7 junio, 2024

Exploratory research: types, methodology and examples

The Exploratory investigation It corresponds to the first approach to a specific topic before addressing it in a more in-depth investigative work. It is a process to have basic information related to the research problem.

For example, if a new species of animal is discovered, exploratory research might first be conducted to obtain data on it; morphology, habitat, reproduction, nutrition, behavior, respiration, etc. Subsequently, specific investigations could be carried out to answer certain research questions, such as: how does it breathe?, how does it reproduce?, how does it feed?, etc.

From exploratory research, the true implications of a particular problem can be known, as well as what are the most interesting aspects that are pertinent to address in an investigation.

Every research process starts from an exploratory action; Whether the researcher does not know the topic to be discussed in depth or wants to understand its scope, exploratory research corresponds to that first approach that will allow a better management of the object of study.

The results produced by exploratory research are approximate, so a more in-depth study will always be needed to corroborate the first deductions and, in some cases, open new lines of investigation.


Characteristics of exploratory research

It is a first approximation to the problem.

Through exploratory research, researchers can begin to become familiar with the topic that is intended to be developed in an investigative work.

This initial approach is very important to understand the magnitude of the problem, what are the elements or actors involved and what would be some of the most relevant points of interest.

In addition, a first approximation can give indications on how the subject could be approached and if it will be necessary to extend the investigation to other related areas.

It’s a superficial look

Because it is a first approach, exploratory research is superficial. It is not expected to obtain decisive conclusions as a result of the investigative work; rather, it is expected to have introductory data that will explain the main characteristics of the topic to be developed.

In exploratory research, researchers rely on rough data and observational information, all superficial to some extent. If the research work evolves, then they will consider different methods and deeper approaches.

Allows methodological flexibility

The methods used to obtain the information should not be entirely rigorous. As we have said previously, exploratory research only aims to find out the most relevant features of the problem to be developed.

Thus, the researcher can choose a little more freely which methods he will use to acquire the information he needs, and he can allow himself some flexibility in the collection of such data.

Helps define the research problem

Understanding the topic to be developed prior to delving into its study allows researchers to define the problem to be developed much better.

Exploratory research allows a first approach with less pressure of time and resources, since it is carried out before launching a whole major investigative process.

This makes it easier for researchers to decide in advance and with pertinent information which edges of a topic they will develop; Thanks to this the whole process becomes much more efficient.

It is part of the entire investigative process.

Any type of research must begin with exploratory research. Without having a clear idea (even superficial) about a research problem and its characteristics, it is impossible to carry out efficient research work that directly responds to the problem in question.

For this reason, the first approach is essential and, if you like, it corresponds to one of the most important moments of the entire research process.

You can follow the path set or open new lines of investigation

In an exploratory investigation, the researchers have ample possibilities to decide what will be the management of the topic to be developed.

If after their observations they consider that the considered approach is valid and pertinent, they can develop it in a much more in-depth investigative work.

On the contrary, if they determine that the perspective taken into account does not constitute a valid research problem, they are free to discard the chosen problem and consider new lines of research, related or not to the first topic.


When a researcher approaches a research problem for the first time, he should not rely only on his own observation, since the idea is to have a clear idea and as soon as possible to be able to decide assertively whether or not it is pertinent to delve into the problem. selected.

For this reason, there are two main types of exploratory research that researchers usually apply: consultation with experts in the area and documentary review.

consult experts

This type of exploratory research allows you to obtain a large amount of valuable information from people who are knowledgeable about the subject.

For it to work properly, the experts to be consulted must be carefully chosen. They should be people who fully understand the subject, who have studied this or other directly related topics and who have relevant information in relation to it.

If the correct team of experts is not chosen, there will be the risk of having information of little use, which will lead to wrong approximations and will work against an efficient investigation process.

documentary review

The documentary review in exploratory research consists of approaching the subject of study through bibliographic data that have a direct link with the research problem.

Other research works are included within this scope, such as theses, projects or reports, as well as books by specialists, surveys, statistics and any type of analysis that is related to the chosen problem.

It is important that the documentary sources considered are reliable and that their veracity can be verified. Otherwise, all the investigation will be based on weak elements.

It is prudent to go to publications edited by prestigious universities, recognized research centers and/or long-standing researchers with wide recognition in the area of ​​study.


As previously mentioned, the design of an exploratory investigation allows some flexibility, since the main function of this type of investigation is not to obtain completely proven answers, but to be the entry point for a deeper development of the topic.

Therefore, the research design will depend on the choice of the researcher, and the same will happen with the methods that are finally used.

One of the most recommended designs links two methods and research. That is, it is considered a direct approach through surveys, interviews and other direct access tools to the problem to be investigated.

This approach is complemented by the review of research carried out in the past and related to the subject, carried out by recognized experts in the investigative field. In the following section each of these methods will be explained in detail.

Methods for exploratory research

There are two main methods associated with exploratory research: the first involves a direct approach from the researcher to the problem to be developed; the second implies an approach to the problem through the work of third parties. Next we will detail the characteristics of each variant:

primary method

Through the primary method, the researcher approaches directly the elements related to the topic to be developed. In this way, he takes first-hand information and compiles it, to later analyze it and verify if he can effectively continue with the investigation.

One of the main tools of this design is observation. Through this, the researcher obtains a first notion of the characteristics of the study problem. There is no interaction with the subject, but his reactions related to the topic being developed are observed.

Likewise, the researcher can also make use of other statistical tools such as surveys; these can offer valuable information very quickly.

Interviews with subjects related to the research problem can also be scheduled, as well as focus groups with relevant actors who help to have a clear understanding of the problem.

secondary method

Through the secondary method, the researcher obtains the argumentation from sources external to him, such as previous works, published books related to the topic or even case studies that develop the same or related problems with the chosen one.

Since it will not be the researcher who will collect the information first hand, it is important to be completely sure that the data selected is credible; the foundations of an exploratory investigation must involve only verified information.

Steps for an exploratory investigation

Establishment of the research problem

The first necessary action in the framework of an exploratory investigation is to choose what will be the topic that is intended to be developed.

As in any other investigation, the ideal is that the chosen problem has an incidence on a certain group and whose solution is necessary to generate progress, whatever the determined field.

This first approach to the subject can be open; in fact, one of the characteristics of exploratory research is that it helps in delimiting the subject, so that at the beginning of the process it can be broad.

Confirmation or denial of the problem

Through the aforementioned research methods, the researcher must verify if the chosen problem is indeed valid and viable, or if, on the contrary, it should be approached from another point of view.

It is important that during this stage the researcher collects as much information as possible, through which he can get a first idea of ​​the implications and scope of the research problem.

This stage will be fundamental for the rest of the process, it is decisive to decide whether or not to continue with the investigation.

Generation of a hypothesis

In short, an exploratory investigation seeks to generate a hypothesis that gives rise to the development of other, more in-depth investigations.

Once it has been determined what is the fundamental notion related to the chosen research problem and what are the implications, a hypothesis can be created that is supported by the information collected.

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