Research is a continuous process that needs improvement as time goes by, and as such is non-exhaustive. Although, a lot of researchers working on novel projects, most researchers work on existing theories or formulations and build on them.

Researchers may decide to work on a problem that has not been studied very clearly to establish priorities, develop operational definitions and improving the final research design. This type of research is what is called exploratory research. 

What is Exploratory Research

Exploratory research is the process of investigating a problem that has not been thoroughly investigated in the past. This type of research is usually conducted to have a better understanding of the existing problem, but won't lead to a conclusive result. 

Researchers use exploratory research when trying to gain familiarity with an existing phenomenon and acquire new insight into it to form a more precise problem. It begins based on a general idea and the outcomes of the research are used to find out related issues with the topic of the research.

In exploratory research, the process of the research varies according to the finding of new data or insight. Also referred to as interpretative research or grounded theory approach, the outcomes of this research provide answers to questions like what, how and why. 

Characteristics of Exploratory Research 

  • It is inexpensive, highly interactive and open-ended in nature. 
  • There is usually no prior relevant information available from past researchers. 
  • It has no predefined structure. 
  • It answers questions like how and why aiding the researcher to acquire more information about the research. 
  • The absence of relevant information from past research means the researcher will spend a lot of time studying materials in detail. Therefore, spending so much time conducting exploratory research. 
  • Since there is no standard for carrying out exploratory research, it is usually flexible and scattered. 
  • There must a few theories which can verify your outcome.
  • Researchers cannot form a conclusion based on exploratory research.
  • The research problem must be important and valuable
  • Exploratory research mostly deals with qualitative data. 

Exploratory Research Methods

The process of conducting research tends to be more difficult when dealing with a novel problem or a problem that hasn't been deeply investigated before. Yet, several methods can help a researcher properly perform exploratory research. 

There are various research methods used in exploratory research. However, these methods have been classified under two main research methods, namely; primary research method and secondary research method. 

exploratory-research-type

Primary Research Methods

In primary research methods, data is collected directly from the subject of investigation. The subject, in this case, maybe a group of people or an individual. 

It doesn't matter whether the data is collected by the researcher himself or through a third party, the main purpose of the research should be fulfilled. The purpose of conducting this research is to collect information about the problem which requires in-depth analysis.

Some of the primary research methods used in exploratory research include:

  • Observations

In this primary research method, the researcher does not come in close contact with the subject. Rather, the subject is being watched from afar. Subject observation can be done in two ways. 

The first is that the subject is aware that he/she is being observed while the second way is that the subject is not aware of it. The latter method is said to gather fairer data because the subject may behave differently when he/she is aware that (s)he is being watched. 

  • Surveys

Surveys are used to collect data from a predefined subject(s). It can be used collected to study trends, opinions, and behaviour of a group of people. 

Online form builders like Formplus have made it easier to conduct surveys online and reach diverse demography of participants from all over the world. Although, rarely in use these days, researchers can also conduct offline surveys. 

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  • Interviews

Although more stressful and time-consuming than others, the interview technique is the best in terms of collecting detailed and correct data. Interviews can be conducted in person, via phone call or video call.

Interviews can also be recorded by the researcher in case he/she needs to go back to it and confirm specific information. 

  • Focus Groups

Focus group is often used by researchers when trying to collect data from a group of people with similar characteristics. The research can be done using any of the three methods explained above. 

For example, a focus group of fresh graduates may be investigated on how they spend their time. 

Secondary Research Methods 

Secondary research method uses existing resources on the subject under study. Existing sources like newspapers, magazines, articles, papers, etc. are what researchers conduct for exploratory research. 

All the resources used must be cited in publications. Some of the secondary research methods used in exploratory research include:

  • Literature

Literature research is the process of conducting old resources like publications, textbooks, articles, magazines, etc. All this information can be gathered in both sift copy and hard copy documents.

For example, an undergraduate student conducting his/her final project research will need to conduct textbooks, publications, papers, articles, etc. 

  • Online Sources

With the advent of technology, this research has gained much popularity among millennials. Online research sources are the cheapest and easiest method of research. 

With access to the internet and a personal computer or mobile phone, a researcher can browse through as many resources as possible. They can also be downloaded for further use in the future. 

The setback of this method is the difficulty of combing through the many online resources to find genuine information. Researchers face the possibility of ending up with incorrect data because false information may be difficult to identify. 

  • Case Study

A researcher might find relevant information on the problem under study by studying existing cases. For example, a mathematician trying to formulate a model to solve the queuing problem in an airport may conduct existing research in similar areas. 

A case study could be research that solved the queuing problem in a shopping mall. This research will be studied and modified to suit that of the airport queuing problem. 

A researcher may decide to get more creative by using informal sources like email newsletter subscription, RSS feeds, google alerts, google trends or even design a bot that combs through the large repository of data online.

How To Conduct Exploratory Research

Step 1 - Identify the problem

This is a common starting point for all types of research. Here, the researcher identifies the purpose of the research by answering the "what question".For example, when investigating a crime scene, the FBI needs to first identify what happened. Was it theft, murder or a case of child abuse? 

Step 2 - Create the hypothesis

After identifying the problem, the researcher goes ahead to check whether there have been prior investigations regarding the subject matter. But when the researcher realizes that there are no previous investigations, he/she arrives at a hypothesis based on the questions obtained while identifying the problem.

If you are investigating a crime scene, an autopsy will be performed on the dead body to answer how he/she was killed. Questions like, Was he in a gang?, Fighting over a business deal? or very rich? will answer the question of why he was killed. 

With this information, the investigator can arrive at a hypothesis. 

Step 3 - Conduct further research 

To conduct further research, the researcher needs to first obtain relevant data that will assist in the research process. Some of the methods of collecting data include interviews, surveys, online sources, etc. 

