How Explanatory Research Helps You Succeed in Business

How Explanatory Research Helps You Succeed in Business

Explanatory research is a necessary part of the overall research process. It is especially potent when researchers come across a problem that was not well-researched before.

It is formed to allow researchers to become better acquainted with a certain topic, one that was already established at the basic level — the exploratory level to be specific. As such, explanatory research follows exploratory research in the overarching process.

A kind of descriptive research, it provides insight into a certain subject and allows it to be further probed. In fact, it is designed to be the earliest form of descriptive research.

This article expounds on explanatory research, what defines it, its use to businesses, how to conduct it and much more. 

Defining Explanatory Research

Explanatory research is a research design intended to explain, as its name suggests, the different aspects of your research study. In this stage of the research process, researchers study what they’ve already identified in exploratory research.

As such, explanatory research provides further details from an established groundwork of study in the previous stage. It is bent on uncovering a problem, phenomenon or occurrence in greater depth.

The subject of the study is not entirely barren of research, as some details exist, but they are minor and require additional research. Researchers ought to be able to adapt to the new information they will come by when conducting exploratory research.

Rather than providing conclusive results around a topic, it enables the researcher to garner insights in the “how” and “why” of the subject at hand.

The following enumerates the defining characteristics of this kind of research:

The Key Aspects of Explanatory Research

In order to conduct explanatory research properly and reap all of its benefits, researchers need to understand its makeup. There are various facets that comprise this kind of research; thus you should be aware of all of them, as this will ensure you conduct it correctly.

In addition, since this kind of research is a kind of descriptive research, it is crucial to be able to tell it apart from its parent category, as it is a distinct form of research.

The following enumerates the defining characteristics of this kind of research:

  1. The purpose is to increase the understanding of a topic and/or its subtopics.
  2. Its nature is that of qualitative research, as it seeks discovery of the “why” surrounding the problem/ phenomenon.
  3. It does not provide conclusive results.
  4. Given its qualitative nature, it does not prove statistical significance.
  5. It relies on using both secondary and primary sources of information, with a particular bent on secondary information, as it is already available, thus helping researchers understand key aspects without pursuing their own research just yet.
  6. The issue in this kind of research is not obviously characterized (in the beginning of it).
  7. It requires the researcher to become versed in the topic under examination.
  8. It can be used to form theories and hypotheses.
  9. It is used before delving into other descriptive research, such as that which focuses on gathering quantitative data.
  10. This research completes the bedrock of research from exploratory research, as it is needed before completing any subsequent research, such as correlational or experimental research.

Why Your Business Needs Explanatory Research

Explanatory research provides several benefits for market researchers and for the business sphere in general. First off, it completes a missing gap in the overall research process, specifically in descriptive research. 

This is due to the fact that explanatory research aims at going beyond describing; rather it is focused on explaining. This involves gathering key insights that form the major ideas behind other forms of research.

Although explanatory research is not scientific like its causal and experimental research counterparts, it peers into cause and effect relationships in that it identifu=ies their scope and nature. 

As such, businesses must perform explanatory research to evaluate the impacts of certain changes to standards, processes, techniques, etc.

Moreover, a business can better understand opportunities and threats when incorporating explanatory. Immersing into the specifics of a problem in greater depth allows businesses to understand what needs to be prioritized, decide on what needs to be studied in more depth in correlational, causal or experimental research, and infer on ways to mitigate or resolve an issue. 

All in all, a business can benefit from explanatory research when it has an issue that: 

  • researchers can use to explain why a phenomenon occurs
  • was identified in exploratory research, 
  • was unknown about prior  
  • was not well investigated before

An Example of Explanatory Research for Business

Market researchers can apply explanatory research to explain why a phenomenon takes place, which they can use to predict future occurrences. Thus, it goes beyond finding descriptions alone and can be conducted either before or following descriptive research.

The following is an example of how a business can use this research: 

An electronics business may seek to understand all the factors that contribute to customer satisfaction, in the wake of new product additions. The business would weigh each factor against one another to see how to increase satisfaction along with increasing sales.

As such, the business turns to the various methods to conduct explanatory research, such as using:

  • Literature research (secondary) 
  • Studying each issue in-depth via field research (primary)
  • Case study research (secondary but can be primary if it is generated via your own research)
  • Random sampling surveys 

The explanatory research that the electronics company conducted would reveal how the different factors are contributing to customer satisfaction, if they can extend to other areas and how they can be used to bolster sales.

This research can also look into cause and effect relationships or suspected cause and effect relationships that can be further explored in causal research. 

The electronics business discovers that certain new items can be delivered more quickly, thus creating more customer happiness. The company then uses this knowledge to reengineer its shipping, handling and returns process so that it is more efficient.

Explanatory Research Survey Examples

Explanatory research goes a long way in building effective survey studies, as surveys provide a key source of primary research. Explanatory studies are best suited using random sampling methods to avoid survey bias.

