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There is a parallel between how people come to understand something and the process of researching an idea.

This lesson explores the purposes of research as well as three approaches to research in psychology:
exploratory, descriptive, and explanatory.

Purpose of Research
As you probably already know, there are many reasons why research is done. But, what are its purposes? Why
bother with all the different styles, techniques, experiments and measurements?
Why did the first sailors, the ones before Columbus and Magellan, hop on their little canoes and paddle out?
Humans naturally explore the world around them, wanting to learn about the planet we have labeled Earth.
Why did Hippocrates and Galen examine and write about the maladies of man? The need to describe and
understand our world is found in even the youngest children.
Why did we develop an entire group of sciences to understand humans? Because what good is being human if
you cannot explain why we do something. Maybe I am being a little to 'meta' about all this. The purpose of
psychology is to explore, to describe and to explain how and why a person thinks, feels and acts.

Exploratory Research
Exploratory research is defined as the initial research into a hypothetical or theoretical idea. This is where a
researcher has an idea or has observed something and seeks to understand more about it. An exploratory
research project is an attempt to lay the groundwork that will lead to future studies or to determine if what is
being observed might be explained by a currently existing theory. Most often, exploratory research lays the
initial groundwork for future research.
To make this a little more understandable, imagine you are blindfolded or placed into a room without light.
You are not told if something is in the room, but you have a suspicion there is something in there. You shuffle
out slowly into the room, exploring with the tips of your fingers until you find something.
Exploratory research can come in two big forms: either a new topic or a new angle. A new topic is often
unexpected and startling in its findings. For example, American psychologist John Watson really began his
behaviorism research with a new topic on the study of human behaviors and learning: rats! Because humans
have brains and rats have brains, it makes a certain kind of sense. There was an attempt to find the universal
laws of learning in all brains.
New angles can come from new ways of looking at things, either from a theoretical perspective or a new way
of measuring something. For instance, computers have allowed large populations to be looked at. Old
experiments can now involve thousands of people from around the globe instead of a few people from the local
train station.

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.
When The Cupcake King first started their research, they believed that increasing their cupcake selection was
the solution to increasing sales. Conducting ER with their customers has provided them with valuable
information on ways to increase sales. This exploratory research gave the owner more specific information
about what their customers wanted. It enabled the owner to shorten their list of many of ideas to just a few.
This information will be used to conduct further research to determine how they can incorporate some of the
feedback.
In short, exploratory research is a foundation that researchers use to eventually solve problems. It allows
researchers to achieve a better understanding of a problem or a situation. It often leads to more questions, such
as, how can I use this information to solve this problem?
Chances are that you have unknowingly carried out exploratory research at some point in your life. You may
have conducted interviews to find the best babysitter. Or, have you ever gathered information about different
colleges? That is exploratory research. It is the information gathering stage.

Lesson Summary
Let's review what we have learned about exploratory research. First, exploratory research (also known as
ER) is an examination of a subject about which little information is known. Generally, further research is
needed after exploratory research is conducted. There are no definitive answers in exploratory research.
Exploratory research often leads to more questions.
ER may use primary or secondary research. Primary research is firsthand data collected by talking to study
participants. Secondary research is the analysis and synthesis of primary research.
Next, remember that there are several methods that can be used to conduct exploratory research. Some
methods of exploratory research are:

Interviews
Group discussions

It is important to use open-ended questions, which are questions that let respondents answer however they
want, to obtain valuable customer feedback. Finally, once exploratory research has been conducted it can be
used as a foundation for future research.