Exploratory Research

Voxco's Guide to Exploratory Research

Conducting exploratory research seems tricky but an effective guide can help.

Download our guide to empower your research and unlock key insights and become more customer-centric.


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You can’t just develop a new product without understanding the need or interest for it in the market. So how do begin with such research? Which research should you even conduct?

This brings us to the topic, of exploratory research. Exploratory research helps us gain an understanding of a topic, defines the variables of the problem, and establishes a basis for a more specific research question. 

Read the article to learn what is exploratory research, its characteristics, & the methods used to perform it.

What is Exploratory Research?

Exploratory research investigates problems that are not clearly defined. It is conducted to gain insight into the existing problem, however, exploratory research does not provide a conclusive answer to these problems. 

A researcher starts with an idea that is general in nature and uses this as a means to recognize issues that can become the focus of future research. An important feature of exploratory research is that the researcher should keep an open mind and be willing to change the direction of their research as they collect more and more insightful data.

Exploratory research uses the grounded theory approach also known as interpretive research. It aims to answer questions such as: “What is happening?” “Why is this happening?” “How is this happening?”

For example; if a researcher wants to know how a particular filter is perceived by the target audience of their app, they can first find out which section uses their app. Then proceeding to find out which filters are most used, why they are used, and decide whether adding an additional filter similar to the existing ones will be a good idea.

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What are the Characteristics of Exploratory Research?

Now that we have defined exploratory research, it is important to be familiar with its attributes. Exploratory research has several features that researchers need to learn to understand when to use it. 

The following are the characteristics of exploratory research: 

  1. They are not structured in nature.
  2. Exploratory research is interactive, open-ended, and is usually easy on the budget of the organization.
  3. It helps researchers uncover answers to questions such as; what is the problem being studied? What is the need for this study? What topics should be included in the study?
  4. It is time-consuming and thus requires patience and persistence on the part of the researcher.
  5. Exploratory research is broad, flexible, and adaptive in nature.
  6. The researcher needs to go through all the information and data collected through the research.
  7. Exploratory research needs to have an important cost or value, if not, then it is ineffective to carry out the research.
  8. The researcher should have some theories that will help in supporting the findings uncovered during the exploratory research.
  9. Exploratory research generally produces qualitative data.
  10. In certain cases, where the sample of the study is large and data is collected through surveys and experimentation, explorative research can be quantitative.

Now, that we have cataloged the characteristics, the question is how to go about collecting the data for your exploratory research. The following section explains the two methods you can use to conduct your research. 

Methods of Exploratory Research

Carrying out research on something that one has limited information about sounds and feels difficult, there are several methodologies that can help you to decide the best research design, how to go about collecting data, and the variables to study. 

There are two main methods of conducting exploratory research – primary research and secondary research. Under these two broad types, there are various methods that can be used depending upon the nature of your study. 

The data can be of quantitative or qualitative nature. Let’s look at each of the research methods in detail.

Primary Research Methods 

In the primary research, the information is collected directly from the respondents. This data can be collected from a group of people or just an individual. 

Primary research can be conducted by the researcher themselves or it can be carried out by a third party to conduct it instead. Primary research is usually done to explore a problem that needs in-depth analysis.

  • Surveys:

Surveys or polls can be used to gather large amounts of data, usually from a predetermined group of respondents. It is one of the most popular quantitative research methods. Surveys or polls are used in exploratory research in order to explore the opinions, trends, or beliefs of the target population. 

Surveys can now be conducted online and thus be made more accessible, thanks to technology! Organizations, nowadays, have started offering shorter surveys and rewards to the respondents who fill them so that they can increase the response rates and gain more insights. Short surveys can be sent to respondents through text messages right after they make a purchase and are asked to fill it for a coupon/discount in return, so organizations can understand their views on the product under study. 

Voxco lets you conduct omnichannel surveys for gathering insightful market research data anywhere, anytime. 

  • Focus Groups:

Another widely used methodology in exploratory research is focus groups. In this method, a group of respondents are chosen and are asked to express their opinions on the topic of interest. 

One important consideration when making a focus group is to choose people who have a common background and similar experiences to get unified and consistent data. 

An example of a focus group would be when a researcher wants to explore what qualities consumers value when buying a laptop. This could be the display quality, battery life, brand value, or even the color. The researcher can make a focus group of people who buy laptops regularly and understand the dynamics a consumer considers when buying electronic devices.

