How to Conduct Descriptive Research to Advance Your Business

How to Conduct Descriptive Research to Advance Your Business

Descriptive research is one of the main types of survey research and makes up the majority of online surveys.

Many times, researchers need to conduct descriptive research before they attempt to problem solve, as this sort of research aims to set the scene of a problem. Moreover, it is used prior to an issue being fully realized by researchers, as it is used to probe into the background of a problem.

Because of this, descriptive research is often used as a preliminary research method. However, this is not always the case, as when researchers are fully aware of an issue, they can perform experimental research or correlational research, which can be conducted first.

But in most cases, to fully understand a situation, descriptive research is useful in that it paints a clear picture of the problem, so it is often conducted in the early stages of research, just after exploratory research.

This article offers a deep dive into descriptive research, how it’s conducted and how it can help advance your business.

Defining Descriptive Research

As its name suggests, this form of research seeks to describe the key factors of a problem, phenomenon, situation or the behaviors of a population.  

Descriptive research expounds on a population, occurrence or situation that a researcher chooses to or requires to study. As such, it aims on discovering latent details about a particular situation to fully understand it.

A preliminary research method, descriptive research forms the what, how, when and where surrounding a subject of study rather than on the why.

Before conducting research that explains why a phenomenon exists, it is critical to understand that it exists in the first place. It is also important to understand its full context, including particulars you may not have known about before conducting descriptive research. 

Descriptive research is conclusive in nature, as the data derived from this research can be used to create statistics and make educated inferences on a target population

The Key Aspects of Descriptive Research

Now that we have established the core meaning of descriptive research, it is critical to understand its makeup. This form of research has various qualities researchers ought to look into, to better understand its characteristics.

The following enumerates the key features of this research:

  1. Provides basic details regarding a research problem.
  2. Performed after exploratory research: it delves deeper into a hypothesis or theoretical idea established in exploratory research, while still being an early part of the overall research process.
  3. Fills in missing data: this is especially true when exploratory research is first performed.
  4. Preplanned and structured: Designed for further research around a phenomenon.
  5. Quantitative in nature: this research gathers numerical data used for making statistical analyses and drawing conclusions in relation to the studied population.
  6. Incorporates qualitative research: it can also include elements of qualitative research, to describe the research problem thoroughly. This is because descriptive research is more explanatory than exploratory or experimental.
  7. Uses uncontrolled variables: variables in this research are not controlled, as the researcher’s job is simply to observe and report, but not to interfere with the variables. 
  8. Creates statistical relevance: this method studies a population to draw statistical inferences about it. 
  9. Gateway for deeper research: After the results of descriptive research are collected, they can be used to power further analysis and research methods. 
  10. Cannot make predictions or find causal relationships: it covers the what, how, etc. aspects that can be later used for further research such as experimental, causal and prospective research. 

Why Your Business Needs Descriptive Research

Businesses need descriptive research for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it provides additional information about a topic, with details that exploratory research alone cannot. Dovetailing to this is the fact that descriptive research is still a part of the early stages of a research campaign, as it does not explain the “why” around a problem. 

Businesses benefit from this research as it is used to measure the opinions, attitudes of your current customers and potential ones, i.e., those in your target market. You can also gather information about their behaviors to help you segment them.

In addition, the information acquired through descriptive research can be used for advanced data analysis that allows business owners and marketers to draw conclusions, segment audiences, measure trends, and make well-informed decisions on how to move forward

Several common descriptive research surveys include the following list. You’ll notice that these deal with differing topics and purposes, though still fall under descriptive research. As such, descriptive research helps businesses better understand their customers, their employees, their communities and much more. 

Descriptive Research Survey Examples

  1. The NPS survey (Net Promoter Score) 
    1. To understand how likely your customers will recommend your brand or particular product or service. 
  2. The cross-sectional survey
    1. Studies a particular population at one particular point in time.
    2. Can help confirm or disprove a hypothesis of, for example, shopping behavior during an ad campaign.   
  3. The community survey
    1. Ideal for brick and mortar businesses seeking to understand their community and community needs better.
  4. The employee feedback survey
    1. Sets the scene on employee sentiment and satisfaction with a business.
    2. Useful during mergers, acquisitions, growth spurts or simple quarterly reviews.
  5. The Product satisfaction survey
  1. Focuses on the product side of a business.
  2. Helps you business understand how your product is being received, including the presence of any glitches. 