Here are a few survey types that researchers can use for this kind of study: 

  1. The qualitative survey
    1. Helps answer the what, why and how with open-ended questions.
    2. Obtains the respondents’ explanations needed for this research.
  2. The customer experience survey
    1. Helps businesses study variables that contribute to or result from certain kinds of customer experiences. 
    2. Allows businesses to test CX in relation to the responses from this survey.
  3. The customer satisfaction survey
    1. Especially useful when bringing new products/services into the market to compare them with previous ones.
    2. Features 4 subtypes of unique surveys.
  4. The concept testing survey
    1. Ideal for researching new concepts or those identified in exploratory research.
    2. Can be used for various aspects of business.
  5. The panel survey
    1. Part of longitudinal studies, it studies the same sample pool over a period of time.
    2. Provides an explanatory angle, as it gains continual observations on different variables. 

How Explanatory Research Differs from Correlational, Exploratory, Descriptive and Causal Research

Explanatory research differs from exploratory, descriptive and correlational research in self-evident ways. 

However, it is often confused with exploratory studies. Both of these forms of research are conducted early in the entire research process. However, they differ in several ways.

Exploratory research aims to identify the very foundation of a research problem. It also clarifies problems and forms hypotheses. 

Explanatory research, on the other hand, aims to explain issues and come across possible cause and effect relationships to explore later. It also finds theories that can test hypotheses in causal or experimental research. 

Although this is a kind of descriptive research, it is a distinct kind and cannot be categorized under all descriptive studies. This is because descriptive research involves studying metrics such as the average, mean, median and frequency. 

As such, it is far more quantitative in nature than is explanatory research, which aims to explain, thus, it gathers qualitative research. Additionally, explanatory research is designated to explain rather than solely describe.

Causal research involves finding the cause-and-effect relationships between variables and while explanatory research looks into cause and effect, it does not employ experimentation as does causal research. 

Experimental research is fully science and experiment-based and completely divergent from explanatory research. It works to prove or disprove a hypothesis via a scientific approach. example used in the previous selection).

Correlational research, which is also focused on observation and does not apply any alterations or conditioning to the variables, focuses on observing the relationships between variables. Explanatory research, on the other hand, involves studying various aspects and issues.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Explanatory Research

There are various benefits to applying explanatory research to your research process. However, it also carries a few setbacks. As a researcher, or someone interested in using research to advance business, you ought to know both.

The Advantages

  1. It allows researchers to discover deeper insight into virtually any topic.
  2. Deeper insights provide more subtopics and specific issues to be studied in further research.
  3. It helps identify new business opportunities, as well as latent threats.
  4. It can help you learn more about your competition whether it is direct or indirect.
  5. It is flexible in the sources it uses: from focus groups, to various literature, to surveying, to field research and more.
  6. It creates a higher level of internal validity due to the systematic selection of subjects.
  7. It reveals the reasons behind a wide scope of processes and occurrences.
  8. It can evaluate the effect of change on existing norms.
  9. It is flexible in terms of configuration as well, as it can be conducted after exploratory research or without the need for exploratory research, as well as prior to or following descriptive research.
  10. Findings can help guide correlational and causal research.

The Disadvantages

  1. It is not at all conclusive.
  2. Sample sizes tend to be modest, which is not ideal for a targeted/ specific type of audience.
  3. It can fall prey to the researcher’s bias with little to no experimentation involved.
  4. Not all secondary sources are updated and fitting for conducting new research into a previously scarcely-researched topic.

How to Conduct Explanatory Research

Explanatory research is often conducted early on in the research process, typically following exploratory research, although it can be the very first form of research. Since this form of research intends to explain, it can be at times difficult to conduct, or know when you’ve gathered enough information.

The following explains the key steps required to successfully perform explanatory research. 

  1. Find a key issue you discovered in exploratory research.
  2. Or, you may begin by looking at current issues with little details to them.
  3. Begin by looking at high-level aspects of an issue by conducting secondary research. Use the following:
    1. Online literature
    2. Case studies
    3. Competitor websites
    4. Statistics websites
  4. Then, begin your primary research. It can exist in a number of ways.
  5. You can perform an in-depth study on each issue and/or phenomenon by zeroing in on secondary sources, or moving on to primary research.
  6. Use a focus group or interview to understand the subjects involved in the topic of study.
  7. If you detect any missing information you’d like to pursue, go further by conducting surveys. 
    1. Surveys round off the research process, as they provide unique insights into your customers and prospects.
  8. Organize your findings into various documents and begin your survey analysis. 

Opening New Possibilities

Researchers can discover new possibilities for their study with explanatory research, and the same applies to businesses and market researchers. 

While it is not conclusive, this kind of research helps brands understand a situation, occurrence or customer behavior in greater depth. Additionally, it helps researchers refine the hypotheses they’ve made in exploratory research and can even predict future events.

As such, businesses have plenty to gain from conducting this form of qualitative research, which complements descriptive research. A robust survey platform can help bring explanatory research into life, easing the process when combing through cumbersome internet research.