  • Observation:

Observational research can either be quantitative or qualitative. This research is done to observe an individual and make inferences from their reactions to certain variables. 

This research does not require direct interaction with the participants. For instance, a researcher can simply record the observations of how people react at the launch of a new product.

  • Interviews:

Surveys give you huge amounts of information in a relatively short period of time, but an interview with one person can give you the in-depth information which can otherwise be overlooked in surveys. Interviews are a methodology to collect data for qualitative research. 

Interviews can be carried out face-to-face or even on the telephone. Interviews usually contain open-ended questions so that enriching information is uncovered about the topic. For example; an interview with an employee on their job satisfaction can offer you valuable insights that would otherwise go unnoticed in the close-ended questions asked in a survey.

 [Related read: Primary Research]

Secondary Research Methods:

In secondary research, information is gathered from primary research that has been published before. For instance, gathering information from case studies, newspapers, online blogs or websites, or government sources.

  • Online Resources:

The quickest way to find information on any topic is through the internet. A huge amount of data is available on the internet that you can download and use whenever you need it. One important factor to consider when acquiring data online is to check the authenticity of the sources provided by the websites. 

For example, a researcher can find out the number of people using a preferred brand of clothing through a poll conducted by an independent website online.

  • Literature review:

Reviewing the existing literature on a particular topic from online sources, libraries or commercial databases is the most inexpensive method of collecting data. The information in these sources can help a researcher discover a hypothesis that they can test. 

Here, sources can include information provided by newspapers, research journals, books, government documents, annual reports published by organizations, etc. However, the authenticity of the sources needs to be considered and examined. 

Government sources can provide authentic data but may require you to pay a nominal price to acquire it. Research agencies also produce data that you can acquire at a nominal cost, and this data tends to be quantitative in nature.  

  • Case studies:

Another way researchers can gather information for their exploratory research is by carefully analyzing the cases that have been through a similar problem the researcher wishes to study. These cases are important and critical in the business world, especially. 

The researcher should be cautious to review and analyze a case that is similar in regards to the variables of concern in the present study. This methodology is commonly used in the health sector, social sciences, and business organizations. 

For example; let’s assume that a researcher is interested in understanding how to effectively solve the problems of turnover in organizations. While exploring, he came across an organization that had high rates of turnover and was able to solve the problem by the end of the year. The researcher can study this case in detail and come up with methods that increased the chances of success for this organization. 

[Related read: Primary Vs. Secondary Research]

What are the Steps to Conduct Exploratory Research?

Exploratory research
  1. Identifying the problem area. The very first step is for the researcher to identify the area of research and the problem can be addressed by finding out ways to solve it.
  2. Creating a hypothesis. If the researcher is aiming to solve a problem for which there are no prior studies, or the problem has not been resolved efficiently in previous research, then the researcher creates his/her own problem statement. This problem statement, also called a hypothesis, will be based on the questions that the researcher came up with while identifying the area of concern.
  3. Advancing future research. Once the data for the current problem has been obtained, the researcher will continue the study through a descriptive investigation. Generally, qualitative methods are used for a detailed study of the data to find out if the information gathered through exploratory research is true or not.

Advantages of Exploratory Research

Exploratory research provides the researcher an opportunity to keep an open mind and explore the variables affecting their area of interest. Some of the advantages of exploratory research are:

  • It allows researchers to be flexible and change their stance on the problem being studied as the research progresses.
  • It is cost-effective.
  • It lays a foundation and structure for future research.
  • It can help researchers find out the causes of the problem being studied which can be elaborated on in future studies.

Now that we have listed the benefits, we can’t forget the limitations. It is important to learn about both before you jump into the research mode. 

Wondering what will be the cost of conducting survey research using Voxco?

Limitation of Exploratory Research

Exploratory research is not without its limitations.  

  • The answers of exploratory research are usually inconclusive. 
  • Some of the data collected can be biased or subjective as it is mostly qualitative in nature. 
  • Since exploratory research has a smaller sample size, there is hesitancy to generalize the findings to the whole population. 
  • If data is collected through secondary sources there is a chance of the data being old or outdated.

Wrapping up;

Exploratory research helps you form the foundation of your research project. It lays down the groundwork for a research question you can explore in the future. 

Exploratory research is best used when you need insights on a problem or phenomenon before you begin to conduct further research. 

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