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Exploratory, Descriptive and Causal Research

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What is Exploratory Research?

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Exploratory research is a research design that is used to investigate a research problem that is not clearly defined or understood. It provides researchers with a deeper understanding of a research problem and its context before further research can be carried out. Therefore, exploratory research acts as a groundwork to further research and is a useful tool when dealing with research problems that have not been properly investigated in the past. 

This research design is also referred to as interpretive research, and helps answer questions like “what”, “where”, and “how”. A key feature of the exploratory research design is that it is unstructured and therefore very flexible in nature.

Some characteristics of exploratory research are:

  • Provides a groundwork for further research.
  • Is used to investigate issues that aren’t fully defined.
  • Is the very first form of research in the research process and therefore takes place before descriptive research.
  • Is unstructured in nature.
  • Generally involves the use of qualitative research.
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Example of an Exploratory Research Design

Let’s assume a researcher wants to study the effects of social media on a teenagers’ attention span. Before going forth with the investigation itself, the researcher may choose to conduct surveys or interviews using open-ended questions. The responses will be collected from the target audience which, in this case, comprises those who fall between the ages of 13 to 19. The data collected will provide the researcher with meaningful insights that will help them frame a more specific and realistic research question that can be investigated effectively. 

What is Descriptive Research?

DISCRIPTIVE RESEARCH

The descriptive research design is used to describe a phenomenon and its different characteristics. It is concerned with gaining a deeper understanding of what the phenomenon is rather than why or how it takes place. It, therefore, describes the subject of the research without addressing why it happens. 

Without a thorough understanding of a research problem, researchers cannot effectively answer it. This enforces the importance of descriptive research as it gives researchers a proper understanding of a research problem before they begin investigating it. 

When using descriptive research, researchers do not manipulate any variables. Instead, the observational method is used to observe and measure different variables and identify any changes and correlations depicted in the data collected. 

Some characteristics of descriptive research are:

    • Variables aren’t controlled in descriptive research, rather, observational methods are used to conduct the research. 
    • Descriptive research generally takes the form of a cross-sectional study where multiple sections belonging to the same group are being investigated. 
    • It provides a base for further research.

Example of a Descriptive Research Design

Let’s take an example of a shoe company that is trying to conduct market research to understand the shoe purchasing trends in the city of Toronto. Before delving into the investigation itself, they may want to first conduct descriptive research to understand which variables and statistics are relevant to their company and therefore which variables and statistics need to be investigated. The descriptive research conducted will provide the company with a deeper understanding of the research topic before the investigation can be commenced. 

What is Causal Research?

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Causal Research is a type of conclusive research, which attempts to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between two or more variables. An easy to replicate the process, Causal Research is widely employed by several companies. It assists in determining the impact of a change in process and existing methods. It is easy to narrow down the cause and effect relationship by making sure that both variables are not affected by any force other than each other. In order to maintain accuracy, other variables are assumed to be constant. It can help determine the exact impact an individual variable has on another. 

This type of research does not only reveal the existence of a cause-and-effect relationship but also explores the link between the two. Many companies conduct causal research, for example, to find the connection between their customers and the changing prices of their goods. Thus, this method of research can be used by companies to help craft favourable outcomes for themselves. Such assessment can help businesses navigate their future with fewer interruptions and also help them plan better for various situations. 

Some characteristics of causal research are:

  • It follows a temporal sequence and therefore the “cause” must take place before the “effect”. 
  • The variation must be systematic between the variables. This is non as concomitant variation. 
  • The association should be nonspurious and therefore any covariation between a cause and effect must not be due to a ‘third’ factor.

Example of a Causal Research Design

A researcher is trying to study the effects of alcohol consumption on health. They select a sample group consisting of people who consume different amounts of alcohol, and then also observe different metrics that are indicators of health. This is an example of a causal research design as the researcher is investigating the cause-and-effect relationship between alcohol consumption and a person’s health. 

A Comparison: The Differences between Exploratory, Descriptive and Causal research?

Now that we’ve developed an understanding of these three research designs, we can take a look at their differences. 

One of the key differences between these three designs is their research approach. Causal research has a highly structured and rigid research design and is generally conducted in the later stages of decision making. In contrast, exploratory research is highly unstructured and provides a lot of flexibility as it is generally the first step in any research process and is therefore in the early stages of decision making. Descriptive research is conducted after explorative research and its research design has more structure than the exploratory design but less structure than the causal design. 

In both, exploratory and descriptive research, the key research statement is the research question itself. However, in causal research, the key research statement is generally the research hypothesis. 

Exploratory research is sometimes confused with descriptive research, as both are conducted in the early stages of a research process. However, there are a few key differences between the two. 

Exploratory research provides somewhat of a foundation or a hypothesis about the research problem and is therefore the first form of research that must be conducted when studying an unknown topic. This is in contrast to descriptive research that is used to describe a phenomenon that’s already been established, discovered, or suspected in exploratory research. Therefore, descriptive research takes place after exploratory research in the overall research process. Additionally, the research design in exploratory research is not as rigid as the research design in descriptive research. 

FAQs on Exploratory, Descriptive and Causal research

The following is an example of exploratory research: 

A focus group where a researcher explores the different attributes of cars that matter most to a younger target audience. By gaining an understanding of which attributes are most important to consumers, the researcher can conduct further research on the different price points this target audience would be willing to pay for a car.

Causal research is used to identify the cause-and-effect relationship between variables and provides conclusive results that can answer the research problem. Descriptive research and exploratory research don’t answer a research problem and are instead used to gain a deeper understanding of the problem itself.

The purpose of exploratory research is to give researchers a deeper understanding of a research problem so that it can be investigated effectively. It can be used to formulate research problems, clarify concepts, and form hypotheses. 

The causal research design is used when researchers are trying to identify the cause-and-effect relationship between two variables. 

The four main types of research design are;

  • Descriptive research: Seeks to gain a deeper understanding of a research problem and the relationship between the variables
  • Correlational Research: Is used to determine the extent to which two variables are related
  • Causal-Comparative/Quasi-Experimental Research: Has key differences when compared to true experiments, but has the same aim; to find the cause-and-effect relationship between variables
  • Experimental Research: Used the scientific method to establish the cause-and-effect relationship between variables

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