The Complete Guide to Mastering the 6 Most Critical Types of Research for Any Research Endeavor

types of research

Understanding the six most critical types of research is an absolute must for market researchers and general researchers alike. 

The world of research is ever-expanding as new technologies evolve, new techniques for obtaining data arise and more secondary sources become available to the public.

However, the six chief types of research remain as the foremost processes for conducting investigations. They refer to specific types of research which include more than merely using a method of study.

This guide explains the six prominent types of research, when to use each, how they benefit business and more.

Defining the Major Types of Research

For the purpose of general research, a major type of research does not refer to conducting studies on a designated topic of choice (for example, sales research).

So what defines a “major” type of research?

When categorizing research into several key varieties, a “type of research” refers to a particular form of research that can examine virtually any topic and its variables, thorough particular means and approaches. These approaches involve using distinct components such as methods, processes and frequencies particular to one kind of research.

These components form the core of the research type, making it feasible to differentiate from others. Each variety of research is also bound by a unique purpose. This purpose is not thematic, as it can be applied to all kinds of subjects of study.

Despite operating through different approaches and methods, some forms of research share several features, including the purpose of the study/ the kind of results it seeks to some extent. 

The Need to Understand the Different Types of Research

Whether you operate under a B2C or a B2B business, either as a business owner or market researcher, you ought to verse yourself in the different types of research. This includes being able to distinguish between them and not confusing one for another. 

Before you tackle any area of concern to investigate for your research needs, you need to assure you’re setting your research project up for success. In order to form an effective research campaign, you’ll need to be methodical. 

This means you’ll need to tend to several concerns to build a successful campaign. This involves organizing your topic of study and inquiries into a particular variety of research. 

Doing so will ensure you apply the correct market research techniques and methods, the kinds that best suit the inquiries and needs of your topic of research, thus, best tending to your concerns.

When you use the correct type of research for your study, you’ll be able to understand it more thoroughly and thereby find more fitting changes and solutions. This is especially true when your area of study is a problem you would like to minimize or reverse. 

Using the correct form of research will also ensure that you are measuring and observing the correct elements and by way of a frequency best suited towards your research issue. 

Moreover, when you employ the proper type of research, it is far less likely to come upon errors and gaps that require answers. Thus, there is less of a need to start again or switch to a different type of research.

All of these areas of importance would be impossible to fulfill if you do not become familiar with them and are not able to tell them apart.  

The following explains the six most critical types of research.

Exploratory Research

What it is: Used to reveal facts and details around a topic with little to no research, exploratory research forms the foundation of the research process. It identifies a topic, be it an issue or a phenomenon with scant details and seeks to find its basic properties. 

As such, it finds the correct variables the researcher needs in order to begin the study, understand its basic elements and form a hypothesis. The key issue at hand, its variables and its hypothesis are used for further research. 

Essentially, this kind of research forms the premise of a research campaign, assuring that the variables and other components are indeed what the researcher needs to study in the next steps (other types of research). 

Stage in the research process: The very first

Conclusive? No

How it benefits a business: Before a business can explore an issue in-depth, it needs to decide on a specific topic, the existing problem within the topic and its key variables. This ensures the business is equipped to enter the next research stage (type) and that it does not have any extraneous variables or concerns that do not contribute to solving the problem. 

Descriptive Research

What it is: This type of research is premised on describing a phenomenon, behavior or problem discovered in an earlier stage of research, usually in exploratory research, although it can also be focused around that which was discovered in explanatory research. 

Descriptive research describes the nuances of a population, a variable or occurrence that a researcher requires further study on. Its objective centers on finding previously unknown facts or extracting more details on facets with fewer details.

It focuses on the what, how, when and where of a study rather than on the why.

Stage in the research process: The early portion of the middle stage 

Conclusive? Yes

How it benefits a business: It is crucial for a business to understand a phenomenon and its variables in a full or close-to-full context. This type of research helps a business do just that, as it finds all the key details about a phenomenon that a business may not have known about before conducting the research. 

What’s more is that, as a primarily quantitative form of research, it is apt for creating statistics. Being statistically-oriented allows this form of research to be conclusive, although it is considered to be in the early mid-stages of an entire research project.

These statistics are not simply key for internal resource purposes, but they provide a differentiating ingredient for your content. A strong content marketing strategy relies on putting out original insights; the data you derive from descriptive research is as original as it gets. This can be accomplished when you opt for a primary method (such as survey research).

Explanatory Research

What it is: Explanatory research is based on research that explains the already established aspects in a research campaign. It fills in the gaps and connects the dots from exploratory and descriptive research.

This type of research is unique in that it can be conducted either prior to or after descriptive research. As such, it rests in the early to mid-stages of the overall research process. 

Like descriptive research, it works to shine a light on the various details that make up a research subject of study. However, contrary to descriptive research, it does not simply seek to describe, but rather to explain.

Thus, this research category falls under qualitative research. It helps find the why of a problem or phenomenon. It is not conclusive. 