How Descriptive Research Differs from Correlational, Exploratory and Experimental Research

Descriptive research differs significantly from the other main types of research methods known as exploratory and correlational research.

Descriptive research is commonly confused with exploratory research. While these two research methods both involve the initial studies of a research process along with identifying a problem or situation, they differ significantly. 

Exploratory research provides information about a problem the researcher faces. It is usually the very initial research method researchers turn to. Alternatively, descriptive research pursues describing something, such as its characteristics and functions.

An exploratory research campaign provides the underpinning of upcoming research (usually descriptive research) to discover if the subject of study can be explained by a theory. Unlike descriptive research, exploratory research is not conclusive, as it is not concerned with stats and quantifying data. 

Descriptive research, on the other hand, is conclusive in nature, as it is primarily quantitative and focused on forming statistics. It is also rigid and structured, while exploratory research is flexible and unstructured. 

Correlational research differs from descriptive research in that it is designed to uncover relationships among variables to see how one may affect another or others

Additionally, the results of correlational research are used to make predictions of future events from present insights.

On the contrary, descriptive research seeks to create a snapshot of a studied subject and does not involve testing variables, whereas correlational research does and is primarily involved with exploring the relationships between variables. 

Experimental research is, like its name implies, highly experimental, as opposed to purely observational, such as descriptive research. Essentially the complete opposite of descriptive research in several regards. Firstly, it is related to correlational research, as it studies relationships between variables, but it takes this concept a step further.

Secondly, it works by interfering with variables. Experimental research involves manipulating variables to come to a conclusion or finding. Unlike descriptive research, it is usually conducted in the final stages of a research project.

Piggybacking off of correlational research, it seeks to find the cause and effect of causal relationships, the kind that correlational research would discover.

Additionally, unlike descriptive research, which answers “what is,” experimental research answers “what if.” 

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Descriptive Research

Descriptive research has various advantages for business owners and researchers alike. However, as with any research method, there are a few drawbacks to keep in mind as well. 

The Advantages

  1. Grants a relatively complete illustration of what is occurring at a given time.
  2. Quantifies and analyses non-quantified issues and subjects. 
  3. Observes a situation naturally, allowing for the observation of variables in their natural environments.
  4. The least time-consuming quantitative initiative.
  5. Can use both quantitative and qualitative research techniques.
  6. Can be used to create new hypotheses, delve into hypotheses and hypotheticals and create new research questions.
  7. Provides an extensive view of a topic, finding gaps and unknown details.
  8. Defines and measures data trends.
  9. Comparisons, ex: how various demographics react with the same and different variables. 
  10. Offers unique data collection, i.e., it can exist in the forms of: 
    1. examining life experiences
    2. reports 
    3. case studies (including personal accounts of participants)
    4. surveys

The Disadvantages

  1. Cannot determine cause and effect relationships, or the causes behind any phenomena. 
  2. Falls prey to survey bias, as respondents may answer questions with answers that are more desirable or in line with social norms. 
  3. Bias can also occur from the researchers’ end when they frame the questions to fit a certain narrative. 
  4. Leaves scarce room for diversity in answers since the question types of descriptive research are close-ended. 

Excelling in Descriptive Research

With all the various research types available, it is key to find the most appropriate type for your needs. Descriptive research is invaluable to use in the early stages of your research around a topic, however, it is not the earliest kind to incorporate. 

It usually follows exploratory research, which lays down the foundation of a research project, including hypotheses and curiosities that descriptive research can further probe. As there are many ways to conduct descriptive research, researchers need to find concrete means for conducting them.

Surveys are a relatively quick and accessible method for carrying out descriptive research. A strong online survey platform will facilitate the descriptive research process. 

How to Conduct Exploratory Research for Your Early Research Needs

How to Conduct Exploratory Research for Your Early Research Needs

Exploratory research is one of the main types of general and survey research. It works to investigate an issue, occurrence or phenomenon that is not clearly defined.

The most preliminary form of research, exploratory precedes descriptive research, another early survey research campaign.

As such, market researchers and virtually all other researchers need to incorporate exploratory research in their market research campaigns, as they would be remiss to not fully comprehend a problem before probing further into it or attempting to fix it. 

