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Exploratory Research and Descriptive Research

Updated on May 14, 2011

Differences Between Descriptive & Exploratory Research

Although research might initially seem like a simple gathering of information, it is essential to understand different methods to be an effective researcher. Exploratory and descriptive research are important elements in fields such as marketing, technological and educational research and the social sciences.

Exploratory Research

Researchers employ exploratory research when little is known about the topic and previous theories or ideas do not apply. For example, if you wanted to study how to get students to use the computer lab in a college environment, you might first have to do exploratory research to figure out which students might need the lab and what appeals to this demographic. Exploratory research clarifies problems, gathers data and creates initial hypothesis and theories about subjects. The primary point of exploratory research is to give researchers pertinent information and help them to form initial hypotheses about the subject.

Descriptive Research

Descriptive research is done with a specific research question in mind. It gives a set view of the subject, population, market segment or problem. An example of descriptive research would be a report that provides an age and gender breakdown of the users of a particular online service. Descriptive research provides research questions, populations or methods of analysis before the research is started. In marketing, it often consists of longitudinal studies, which study the behavior of individuals over time, and cross-sectional studies, which examine many populations at one specific time.

How Exploratory and Descriptive Research Work Together

Exploratory research must happen first for descriptive research to be effective. The latter organizes the data and hypotheses found during the exploratory process. Researchers must spend the necessary time in exploratory research before moving on to the descriptive phase.


Both exploratory and descriptive research have their place in forming a better understanding of a problem or issue, and understanding the difference between the two can make your research more targeted and effective.


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