Exploratory Research

Exploratory research, as the name implies, intends merely to explore the research questions and does not intend to offer final and conclusive solutions to existing problems. This type of research is usually conducted to study a problem that has not been clearly defined yet.

Conducted in order to determine the nature of the problem, exploratory research is not intended to provide conclusive evidence, but helps us to have a better understanding of the problem. When conducting exploratory research, the researcher ought to be willing to change his/her direction as a result of revelation of new data and new insights.[1]

Exploratory research design does not aim to provide the final and conclusive answers to the research questions, but merely explores the research topic with varying levels of depth. It has been noted that “exploratory research is the initial research, which forms the basis of more conclusive research. It can even help in determining the research design, sampling methodology and data collection method”[2]. Exploratory research “tends to tackle new problems on which little or no previous research has been done”[3]. Unstructured interviews are the most popular primary data collection method with exploratory studies.

Examples of Exploratory Research Design

The following are some examples for studies with exploratory research design in business studies:

  • A study into the role of social networking sites as an effective marketing communication channel
  • An investigation into the ways of improvement of quality of customer services within hospitality sector in London
  • An assessment of the role of corporate social responsibility on consumer behaviour in pharmaceutical industry in the USA

Differences between Exploratory and Conclusive Research

The difference between exploratory and conclusive research is drawn by Sandhursen (2000)[4] in a way that exploratory studies result in a range of causes and alternative options for a solution of a specific problem, whereas, conclusive studies identify the final information that is the only solution to an existing research problem.

On other words, exploratory research design simply explores the research questions, leaving room for further researches, whereas conclusive research design is aimed to provide final findings for the research.

Moreover, it has been stated that “an exploratory study may not have as rigorous as methodology as it is used in conclusive studies, and sample sizes may be smaller. But it helps to do the exploratory study as methodically as possible, if it is going to be used for major decisions about the way we are going to conduct our next study”[5] (Nargundkar, 2003, p.41).

Advantages of Exploratory Research

  1. Flexibility and adaptability to change
  2. Exploratory research is effective in laying the groundwork that will lead to future studies.
  3. Exploratory studies can potentially save time and other resources by determining at the earlier stages the types of research that are worth pursuing

Disadvantages of Exploratory Research

  1. Exploratory studies generate qualitative information and interpretation of such type of information is subject to bias
  2. These types of studies usually make use of a modest number of samples that may not adequately represent the target population. Accordingly, findings of exploratory research cannot be generalized to a wider population.
  3. Findings of such type of studies are not usually useful in decision making in a practical level.

My e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Dissertation in Business Studies: a step by step assistance contains discussions of theory and application of research designs. The e-book also explains all stages of the research process starting from the selection of the research area to writing personal reflection. Important elements of dissertations such as research philosophyresearch approachmethods of data collectiondata analysis and sampling are explained in this e-book in simple words.

John Dudovskiy

Exploratory research

[1] Source: Saunders, M., Lewis, P. & Thornhill, A. (2012) “Research Methods for Business Students” 6th edition, Pearson Education Limited

[2] Singh, K. (2007) “Quantitative Social Research Methods” SAGE Publications, p.64

[3] Brown, R.B. (2006) “Doing Your Dissertation in Business and Management: The Reality of Research and Writing” Sage Publications, p.43

[4] Sandhusen, R.L. (2000) “Marketing” Barrons

[5] Nargundkar, R. (2008) “Marketing Research: Text and Cases” 3rd edition, p.38