Stage in the research process: Early to mid-stages (can be performed before or after descriptive research, depending on a business’s needs). 

Conclusive? No

How it benefits a business: It benefits a business in that it seeks to go beyond describing a subject of study. Rather, it plunges into a subject in greater depth, finding the kinds of insights that descriptive research cannot.

Additionally, it is flexible. It can be conducted following exploratory research and either before or after descriptive research, the only research of its kind to offer this benefit.

This research involves studying an important aspect that is studied in the later stages of the entire process, that of cause and effect. Explanatory research studies cause and effect relationships so as to explain their scope and nature, a critical precursor for correlational and causal research. 

Correlational Research 

What it is: Correlational research is a study into the relationship between two variables. Inspecting precisely two variables, this type of research seeks to discover and render the relationship between variables suspected of relating in some way.

This research seeks to make sense out of the variables identified in earlier stages of research. Although correlational research is not sufficient to conclude on cause and effect relationships, it is necessary to conduct to find whether a relationship between variables exists to begin with.  

An observational form of research, it is non-experimental; there is no controlling or manipulation of the variables involved.  

The relationship between the variables can be either positive, negative or zero (nonexistent). 

Stage in the research process: Middle stage 

Conclusive? No

How it benefits a business: Being able to determine if there is a positive, negative or zero correlation between two variables allows researchers to know how to move on to the next step: finding a cause and effect relationship between the variables. 

A zero correlation informs a business that there’s no need to further study the relationship between two particular variables, saving the business money and time. A negative or positive correlation dictates that further research is needed to discover whether there is cause and effect relationship.

Either way, the results derived from this type of research are highly influential on the next steps a business decides to take in their research process: whether to end it, continue and how. 

Above all, it reveals how two variables relate to one other, giving a business a clearer picture of the environment they operate within, whether the variables concern sales figures, impressions or something more abstract like customer loyalty. 

Causal Research 

What it is: Causal research is founded on the undertaking of determining cause and effect relationships. As such, it involves conducting experiments and testing markets in a controlled setting. It is more scientific than any of the previous types of research.

This kind of research uses the findings from correlational and explanatory research in an attempt to unearth causal relationships. Since correlation does not equal causation, causal research studies whether the variables with a negative or positive correlation have any effect on the other variable(s) in the study.

Causal research has two objectives: finding which variable forms the cause and which makes up the effect, and understanding the relationship of the causal variables after the effect occurs. 

Stage in the research process: Late-final stage 

Conclusive? Yes

How it benefits a business: Often the final form of research, causal research is critical to complete the entire process. It involves conducting both secondary and primary research, the latter of which is experimental.

As such, this research type does not only observe, rather it investigates the variables themselves, manipulating them and controlling them as needed. This is crucial for a business in that it not only analyzes, but proves the existence of a causal relationship, along with how the effect manifests.

Thus, this research is not only conclusive, as it finds the most important result that a business or market researcher seeks: a proven answer to their hypothesis. This allows researchers to close off the research process, or conduct further experimental research if they so choose.

Experimental Research 

What it is: Experimental research vigorously follows a scientific research design. It is entirely scientific, more so than causal research, as it nearly, if not fully implements the scientific method towards finding a solution.

The final stage of the research process, this kind of research uses all the information from the previous stages to conduct an experiment to test a hypothesis. It can also follow causal research; causal research itself is a kind of experimental research.

Researchers can conduct further experiments on the variables they found causal relationships for, in that they can test how to reverse an unwanted correlation, or minimize it to some degree. Or, further experiments can show a business how to reap more benefits from a desired correlation.

Stage in the research process: Final stage 

Conclusive? Yes

How it benefits a business: Experimental research proves or disproves a hypothesis; as such, it is the final stage in the research process. It is the most scientific kind, leaving little to no room for errors, intuition or bias.

It can be used to accommodate causal research, digging further into a discovered cause and effect relationship. This is especially important for a business, as while it is critical to know whether a causal relationship exists, understanding how to move forward with this knowledge is of the essence.

Experimental research allows brands to test discovered causal relationships further, finding much-needed solutions. For example, a brand may want to learn how to reduce an unwanted correlation or to increase a needed correlation. Moreover, conducting further experiments can show brands how to gain a desired causal relationship sooner.

Complementing Your Research

In summary, there are six major types of research. A market researcher must consider these carefully before setting up their market research campaign. In order to build a comprehensive and effective study, you need to be able to organize your research.

To begin this endeavor, you need to classify your research topic(s) under a particular campaign, such as advertising, for example. Following this, you need to create a smooth and educated process. Thus, you need to follow the research process by way of the 6 dominant forms of research that this guide explains.

Doing so will ensure you conduct a comprehensive research campaign, one that leaves little to discover, except for possible future events, In order to complement your research, you need to conduct effective surveys for research campaigns. These allow you to understand your target market or target population. Even in experimental research, conducting surveys helps fill in the cracks and find answers to the unknown. Understanding your respondents, i.e., customers is paramount for a business. The proper online survey tool does not solely compliment a business or research endeavor, it completes it.