What is Exploratory Research ?

Experimental Research Design is the research design implied in case of exploratory research. In this type of research, researchers try to uncover the hidden and unknown facts and phenomena. This kind of research is helpful in exploring the information for problems which have not been defined precisely. It is also called as formulative research. It tries to answer the questions with appropriate reasons. 

For example, in order to find out the reasons behind the continuous growth of cases of Ebola infection, exploratory research is used as the information providing the reasons is hidden in this case.

Exploratory research design is suitable for those cases, where no prior studies or background knowledge is available for reference. The major focus of these studies is to gain knowledge so that further investigations can be carried-out. Basically. this research is the initial stage of future in-depth investigations. Sometimes, exploratory research is conducted to know the suitable methodology for certain research problem. A general exploratory research design attempts to provide maximum information in minimum time with least, possible effort and money. Final decisions or results cannot be prepared with the help of exploratory research. Using this research, the researcher is able to develop the hypotheses regarding various research problems.

Types of Exploratory Research Design

Exploratory research designs often help create qualitative data. Qualitative data is that which is derived from events, behavioral patterns, interpretations, and other such descriptive matter, rather than numbers, text, and visuals. Exploratory research designs seldom create quantitative data.

To help distinguish between the two, let's take the instance of a change in an economic norm that affects the purchase of luxury items. While a quantitative researcher will aim to depict the changing trend by numbers and graphs, such as an increase or fall in the purchase of said items, a qualitative researcher, on the other hand, will aim to dig deeper into what brings about these changes, the impact it has on the lifestyle of the sample population and derive a theory. While quantitative research helps to lest a theory, qualitative research fails to do so.

The duration of qualitative research varies from one technique to another. While a focus group may require less time to develop a theory, active participant technique may require observation and recording of data over a much longer period of time. Hence, qualitative techniques can afford to save time, but not always. 
For example, an FMCG company can easily create, conduct, and interpret the analysis of a focus group within a few days, but an active participant research technique may take several months to reach conclusions. Major types of qualitative techniques for exploratory research design are :

Types of Exploratory Research Design

Projective Techniques

Projective techniques are used in those areas of qualitative research where the researcher aims to achieve a greater understanding of a subject. Under this technique, individuals are asked to express their opinions and feelings on a situation or behavior of another individual. Hypothetical situations and/or behavioral patterns of individuals are created, which are ambiguous and vague in nature, and respondents are requested to express their beliefs and feelings on the same. In doing so, researchers are able to study the motivations and attitudes of the respondents themselves, thereby. enabling them to dig deeper into the research. The degree of ambiguity of the situation determines the depth of motivations and emotions of the respondents that the researcher is able to unveil. This technique is often used in the field of clinical psychology, where it is broadly classified into the following: association, completion, construction, and expression.
Projective techniques help 'project' those feelings and opinions of respondents that are otherwise lying dormant by enabling them to provide their thoughts on something other than themselves.

Types of Projective Techniques

Projective techniques can be classified into the following types :

1) Sentence Completion : 
Under this technique, participants are provided with incomplete sentences, that are referred to as 'slems', and encouraged to complete these sentences their own way. This provides insight into the thoughts and motivations of the respondents.

2) Word Association : 
Word association is another commonly used technique of projective qualitative research. Under this technique, participants are provided with a list of words, one by one, and requested to state the first thing that comes to their mind in response to each of these words.

3) Story Completion : 
Here, participants are given an incomplete story which, though subtly leads to a pre-determined topic, does not in any way provide an insight into the ending. Participants are required to conclude the story in their own way.

4) Verbal Projection Tests : 
In these tests, a situation is described to the participants either orally, or by exploiting simple methods of visual presentation. Participants are then required to provide their thoughts and opinions on the effects the situation could have on others, not themselves. However, in doing so, respondents provide an insight into their own altitudes.

5) Pictorial Techniques : 
Pictorial technique was essentially adopted to make photography a part of fine art. In this technique, respondents are requested to describe the artistic quality of an image, rather than the contents of the image itself.

