecologic studies), cross-sectional studies, and cluster investigations.