Exploratory Research Method

Exploratory research also known as formulative research can be defined as ‘a study that is used to explore a problem which is not clearly defined’. It is conducted so as to get clear understanding of the existing problem, discovery of ideas and possible insights which further helps in developing functional hypothesis. However such a study does not provide conclusive results.

In this kind of research, the researcher starts with a general concept and uses this study as a tool to define and clarify the nature of a problem which could be the subject of future research. A significant point here is that the researcher should always be prepared to change his/her direction subject to revelation of new data or insight. Such a study is generally carried out when the problem is at a preliminary stage. In short, the aim of carrying out this research is to examine the problem and areas surrounding it and not to draw a conclusion. According to Babbie (2010) exploratory research is done for the following purposes:

·         To satisfy the researchers curiosity for better understanding of a phenomena
·         To assess the feasibility for carrying out a more comprehensive study
·         To develop the methods to be used in any further research

Steps in Exploratory Studies

1.      Preliminary review of available literature;
2.      Discussion with colleagues, employees, consumers, competitors and experts to make use of their experience and wisdom;
3.      Brew or mature the question in mind for sometime;
4.  Conduct some preliminary studies through survey or other methods in order to identify the possible variables;
5.      Develop some hypothesis for further research (Do not try to test or prove them at this stage)

Exploratory Research Methods

The data gathered from exploratory research are mostly qualitative but it can be quantitative as well. The exploratory studies can be carried out by adopting various methodologies/techniques such as:

·     Secondary research techniques - such as reviewing available literature (literature search), online research
·    Informal qualitative approaches – such as discussions with consumers, employees, management, competitors or experts
·     Formal qualitative approaches – such as in-depth interviews, focus groups, case studies or pilot studies

Characteristics of Exploratory Research Method
·         Unstructured study
·         Low cost, interactive, unrestricted and open ended in nature
·         Such a study is usually takes the form of interpretive research as it is used to answer questions like why, how and what.This helps to know about the purpose of the research.
·       The nature of research is flexible, scattered and broad – there is no set of rules or standard format.
·         Mostly qualitative data is collected as a result of this research

Advantage of Exploratory Research
·         Flexible
·         Low cost
·         Helps in getting better insights on the problem
·         It can save time and efforts by determining at the earlier stages the types of research that are worth pursuing

Disadvantage of Exploratory Research
·         Inconclusive in nature
·         Mostly produces qualitative data which can be biased and judgmental
·         Outcomes can’t be generalized
·         Data obtained from secondary sources may be old and obsolete

Babbie, Earl (2010). The Practice of Social Research.  2nd ed. Belmont C A: Wadsworth.

Self-Check Exercises

1.‘What new product should be developed’ is an example of which type of research __.

Answer: (C) Exploratory

2. Which of the following would be true regarding exploratory research?

Answer: (D) Exploratory research is both unstructured and informal

3. In which research type, the research design is flexible?

Answer: (C) Exploratory Research

4.Which among the following are possible goals of an exploratory study: a) discover future research topics b) expand understanding of a topic c) Test hypothesis d) Develop hypothesis

Answer: (B)

5. In which type of research hypothesis is vague?

Answer: (C) Exploratory

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