As discussed in my previous article “Understanding research” there could be different purposes for research. It can be exploratory or descriptive and the research methods are not mutually exclusive. However, over the period of research the researcher may identify more than one purpose and choose a research method.
Exploratory research method
Exploratory research helps with the exploration of the research phenomenon, which involves literature survey or focus group interviews. In addition it enables the researcher to better understand the concept and test the feasibility of an extensive study. The exploratory research method is broad in focus and lacks definite answers to the issues or problems. It involves development of hypotheses, however they are not tested within the exploratory research. Most of the data collected in exploratory research method is qualitative in nature.
Example: Within a business environment, exploratory study could be undertaken to “explore” new management technique before its adoption within the business setting. All the aspects related to the new technique will have to be explored before its application within the organisation.
This research method is applicable when
- The researcher is not aware of the theories and concepts related to the research problem.
- The objective of the researcher is to identify key issues related to the research phenomenon.
- The objective of the researcher is to identify variables of the research.
Descriptive research method
Descriptive research helps to describe research phenomenon, situation or group of individuals. In addition it also helps to determine the level of contrast within the sample. Consequently descriptive research method is conducted to accurately describe information about the sample population. Furthermore this information represents the target population of a survey.
Research papers are guided by one or more research questions. Therefore, the data collected from the sample can be qualitative and quantitative in nature. It can be used to determine the frequency distribution and averages within the sample.
Example: A study conducted to determine the profile of customers, in order to better analyse their needs and preferences. This helps in better decision making and strategy building for new product development.
This research method is use when
- Determining customer satisfaction, class evaluation, etc.
- When comparing products, theories, concepts, in order to gain insights which can lead to hypothesis formulation.
Explanatory research method
Explanatory research method helps to determine an explanation to the nature of relationships. Furthermore it explains why the phenomenon occurs and predicts future occurrences. This research method involves hypothesis testing which provides a true understanding of the relationship that can exist between variables.
A research paper is characterised by hypotheses which specify the nature and direction of the relationship between variables. Therefore, quantitative data is used to generalise the population of the survey sample.
Example: Explanatory research is used to investigate factors which contribute towards customer satisfaction and determine the relative weight of each factor.
This research method is
- Applicable to determine key variables which contribute towards the phenomenon.
- Applicable to determine the relationship between variables through hypotheses testing.
Comparison of the three research methods as discussed above
|Exploratory research method
|Descriptive research method
|Explanatory research method
|Degree of problems
|Key variables not defined.
|Key variables are defined.
|Key variables and key relationships are defined.
|“Quality of service is declining without any recognisable reason.”
“Would people be interested with new product idea?”
“How important is business process re-engineering as a strategy?”
|“What have been the trends in organisational downsizing over the past ten years?”
“Did last year’s product recall have an impact on the company’s share price?”
“Has the average merger rate for financial institutions increased in the past decade?”
|“Which of two training programs is more effective for reducing labour turnover?”
“Is prediction of the value of energy stocks possible if we know the current dividends and growth rates of dividends?”
“Do buyers prefer the product in a new package?”
- 1. Collis, J. & Hussey, R. (2009) Business Research: A practical guide for undergraduate and postgraduate students, 3rd edition, New York, Palgrave Macmillan
- 2. Easterby-Smith, M., Thorpe, R. & Jackson, P. R. (2008) Management research, 3rd edition London, SAGE Publications.
- 3. Saunders, M., Lewis, P. & Thornhill, A. (2009) Research methods for business students, 5th ed., Harlow, Pearson Education.