6) Play Techniques : 
Play techniques are a well known stimulating form of research where each participant is assigned a role and then asked to improvise and enact the character. This technique may be used by a researcher to observe various behavioral traits of participants, such as dominance, sympathy, submissiveness, fairness, etc. Play technique is usually adopted in understanding the behavior of children.

7) Quizzes, Tests and Examinations : 
A quiz may be defined as a game wherein participants attempt to answer questions correctly. A test may be defined as an examination to evaluate the characteristics, aptitudes, capabilities, and level of skill of participants. Tests are conducted under real-life or simulated conditions. An examination may be defined as a general inspection or investigation of products and/or services. in conjunction with pre-set requirements. Such examinations do not need the use of special laboratory or scientific equipment and processes.

8) Socio-metric Analysis : 
Socio-metric analysis is used to observe and understand the relationships among individuals of a group. This technique helps analyse the attractions and repulsion's between persons under varied circumstances, by encouraging them to decide who they would or would not choose under said conditions and circumstances.

Significance of Projective Techniques 

The significance of projective techniques has been listed below :

1) Additional Means of Gathering Information : 
Projective techniques are often used in conjunction with other techniques of research. In this manner, a researcher is able to achieve deeper understanding of a subject and gather more information which helps analyse situations better. 
For example, a researcher may use projective techniques of research along with the method of depth interviews.

2) Elicits Responses : 
One of the crucial significance of projective techniques is that it helps the researcher in obtaining responses from participants which they otherwise may not be comfortable in providing, had they been aware of the purpose of the research. Respondents who are reluctant in nature can also be encouraged to elicit responses quietly. Additionally, projective techniques make research more participative.

3) Helps In Addressing Issues : 
Projective techniques are beneficial in situations where the issues that need to be addressed are sensitive and personal, and participants may not otherwise be willing to respond. It is also helpful in cases where a researcher aims to study the underlying beliefs and motivations of respondents that cannot be observed through more direct and formal means of research.

4) Helps in Making Research Sessions More Interactive and Interesting : 
The methods of projective research, such as, play techniques, story completion, etc., can make sessions more interesting and make participants more responsive. They are a unique form of research methodology that can help obtain data where no other form of research methodology may be successful. In today's time and age, information is available promptly and abundantly. Hence, unless actively interested, people may not be willing to participate in time-consuming mundane sessions which provide no stimuli. Projective techniques help combat this drawback.

Limitations of Projective Techniques

Like any other technique of research, projective Techniques, too, have their limitations. Some of these have been described below :

1) Not Helpful for Non-Verbal Research Subjects : 
Projective techniques may not be useful in areas where responses are required to be non-verbal in nature. 
For example, in cases where participants are required to complete n picture or drawing, they may not necessarily be willing to do so, under the assumption that their creative abilities will be subject to open judgement.

2) Not Useful as Stand-Alone. Research Technique : 
Projective techniques can only be used in conjunction with another technique of research. The observations made under projective techniques need to be compared to other information provided by participants.

3) Other Limitations : 
These may include the following :
  • Projective techniques have some of the disadvantages of other unstructured direct techniques, but, to a greater extent. 
  • This methodology requires highly trained interviewers to conduct the research and make noteworthy observations.
  • Interpreters of information must also be highly skilled to clearly understand the motive of the research and analyse results in the same direction.
  • Being a subjective technique, dependent on the feelings of the observer himself/herself, projective techniques run the risk of an unjust or unfair bias in interpretation.
  • It is an expensive method of research. 
  • In order to derive at results, projective techniques may require respondents to act in an unusual manner, which may not always be achievable.

