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Exploratory Research: Definition, Methods & Examples

Exploratory Research: Definition, Methods & Examples
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kimberly Winston
In this lesson, you'll learn about a type of research called exploratory research. You'll achieve a general understanding of the topic through examples that demonstrate the way in which it's used.

Definition of Exploratory Research

Even as children, we have a natural curiosity about the world around us. We ask questions like: Why is the sky blue? Why do birds fly? Questions like these are often the foundation of exploratory research because they reveal our desire to understand the world around us. Exploratory research (or ER) is an examination into a subject in an attempt to gain further insight. With ER, a researcher starts with a general idea and uses research as a tool to identify issues that could be the focus of future research.

Look at how ER is used in business. For instance, let's say you own a bakery called The Cupcake King. If you wanted to improve your sales, but weren't sure where to start, you might employ ER to find out the areas of your business that need improvement.

It's important to note that the point of exploratory research is not to gain a definitive answer, like you would with a math problem. For instance, you know that no matter how many different ways you look at the math problem 1 + 1, the answer is always 2.

Exploratory Research Methods

You may wonder how you can explore a topic if there is little information about it. There are several methods that are used in exploratory research. Researchers may use primary or secondary research, or a combination of both types of research.

Primary research is data that someone collects personally, usually from a group of people gathered specifically for the study. Primary research is collected through the use of interviews, focus groups, customer surveys, or any way that organizations are able to obtain feedback. For instance, social media and blogs are a great way for business owners to obtain customer feedback.

Secondary research is the analysis and synthesis of primary research that was compiled at a previous date. Secondary research can be gathered from marketing research data, magazines, old reports, or any other source where relevant information has been stored.

Once upon a time, someone had the idea that the world was flat and that if you went too far, you would surely fall off. We now know that is not true. We know this because of ER. When you conduct ER, you are an explorer, like Magellan or Lewis and Clark or even Dora the Explorer! Before explorers set out on a new adventure, they gather primary and secondary research. They look at similar expeditions, talk to others about their expeditions, and gather any data that will be helpful in guiding them on their journey. ER is the initial research conducted so you understand where you need to focus your efforts or where to point your compass.

Example of Exploratory Research

The owner of The Cupcake King has many, many ideas for improving the bakery's sales but isn't sure which will work. They think increasing the flavors of cupcakes the bakery sells will bring in more customers but know they need more information. They intend to conduct ER to investigate whether expanding their cupcake selection will lead to an increase in sales, or if there is a better idea.

The owner starts by examining prior research available on food business improvement methods. They hope that this will give them an idea on the types of questions and methods that were helpful to others. Next, they develop a list of open-ended questions, or questions that let respondents answer however they want.

The Cupcake King, for instance, asks respondents how they could improve the customer experience. The most common customer responses included comments regarding the location, the atmosphere, the length of time it took to be served, and wanting the ability to customize their cupcakes.

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