Exploratory Research – Guide, Definition & Examples

17.03.23 Types of research studies Time to read: 5min

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Exploratory research deals with undiscovered or unfamiliar issues, frequently making up the foundation for further structured research. Within research methodology, it can be identified by its open-ended and flexible approach with the goal to explore new horizons, create ideas, or bringing clarity to debatable topics. Exploratory research does not test hypotheses but rather asks questions and collects first data, where further valuable and more in-depth investigations can be conducted.

Exploratory Research – In a Nutshell

  • Exploratory research investigates issues that don’t have thorough studies yet.
  • It provides an onset of an existing problem to explore further.
  • It is usually structured as qualitative research and refers to a primary source.

Definition: Exploratory research

Exploratory research is a study methodology that explores an issue that has not been extensively studied in the past or a new topic or subject. It explores specific elements of an existing phenomenon and gets more insight into it.


Your university library is considering adding an alternative medicine section to it. However, the institution is hesitant because of concerns that the decision may cause backlash from students, which may lead to unrest in the school. Therefore, the plan will only proceed if there is concrete proof that the reception from the students will be positive.

The usage of exploratory research

This method is often applied when the study issue is novel or when the data collection process for the study issue is challenging. You can also use this method if you have a general notion about a subject or a specific question that you would like to explore, but there is no existing knowledge with which to explore it.

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Exploratory research questions

Academic studies usually begin with research questions. These questions are usually constructed to assist you to understand more about a particular subject. Therefore, they help you put together notions to master the footing of your investigation without adding any predetermined philosophies or assumptions.


  • What elements influence drug use in university students?
  • What effect does using digital learning tools have on the attention span of undergraduates?
  • What outcomes are connected with the gentle parenting style?

Exploratory research data collection

Data collection in this form of research is challenging because it involves working with a previously unexplored subject. However, exploratory research allows you to narrow down your subject of interest and come up with a distinct premise and problem statement.

You can use primary and secondary research questions to gather data. Primary research collects data directly from primary sources. Some examples of these sources are:

  • Survey
  • Focus groups
  • Interviews

On the other hand, secondary research collects data from existing materials. Examples of secondary research data collection techniques are:

  • Case studies
  • Literature review
  • Interviews
  • Online polls
  • Blog posts
  • Surveys

The five steps of exploratory research with examples

The way you conduct this research usually depends on your chosen data collection method. However, this research features five standard steps.


You teach English to non-native speakers. Your current oral proficiency technique focuses on reducing your student’s foreign accent. However, you suspect that a foreign accent does not affect intelligibility. So, you want to shift your attention to increasing intelligibility. Nevertheless, there is no pre-existing research on the link between accent and intelligibility. Therefore, you decide to develop an exploratory research design to explore this issue.

Step 1 of exploratory research: Problem identification

The first step is narrowing down the problem and determining if using an exploratory study is an ideal course of action.


You notice that there is no difference in intelligibility between individuals that speak English with a foreign accent and those with a native accent. Also, you realize that trying to eliminate a student’s accent is not suitable because it is part of their identity. Unfortunately, all current teaching approaches focus on accent reduction.

Step 2 of exploratory research: Hypothesize a solution

The next step is establishing a solution to the challenge you are investigating. This involves articulating a hypothetical statement that will guide your study.


You anticipate that foreign English students would benefit from focusing on promoting intelligibility instead of reducing their accent. You think that it would be wiser to have an oral proficiency technique that echoes this.

Step 3 of exploratory research: Methodology design

This is where you conceptualize your data collection and analysis techniques and use them to develop a research design.


You choose to conduct formal interviews with other English teachers. You design interview questions that focus on issues to do with training oral proficiency. You ensure that the questions focus on the link between accent and intelligibility.

Step 4 of exploratory research: Data collection and analysis

Now you collect and analyze your data from the third step. Next, you can decide if your pilot results support your hypothesis. This research technique allows you to change your hypothesis depending on your findings.


Because of the interview analysis, you conclude that other teachers have similar thoughts as your hypothesis.

Step 5 of exploratory research: Avenues for future research

At this stage, you can determine if you would like to pursue the topic further. If you choose to do so, you will need to switch to another research design, like quantitative research with a larger sample size. Note that exploratory research does not usually give conclusive or generalizable results.


Your pilot outcomes prove your expectations to be right. However, you decide to pursue the study further with a more extensive study. So, you choose an experiment where subjects listen to audio samples of non-English speakers with foreign accents in different degrees. Ask the subjects to note mistakes in the transcript and use the data to determine if your hypothesis is correct.

Exploratory vs. explanatory research

Exploratory research explores research questions that have not been studied extensively in the past. The preliminary outcomes form the foundation for future explorations of the subject. In contrast, explanatory research questions focus on the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’.

Advantages vs. disadvantages

Here are the pros and cons of exploratory research:

Pros Cons
  • Narros down issues with minimal previous studies.
  • Lacks conclusive results and can be biased.
  • It serves as the foundation for future studies.
  • It is not externally valid.
  • It is flexible, open-ended, and cheap.
  • It can be labor-intensive


This form of research seeks to explore a topic that has not been previously studied in-depth. Its results form the foundation for further studies.

It is easy to conduct and gives more insight into an unexplored issue. It guides further studies on the subject.

Exploratory research is a study methodology that explores an issue that has not been extensively studied in the past or a new topic or subject.

It features five steps: problem identification, hypothesizing, research design, data collection and analysis, and further research.

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