Depth Interview

When a small group of respondents is intensively interviewed on individual basis so as to measure their perception about a particular event, concept, idea or situation, it is called 'Depth Interview. 
For example, a depth interview can be conducted to explore the reviews of participants of an organisational event about the nature of operations, activities, its usefulness or changes required if any.
Numerous topics or issues like strategic planning, program improvement, problem identification, need analysis, etc., can be facilitated with the help of depth interviews. It is very helpful for getting in-depth information from relatively small number of participants, with the help of asking only open-ended questions. As depth interviews allow researchers to intensely recognize the attitudes and perceptions of the respondents over a given issue, they are majorly used for designing and evaluating extension programs.

Characteristics of Depth Interview 

Depth interviews have following characteristics : 

1) Open-Ended Questions : 
Researchers use open ended questions in such interviews so as to allow respondents to illustrate their response other than saying only 'yes' or 'no'. As majority of open ended questions include 'how' and 'why', it enables the respondents to use their own words so as to answer the researcher's questions.

2) Semi-Structured Format : 
Depth interviews also contain responsive questions which arise due to previous responses of the interviewee. This is called semi-structured formal. No fixed pattern of sequencing of questions is followed. For example, if an interviewee claims that he likes cricket, the very next question from the interviewer would be "Which is your favorite cricket player?"

3) Clear Listening and Interpretation : 
The interviewer in such interviews clearly listens the responses of the interviewee and interprets it correctly. A high level of understanding is maintained in such interviews.

4) Recording of Responses : 
All the responses of the interviewee are recorded with the help of an audio-recorder. The interviewer also notes down different significant events occurring during the interview process. These may include personal reflections, body language, or even verbal responses.

Significance of Depth Interview

Following points describe the significance of depth interviews :

1) Helps In Gaining Insights : 
A clear insight of the respondent can be developed with depth interviews as it involves significant time and one-on-one approach.

2) Helps in Developing Relationship : 
A strong relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee is developed in such interviews. It helps in collecting revealing and personal information from the respondents.

3) Responses are Free from Peer Pressure : 
Depth interviews enable the respondents to deliver right and proper information without being affected by peer pressure or group norms.

4) Easier to Schedule : 
It is very easy for the researcher to schedule a depth interview with the respondent. There is no such system of arranging twelve people for a single interview like in a focus group study.

Limitations of Depth Interview 

The different limitations of the depth interviews are as follows : 

1) Costly : 
Large amount of time and money is consumed in depth interviews. Arranging different interviews with different respondents for a specified time period costs lot of money. 

2) Time-Consuming : 
As respondents are to be interviewed individually, it takes lot of time. At a time only one individual is interviewed, therefore, significant time is consumed in depth interviews.

3) Need of Skilled and Qualified Interviewers : 
One of the limitations of depth interviews is the need of qualified interviewers for the purpose. It is not possible for the ordinary interviewer to collect in-depth information from the respondents.

4) Small Sample Size : 
Sample size is relatively small as only one individual is interviewed at a time. There is issue of representative-ness of these samples as these are very small. Therefore, it is very difficult to reach accurate results.

5) Unscientific : 
The depth interviews are unscientific in nature 8.5 the pattern is unstructured. It affects the validity of the information collected by the researcher.

Experience Survey 

When experts or individuals having significant information on the concerned topic are approached for collecting relevant information, it is called Experience Survey'. Individuals from within or outside the research organisation who are familiar with research problem may be involved in experience surveys.
This is the reason experience surveys are also called 'expert opinion surveys'. The only purpose here is to utilize the experience of these experts in gaining valuable insight of the problem.
For example, in order to deal with a consumer product problem, a marketing executive would be sufficient to provide required information as he is having experience in the field of consumer marketing. The information provided by him may.be very useful for the research problem. Information can also be taken from sales executives,, sales manager, product manager or any senior officer of the organisation.

Significance of Experience Survey

Following points highlight the significance of experience surveys : 

1) Gaining Additional Knowledge : 
Generally, in order to collect expert information on a particular research topic, experience surveys are used. It helps in collecting additional information for the research.

2) Collecting Vital Information : 
Experience surveys are very helpful in getting vital information about any topic. It is not possible to collect such information without experience surveys.

