Exploratory research is research that explores new or interesting topics, often as a pioneering study, conducting research that hasn’t been attempted before.
Let’s examine some academic definitions of exploratory research – if you’re writing an essay or methodology chapter on this topic, you might want to use these expert quotes in your writing:
- “… research used to investigate an issue that is new, a problem which is not clearly defined, a topic on which there is little data” (Gozdziak & Chantavanich, 2022)
- “… initial research conducted to clarify and define the nature of the problem. It is done to help diagnose the situation, allow for screening of alternatives, and discover new ideas.” (Hutchison, Allen & Macy, 2012)
- “… the initial research into a hypothetical or theoretical idea. This is where the researcher has an idea and wishes to research a topic seeking to understand it more deeply. An exploratory research study is an attempt to lay the groundwork that could of will lead to future studies.” (Blecher, 2018)
Oftentimes, an exploratory study takes the form of a descriptive-qualitative design that precedes a larger project (Cargan, 2007). The exploratory section of the study seeks to describe the phenomena in detail and generate hypotheses that would later be tested. This is common, for example, in grounded research projects.
Exploratory Research Examples
1. Bee Population Decline and Farming
Proposed Methods: Qualitative Interviews, Observation
If a team of environmental scientists were to notice a decline in the bee population in a farming region, they could conduct exploratory research by interviewing local farmers and observing farming practices. Their potential findings might suggest a correlation between certain pesticide use and the decrease in bee numbers, which could then prompt a more detailed investigation into alternative farming methods to protect bee colonies.
2. Urban Green Spaces and Mental Health
Proposed Methods: Surveys, Focus Group Discussions
If urban planners and health researchers were to observe a potential link between the presence of green spaces in urban areas and residents’ mental well-being, they could initiate exploratory research by surveying city dwellers and hosting focus group discussions. Their initial insights might indicate that regular access to urban parks and gardens is associated with lower stress levels and improved mood among the population. This could lead to a comprehensive study on the design and distribution of green spaces to enhance urban mental health.
3. Effects of Screen Time on Sleep Patterns
Proposed Methods: Diary Studies, Qualitative Interviews
If health experts were to suspect a relationship between prolonged screen time and disrupted sleep among teenagers, they could undertake exploratory research by having participants maintain sleep diaries and conducting in-depth interviews. The gathered data might reveal that excessive exposure to screens before bedtime could correlate with difficulty falling asleep and reduced sleep quality. Such findings could pave the way for a more conclusive study on digital habits and sleep hygiene.
4. Traditional Medicines and Modern Healing
Proposed Methods: Ethnographic Studies, Expert Interviews
If medical anthropologists were curious about the efficacy of traditional medicines in contemporary health practices, they could embark on exploratory research by studying indigenous communities and interviewing traditional healers. Their preliminary observations might suggest that certain age-old remedies have potential benefits in treating modern ailments. This could inspire further research into integrating traditional knowledge with modern medical practices.
5. Sustainable Packaging and Consumer Preferences
Proposed Methods: Surveys, Product Testing
If market researchers were to speculate about the rising preference for sustainable packaging among consumers, they could conduct exploratory research through surveys and product testing sessions. Initial feedback might indicate that consumers are more inclined to purchase products with eco-friendly packaging due to environmental concerns. This could initiate a more extensive study on the potential market shift towards sustainable packaging solutions.
6. Music Therapy and Cognitive Development in Children
Proposed Methods: Observational Studies, Interviews with Therapists
If developmental psychologists were to ponder the effects of music therapy on cognitive growth in children, they could delve into exploratory research by observing therapy sessions and interviewing music therapists. Early insights might reveal that structured musical activities could enhance certain cognitive functions, such as memory and attention span. This could set the stage for a detailed investigation into the therapeutic benefits of music for cognitive development.
7. Urban Architecture and Social Interactions
Proposed Methods: Urban Ethnography, Resident Interviews
If urban sociologists were to hypothesize that the design of urban spaces influences social interactions among residents, they could embark on exploratory research through urban ethnography and resident interviews. Initial observations might suggest that open communal spaces foster more community interactions and strengthen neighborhood bonds. These findings could lead to a comprehensive study on designing urban spaces to promote social cohesion.