Once the data has been collected, the researcher will continue the investigation through descriptive methods. This process uses qualitative data. 

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Examples of Exploratory Research 

In this section, we shall be considering three examples of exploratory research and will be going through the research process as explained above. 

Exploratory Research Example on Murder Investigation

A fresh or inconclusive murder case will be investigated using exploratory research because it has not been investigated clearly in the past. To gain a better understanding of how exploratory research is used to conduct a murder investigation, let us review this popular crime movie titled Murder on the Orient Express. 

Adapted from Agatha Christie's novel, we see in this movie that the first thing detective Hercule Poirot did was to identify the problem which is the murder of Ratchett. After that was the question of how he was killed. 

The how consists of the murder weapon, how it was used, the time he was murdered, etc. The last piece of information the detective needed to nail the culprit was the why. 

By discovering why Ratchett was murdered, the detective can easily arrive at a hypothesis on who the murderer is. In the search for why the detective used a primary research approach to collect relevant data that will aid the investigation. 

When an avalanche stops the Orient Express dead in its tracks, the world's greatest detective–Hercule Poirot–arrives to interrogate all passengers and search for clues before the killer can strike again. After a series of interviews, the detective was able to arrive at a hypothesis on who the killer was. 

The results of any criminal investigation will remain a hypothesis until tried under a court which will either confirm or nullify the hypothesis. The evidence acquired during the investigation is what will assist the court in making a decision. 

Exploratory Research Example on Product Research

Organizations conduct two major research when working on a new product or service. The first one is conducted before developing the product while the second one is conducted after product development. 

Our focus will be on the exploratory research conducted after product development. For tech products, it is called the beta testing stage of product development. 

If a new feature is added to an existing app, for example, product researchers will want to investigate whether the feature will be well received among the users. If the feature added to the app is something that is already in existence, then the research is not exploratory. 

For example, if telegram adds a status feature to its app, the beta research stage of the app is not exploratory. This is because this feature is something that is already in existence, and they can easily get enough information from WhatsApp.

However, if it is a new feature like the Snapchat filters when they just came out, the research is explanatory. In this case, exploratory research is carried out using a focus group of beta testers. 

Trend Analysis

A good example of trend analysis research is studying the relationship between an increased rate of charity and crime rate in a community. Will giving food, clothes, etc. to the people in a community help decrease the rate at which people steal?

This exploratory research may be conducted through observations. A sample crime laden community will be given charity for a certain period, while the crime rate during this period will be observed. 

This kind of research is better carried out when the subject is not aware they are under observation. An alternative to this approach is using the case study method. 

Although this research may not have been done in this specific community, something similar may have been done in the past. If that is the case, the research can be easily carried out by investigating the case study to get relevant information. 

This will make the research process easier and a hypothesis easier to come by. 

How to use Formplus for Exploratory Surveys 

Start creating exploratory surveys with Formplus in three easy steps.

Step 1: Register or Sign up

  • Visit www.formpl.us on your desktop or mobile device. 
  • Sign up through your Email, Google or Facebook in less than 30 seconds.

formplus-survey-builder-tool

Step 2: Create Your Exploratory Survey

We will be creating a product research exploratory survey in this guide. Consider a software company that just added some new features to their app. The app is currently in the beta testing stage and they are taking an exploratory survey to get feedback from the beta testers.

Radio Choice Multiple Choice Question

  • Click on the Choice Options section of the form builder menu.
  • Create Radio multiple choice questions by clicking on the radio tab.
  • Edit the question with your preferred stem and choice options.


exploratory-survey

Open-Ended Question

  • Click on the Inputs section of the form builder menu.
  • Create a short text open-ended question by clicking on the Short Text tab.



  • Edit the label and placeholder text as preferred.

Checkbox Multiple Choice Question

  • Click on the Choice Options section of the form builder menu.
  • Create a checkbox multiple choice question by clicking on the radio tab.


  • Edit the question with your preferred stem and choice options.


Matrix Rating Multiple Choice Question

  • Click on the Ratings section of the form builder menu.
  • Create a matrix rating by clicking on the Matrix tab.
  • Edit the table as preferred.

  • Save your exploratory survey.

You can also add more questions as preferred. 

Step 3: Customise and Share

This is the final stage where you customise your form and start sharing with respondents.

Feel free to customise your forms as you please. You can also add logic in the settings before sharing.

  • Copy the link or click on the "Preview Form" button to see how your form looks like.


Advantages of Exploratory Research

  • Exploratory research is inexpensive to perform, especially when using the second method for research. 
  • Exploratory does not have a standard process and as such is very flexible.
  • Information gathered from exploratory research is very useful as it helps lay the foundation for future research. 
  • It gives researchers more insight into the problem under study. 
  • Researchers don't have to waste time conducting irrelevant research when using an exploratory approach. It helps the researcher if the topic is worth investigating at an early stage. 

Disadvantages of Exploratory Research

  • It produces an inconclusive result.
  • Exploratory research provides qualitative data, which may be difficult to interpret. The interpretation of qualitative data may be bias and/or judgemental.
  • Many of the data collected through secondary sources may be old and outdated. 
  • If collected through online sources, the researcher may be prone to collecting false information.
  • Exploratory research mostly involves a smaller sample whose result may be incorrect for a larger population. 

Conclusion 

Research is built on the incredible inquisitive and resourceful minds of researchers and the urge to solve problems. This stems from the child-like tendency to frequently ask questions like what, why and how—a trademark of exploratory research. 

Exploratory research is one of the three main objectives of market research, with the other two being descriptive research and causal research. It is commonly used for various applied research projects. 

Applied research is often exploratory because there is a need for flexibility in approaching the problem. Also, there are often data limitations and a need to decide within a short period. 

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