3) Information from Expert/Experienced People : 
Experience surveys are also important because it includes information from expert or experienced people. This information is very reliable.

Limitations of Experience Survey

Following are the major limitations of the experience surveys : 

1) Difficulty in Obtaining Views and Perception :
One of the major limitations of the experience surveys is the difficulty in obtaining the views and perceptions of the experts about the crucial aspects of the research topic under study.

2) Only Used When Secondary Data is Difficult to Obtain : 
In practice, experience surveys are only used in cases where, it is not possible for the researcher to collect secondary data for the research.

3) Inflexible Questionnaire : 
Another limitation of the experience surveys is the inflexibility of the questionnaire used in the surveys. For a proper research study it is very important to have flexibility in the questionnaire used as it helps in studying several other dimensions important for the study.

4) Possibility of Altering Perception : 
Sometimes, experience surveys end in generating such statements/questions which affect the perception of people towards a particular concept or event

Focus Groups

Focus group is a method in which a group of respondents is selected so as to collect desired information through a formal interactive session. It is also called 'group interviewing method'. In this, the respondents response to the questions of a moderator (sometimes researcher himself/herself) to discuss about the given topic or research problem. Moderator asks specially designed questions so as to explore in depth information. The information explored here is not possible to collect from other techniques like - surveys, observations or interviews.
Focus group method is characterized by the use of ed. It significant methods and strategies so as to collect and or the analyse the information generated here. This makes focus group method a reliable source of data collection. This type of method is used in areas like Vital new product concept or new product development, improvement of production-line in an organisation, motivation program for new employees, etc.
This method results in behavioral observations of the respondents, list of ideas and few recommendations from the moderator. These observations and ideas are inter quantitatively tested. Focus group is applied to different research areas and the most popular research area is consumer research.

Significance of Focus Groups 

Following points highlight the significance of focus group :

1) Cost-effective : 
As generally six to twelve respondents are interviewed collectively in a focus group method, it is the most cost-effective method of exploratory research collecting significant information.

2) Time Saving : 
Another point proving the significance of the focus group method is that it is time saving. Group of respondents is interviewed in one attempt, thus, lot of time is saved.

3) Recording of Session : 
The whole interview session is recorded in focus group method so as to observe the behavioral or verbal responses of the respondents at later stages of the research.

4) Group Interaction : 
Focus group method is also significant because different respondents in the group interact with each other and it helps in generating useful information and ideas.

5) Controllable : 
Focus group is also useful because it is controllable. The flow of the interaction can be directed by the moderator so as to maintain the discussion in the right direction. It is the duty of the moderator that required topics are covered in the session so as to explore useful information.

6) In-Depth Exploration of Topics : 
Focus groups are popularly used for in-depth exploration of the research topic with the help of different respondents. It helps in describing unclear concepts and issues.

Limitations of Focus Groups 

Following are the limitations of the focus group method :

1) Non-representative Sample : 
Generally few individuals are selected for the process and they may argue over a particular issue. Thus, they are not the true representative of the population.

2) Embarrassment Factor : 
In a focus group method, embarrassment factor is very much active. Respondents may hesitate to express their true thoughts over a particular issue due to fear of embarrassment or rejection from peer members. This affects the reliability of the collected information.

3) Effect of Dominance : 
Dominance factor is also active in few focus group sessions. Few dominant respondents rule over introvert and affect their opinion or response. It leads to poor quality of information.

4) Moderator Effect : 
Sometimes, moderators spoil the flow of the interaction due to poor management. It leads to loss of quality information from the respondents.

5) Inconclusive Results : 
The information collected from such focus group methods needs to be processed and analysed in order to be effective. The information collected cannot be used at it is.