8. Plant-Based Diets and Athletic Performance
Proposed Methods: Dietary Logs, Performance Metrics Analysis
If sports nutritionists were curious about the impact of plant-based diets on athletes’ performance, they could initiate exploratory research by analyzing athletes’ dietary logs and comparing performance metrics. Preliminary results might indicate that a well-planned plant-based diet could sustain or even enhance athletic prowess. This could trigger further research into the optimal nutrition strategies for athletes favoring plant-based diets.
9. Virtual Reality and Learning Efficiency
Proposed Methods: Experimental Learning Sessions, Feedback Surveys
If educational technologists were to consider the potential of virtual reality (VR) in enhancing learning experiences, they could conduct exploratory research using experimental VR learning sessions followed by feedback surveys. Early feedback might suggest that immersive VR environments can improve understanding and retention of complex topics. This could lead to a broader study on the integration of VR tools in various educational settings.
10. Urban Farming and Food Security
Proposed Methods: Case Studies, Farmer Interviews
If agricultural experts were to contemplate the role of urban farming in ensuring food security in metropolitan areas, they could initiate exploratory research by conducting case studies of existing urban farms and interviewing urban farmers. Preliminary insights might indicate that urban farming can significantly contribute to local food supplies and reduce food transportation costs. This could pave the way for more expansive research on optimizing urban agricultural practices to enhance city-wide food security.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Exploratory Research
Exploratory research design is very useful for providing initial insights into a topic, describing phenomena in detail, and exploring a topic without the predetermined constraints of mere hypothesis testing.
But it’s not the best research design in all situations. For example, it might not be ideal if you were seeking to achieve clarity on well-worn topics, generate generalizable results that add to existing literature, or contribute to a specific set of existing scholarly discourse on a topic.
Below are some strengths and weaknesses of this research design:
|Strengths of Exploratory Research||Weaknesses of Exploratory Research|
|Provides initial insights into a new or unclear topic.||Not conclusive and tentative; often requires further research for validation (Hammond & Wellington, 2013).|
|Allows for preliminary data collection, which can help inform the development of subsequent questionnaires, surveys, etc. (Tan, 2022)||May lack a structured framework, leading to varied results (Hammond & Wellington, 2013).|
|Can utilize a variety of methods (interviews, observations, surveys).||Data tends to be qualitative, such as via case studies, making it harder to generalize (Morrison, 2022).|
|Tends to be open-minded and has less tunnel vision than studies with a narrow predefined scope (Hammond & Wellington, 2013)||Often not sufficient for scholarly publication (Swedberg, 2020).|
|Aids in the formulation of hypotheses for future research.||Smaller sample sizes may not represent the broader population.|
|Helps in identifying potential problems or areas of interest.||Does not test specific hypotheses, so results are preliminary.|
|Can be conducted with a smaller sample size.||May not delve deeply into specific areas of the topic.|
Blecher, M. (2018). Israeli Settlements: Land Politics Beyond the Geneva Convention. Hamilton Books.
Cargan, L. (2007). Doing Social Research. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Gozdziak, E. M., & Chantavanich, S. (2022). Africans in Thailand. In Gozdziak, E. M., & Chantavanich, S. (Eds.). African Migration to Thailand: Race, Mobility, and Integration. Taylor & Francis.
Hammond, M., & Wellington, J. J. (2013). Research Methods: The Key Concepts. Routledge.
Hutchison, T., Allen, P., & Macy, A. (2012). Record Label Marketing. Taylor & Francis.
Morrison, A. M. (2022). Tourism Marketing: In the Age of the Consumer. Taylor & Francis.
Swedberg, R. (2020). Exploratory Research. In Elman C, Gerring J, & Mahoney J. (Eds.) The Production of Knowledge: Enhancing Progress in Social Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Tan, W. C. K. (2022). Research Methods: A Practical Guide For Students And Researchers (Second Edition). World Scientific Publishing Company.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]