Exploratory Research – Guide with Definitions and Examples

17.03.23 Types of research studies Time to read: 6min

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Exploratory research is a technique that investigates research questions that have not been previously studied extensively. Therefore, it is often qualitative and uses primary research methodology. This blog post will provide more insight into exploratory research.

Exploratory Research – In a Nutshell

  • Exploratory research is a method of investigating an issue that has not been thoroughly studied in the past.1
  • The goal of this form of research is to provide a better understanding of an existing problem without conclusive results.2
  • It is usually qualitative and primary.2

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.3 It explores specific elements of an existing phenomenon and gets more insight into it.

An example of an explanatory research problem:

Your university library is considering adding an alternative medicine section in 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.2 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.4

Examples of explanatory research questions:

  • 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.5 However, exploratory research allows you to narrow down your subject of interest and come up with a distinct premise and problem statement.3

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
  • Blogposts
  • Surveys

The five steps of exploratory research with examples

The way you conduct this research usually depends on your chosen data collection method.4 However, this research features five standard steps.

Example topic:

You teach English to non-native English speakers. Your current oral proficiency technique focuses on minimizing 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. However, 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.

The first step is narrowing down the problem and determining if using an exploratory study is an ideal course of action.4


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.

The next step is establishing a solution to the challenge you are investigating. This involves articulating a hypothetical statement that will guide your study.3


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.

This is where you conceptualize your data collection and analysis techniques and use them to develop a research design.4


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.

This is where 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.5


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

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.1 Note that exploratory research does not usually give conclusive or generalizable results.2


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:5


  • It helps narrow down a study issue that has not been previously explored.
  • It serves as the foundation for future studies.
  • It is flexible, open-ended, and cheap.


  • It lacks conclusive results and can be biased.
  • It is not externally valid.
  • 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 helps give 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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1 Question Pro. “Exploratory Research: Types & Characteristics.” Accessed February 6, 2023. https://www.questionpro.com/blog/exploratory-research/.

2 Form Plus. “Exploratory Research: What are its Method & Examples?” January 11, 2023. https://www.formpl.us/blog/exploratory-research.

3 Indeed. “Exploratory Research: What It Is and How To Conduct a Stud.” December 30, 2023. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/exploratory-study.

4 Anpar Research Ltd. “Exploratory Research: Definition & How To Conduct This Research.” May 23, 2022. https://www.anparresearchltd.com/post/exploratory-research.

5 Survey Monkey. “Exploratory research: what is it? (And 4 ways to implement it into your research!).” Accessed February 6, 2023. https://www.surveymonkey.com/mp/exploratory-research/.