The method involving the systematic recording and assessment of behavioral forms of a particular individual (or group of individual), object or event so as to collect desired information about a research problem without any personal communication is called 'Observation'. Here, the observer observes the object from a suitable distance or through audio video recordings. The information is recorded for future use. The respondents may be observed in their natural environment or a contrived environment is designed for the purpose. The approach for observation may be direct or indirect, structured or unstructured. The observation method is very popular for behavioral science researches.
Every individual observes certain things around him/her but it cannot be termed as scientific observation. Scientific observation is the observation where a particular research problem is the focus of the observation. A systematic planning and controlling is required for recording such observations. Different validity and reliability check measures are used here so as to collect accurate information.

Methods of Observation 

The different methods used for observing respondents or objects are as follows : 

1) Structured and Unstructured Observation : 
When the research area or objects are clearly described to the observer, it is called 'structured observation'. On the other hand, the observer is free to observe whatever he/she thinks important. in 'unstructured observation'.

2) Direct and Indirect Observation : 
'Direct observation' refers to the observation of the respondent's behavior directly by the observer. On the other hand, in 'indirect observation, the previously recorded behavior is observed by the observer so as to finds any relevant pattern for the current research topic.

3) Natural and Contrived Observation : 
When the observer prefers to observe the object in his/her natural or realistic environment, it is called "natural observation'. It is affected by certain extraneous variables. In order to eliminate such variables, observer prefers to observe the object in laboratory setting. It is called 'contrived observation'. In contrived observation different economic measurements aroused for effective collection of information.

4) Disguised Observation : 
When the objects or informants are not informed about the observation process, it is called 'disguised observation'. It is preferred because generally respondents modify their behavior when they are informed. Although it is not easy to perform such observation due to ethical norms (it is ethically wrong to observe behavior of people without describing them the purpose).

5) Human-Mechanical Observation : 
When a person is assigned to observe the behavior of a respondent, it is called human observation'. Whereas observation done by a machine or instrument (like audiometers, eye cameras, etc.) is called mechanical observation'. Generally, human observations are preferred as it uses trained observers who are reliable, Mechanical observations do not have this much reliability and validity.

Significance of Observation 

Following points highlight the significance of observation method : 

1) Suitable for Non-verbal Behavior : 
Generally, survey method is used to collect the verbal information from different respondents, but in case of collecting information through non verbal behavior, observation method is useful. In-depth information about the respondent can be collected through observing his/her behavior.

2) In-depth Information : 
Due to prolonged closeness between the observer and the respondent, a healthy and informal relationship is developed between them. The closeness increases with the time. It leads to exploration of in-depth and private information from the respondent.

3) Free from Biasness : 
As the behavior of the respondent is observed in natural setting, it is free from biasness. Genuine and reliable information is generated through observation method.

4) Useful in Longitudinal Analysis : 
Observation method is very useful for longitudinal analysis as the observation may be continued to prolonged period

Limitations of Observation

Different limitations of observation method are as follows : 

1) Lack of Control : 
In observation method, the most critical point is the nature of control. It is not possible for the observer to control the natural variables affecting the behavior of the respondent.

2) Difficulties of Quantification : 
Another limitation of observation method is the absence of quantification of data. The behaviors of respondents cannot be quantified, only the nature of their behavior may be described for research purpose.

3) Small Sample : 
Observation method is based on small samples, thus, these may not be the representative of the total population.

4) Costly : 
In order to observe large samples, more observers need to be assigned. As the observation method is time-taking. more remuneration is required to pay for observers.

5) Difficult to Obtain Permission : 
In cases, where the observer is required to observe a particular institution or organisation, permission is to be taken from the administrator. It is not easy to get permission in such cases

Uses of Exploratory Research

Following are the uses of exploratory research :

1) Investigating an Issue : 
Exploratory research is generally used to investigate a particular issue. It helps in drawing out the insight and related information about the concerned topic or issue. A. particular research problem is selected for exploratory research to find its solution. 
For example, identifying the reasons behind child labour in a particular demographic area may be the topic of exploratory research. Thus, it may help in highlighting the factors responsible for child labour.

