Exploratory Research: Definition & How To Conduct This Research
Updated: Apr 25
If you have a lack of understanding of a topic of interest and nothing is known about it or is a challenging process in data collection. This is where exploratory research comes in.
Table of contents:
What is meant by exploratory research?
Exploratory research allows for a better understanding of topics or areas that have limited or no information but will not provide final conclusive evidence for research questions or solutions to issues. This often occurs when phenomena are difficult to measure.
By conducting this kind of research will allow for the subject matter to be more clearly defined, so further research may be carried out that is measured and final. Otherwise, you can explore and understand areas that you are unable to measure such as the atmosphere at an event, looking at things like sound, décor, location, colours and people.
Exploratory research methods
The type of exploratory research methods is split between quantitative research and qualitative research, where the latter is used more often for this type of research. Firstly, quantitative research will be methods like pilot or expert surveys and secondary research (published literature, case studies of similar instances, online sources), while qualitative research will be in-depth interviews, focus groups and observational research. So, as you can see both primary research and secondary research methods are used in exploratory research.
If you want to know more about quantitative and qualitative research methods, this is explained in much more detail in this interesting post – pros and cons of qualitative research vs quantitative research.
What is the main purpose of exploratory research?
The purpose of exploratory research is broken down into three main elements to gain a better understanding of topics or problems that are vague and not clearly defined, to form hypothesises to be examined and test the feasibility of ideas.
The following are 9 reasons for using exploratory research:
To collect background information on problem areas where there is no knowledge available.
To recognise and explore concepts at the development stage of a new product.
To fully define problem areas, so hypothesis can be formulated and then investigated.
To investigate the reasons why there are large differences between groups sourced from surveys or secondary data.
To study sensitive and embarrassing issues obtained from respondents to get their perspective.
To reduce the number of options available during the initial screening process such as new product development.
To investigate issues that are difficult for respondents to articulate or rationalise.
To discover relevant or salient patterns in behaviour, attitudes, views, motivation, opinions and beliefs.
To identify and explore concepts for different forms of marketing communications.
ADVANTAGES OF EXPLORATORY RESEARCH
DISADVANTAGES OF EXPLORATORY RESEARCH
How to conduct exploratory research
The following are 5 common steps in how to conduct exploratory research:
Step 1: Identify the problem
The very first step in conducting exploratory research is identifying the problem in a clear and concise manner that needs to be addressed and decide if this is the most suitable approach to take, which is most likely if there is little or no information readily available. For example, in designing a new logo and coming up with draft concept ideas that will appeal to customers. So, what kind of things to include in the logo that will have a positive impact, while still retaining the values of the brand.
Step 2: Hypothesis for a possible answer
After you identified the problem and decided this is the correct path to take, you will need to formulate a hypothesis on what the possible answer could be in order to help you manage the research you are doing such as customers will prefer more of a modern type of logo design of the brand.
Step 3: Design the methodology that will be used
Design a research approach that will incapsulate how you envisage the analysis will be and how that will tie in with the chosen data collection method that will be used like in-depth interviews, focus groups or desk research. For example, conducting in-depth interviews with internal stakeholders (suppliers, distributors, staff) and focus groups with customers to discuss whether the brand logo needs modernising.
Step 4: Gather feedback for analysis
Now moving onto collecting the feedback allows you the opportunity to then analyse this information and see if there are common patterns or themes that are emerging. Plus, exploratory research gives you the flexibility to change your initial hypothesis if the results are different to what you were expecting. Using the logo design example, this would be seeing if the common consensus should be moving the brand logo design to a more modern style or does it differ between different groups (customers, non-customers, stakeholders).
Step 5: Possibility of further research
After the results have been analysed, you may decide follow-up research is needed to get a fuller picture and answer the research questions you may have, which could lead to a survey with a large sample of respondents to give something that is more measurable and also statistical comparisons can be made. For example, a concept test survey can then be used to compare the current and new potential logo designs and see which is most preferred.
Examples of exploratory research
An example of exploratory research is where a brand is looking to change the packaging for an existing ready meal product to make it more appealing, so gets the thoughts and views from customers and buyers of ready meals in general, on what they think of the current design, things they don’t like, the things they look for or appeal to them and the aesthetics. This is done via focus groups and the feedback from this will help to mock -up new concept designs, which can then be tested in further research in deciding which packaging design to go for.
Another example of exploratory research is in new product development of a new smart phone, where there are a large number of concept ideas that have been drawn up but now need to be scaled down by using both focus groups and an initial pilot survey, so then a couple of popular concepts can then be fully examined and compared in additional research.
This just illustrates the many examples of how exploratory research can be used.
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