2) Gaining Information : 
Information about a particular event or issue can be easily collected through exploratory research without incurring large amount of money or effort. 
For example, pilot studies can be used for collecting information about developing a questionnaire.

3) Establishing Priorities : 
Priorities can be easily established through exploratory research, when it is involved in observing several competing issues or objects. 
For example, priorities for organisational products or services can be developed through customer complaint letters.

4) Clarifying Concepts : 
Different typical concepts may also be clarified through exploratory research.
For example, management of an organisation aims to enhance dealer satisfaction through modifying its service policies; an exploratory research can be conducted to explain the term dealer satisfaction. In another example, customers of a particular bank, i.e., retail and commercial customers, can be clarified through exploratory research.

5) Framing Problems : 
Exploratory research is also used to frame different typical problems. 
For example, through collecting information about the level of water in certain areas, a water crisis problem can be framed by exploratory research. Different techniques like observations, personal interviews, focus groups, etc., may be used for this purpose.

6) Knowing Market Trends : 
Exploratory research is also useful in knowing the trends prevalent in the target market so as to help management decide its strategy. Sometimes, management is not able to design a suitable strategy for the market due to unavailability of required information. Exploratory research may be very useful in this situation. 
For example, different crucial information about the market can be collected through exploratory research in order to develop product modifications.

Significance / Importance of Exploratory Research

Exploratory research is useful in following ways : 

1) New Discoveries : 
Exploratory research helps researcher to find-out new ideas and insights regarding a situation. It always tries to explore the unfamiliar aspects which were previously unknown. Researchers always welcome new ideas and information because it helps them to mould research in new direction which ultimately gives better results and conclusions.

2) Enhances Knowledge : 
Exploratory research is - very helpful in adding knowledge to the ongoing research. New knowledge to the existing pool of knowledge enhances the understanding of researchers related to certain area of research. Since, exploratory research is not backed by statistical methods, the conclusions about a given research problem cannot be developed. However, a clear outline of the subject is effectively produced through this research.

3) Wide Range of Techniques : 
Exploratory research facilitates the researchers to select the techniques from a wide range of available sources. The sources used in exploratory research may be published secondary sources as well as some other sources like depth interviews, case studies, expert surveys, case studies or casual discussions. The researchers can carry-out the research process with the help of one or more of techniques from this broad spectrum to better understand the issue.

4) Directs Future Research : 
Exploratory research provides valuable conclusions and new insights about the research topic. These findings and insights trigger the researchers for further researches and acts as a platform for successive investigations. Exploratory research helps the researchers to understand an issue in a better way that helps in deciding the approach to be taken to achieve the desired outcomes.

5) Strategic Planning : 
Exploratory research is also beneficial for strategic planning in organisations as the conclusions of this research provide general outline of the given subject, which helps in formulating strategies for future. 
For example, in new product development process, an exploratory research may be conducted which can provide the expected need and demand of such products in the market. If, the conclusions are not so favorable, new product planning process may be altered or terminated.

Limitations of Exploratory Research

Besides many advantages, exploratory research has following limitations :

1) Leads to Wrong Decisions : 
Since, exploratory research does not statistical analysis to find the conclusions; hence the conclusions of these researches can be completely reliable. Due to this drawback, relying on these findings may lead to wrong decisions. Exploratory research is qualitative in nature, and therefore the outcomes are quite judge-mental.

2) Incorrect Information : 
Since, the outcomes of exploratory research are qualitative, therefore the analysis may subject to some personal biases. In addition to this, the results are not distinctive, but are generally vague. Because of this limitation, it requires further research to confirm the findings.

3) Cannot, be Generalized : 
The results of the exploratory research cannot be generalized for the whole population as these only explore the understanding of a given situation or problem. It cannot be used for representing the responses or thinking of the entire population.

4) Costly : 
Conducting exploratory research requires significant amount of time and money to arrive at conclusions. Even after spending resources, researchers cannot be certain about the conclusions.