This article examines exploratory research, what makes it up, how to conduct it, how it differs from the other main forms of research and the kinds of surveys to use to carry out this research.

Defining Exploratory Research

Exploratory research is defined as an initial form of research that studies a hypothetical or theoretical idea, that is, one which has not yet been fully developed, let alone proven.

As such, this research begins with a researcher’s idea about something within their sphere of study; for example, they’ve noticed interest around their brand has fallen in a particular quarter. 

The researcher will thus use exploratory research to gain a better understanding of this unexplored idea, prove that it exists in significant ways/amounts and study other issues surrounding it.

The issues and other details that they discover can be carried over as the focus for future research campaigns, namely descriptive research, as the next logical type of research.

Exploratory research is defined as a research used to investigate a problem which is not clearly defined. It is conducted to have a better understanding of the existing problem, but will not provide conclusive results.

Also called grounded theory approach or interpretive research, exploratory research helps answer questions like the “what,” “why” and “how.”

The Key Aspects of Exploratory Research

Now that we have established the core meaning and function of exploratory research, it is critical to understand its makeup. This form of research has various qualities researchers ought to look into, to better understand its characteristics.

The following enumerates the key features of this research:

  1. The initial form of research around a particular subject of study.
  2. Lays the groundwork about a study for future research.
  3. Investigates an issue that is not fully defined.
  4. Gathers information that can be explored in more depth in descriptive research.
  5. Exists in two forms: Via a new topic or via a new angle
    1. A new topic is usually unexpected and provides startling findings.
    2. A new angle arises from different ways of looking at things, either from a theoretical perspective or a new way of measuring something.
  6. Enables a researcher to answer foundational questions such as: What is the problem? What is the purpose of the research? What topics should be studied?
  7. Exploratory research uses unstructured studies.
  8. Involves forming a few theories which can support its findings to make it easier for the researcher to assess them.
  9. Typically involves yielding qualitative research.
  10. Can produce quantitative research that can be used to generalize larger samples in certain cases, such as through the use of experiments and quantitative surveys.

Why Your Business Needs Exploratory Research

Businesses need exploratory research for a variety of reasons. Firstly, this research method uncovers details and facts about a murky subject — the kinds that a business hasn’t previously known about. 

It sets the foundation for understanding a problem, occurrence or phenomenon by finding its basic properties. This ensures that a business finds the right information (such as the variables) which can be further studied in descriptive, correlational and experimental research.  

Although it rarely provides enough insights to make conclusive business decisions, it forms the basis of a research issue on which businesses can set up objectives and requirements for continual studies. 

After all, a company cannot conduct further research around a topic, without assuredly knowing about its existence and certain characteristics that warrant further exploration.

With exploratory research, businesses extract:

  • The groundwork for other types of research
  • Key facts about matters critical to their business
  • Opinions from their target market
  • The existence of specific market segments (via market segmentation)
  • An understanding what is worth pursuing for survey studies and other research 

Exploratory Research Survey Examples

  1. The qualitative survey
    1. Helps answer the what, why and how with open-ended questions.
    2. Extracts key high-level information in depth. 
  2. The cross-sectional survey
    1. Studies a particular population at one particular point in time.
    2. Can help form a hypothesis of for example, shopping behavior during a seasonal campaign.   
  3. The customer experience (CX) survey
    1. Finds foundational insights on customers’ CX.
    2. Finds glitches and other issues in a customer journey that a business was not aware of.
  4. The employee feedback survey
    1. Finds unknown employee sentiment around various areas of business.
    2. Useful during mergers, acquisitions, growth spurts or simple quarterly reviews.
  5. The business survey
    1. For general inquiries, understanding the high level details.
    2. Although it can be used for other forms of research, this survey can help identify a problem.

How Exploratory Research Differs from Correlational, Exploratory and Experimental Research

Exploratory research differs significantly from the other main types of research methods such as correlational research and experimental research.

However, exploratory research is often conflated with descriptive research. Although both forms of research are conducted in the early stages of the entire research process, they are not the same, as they bear key differing qualities.

Exploratory research provides the foundation, hypothesis or discovery about a problem the researcher suspects is present. Thus, it is the very first form of research required to conduct over an unstudied or unknown topic. 

Descriptive research, on the other hand, is predicated on describing something already established, discovered or suspected in exploratory research. Thus descriptive research follows exploratory research in the overall research process. It describes characteristics, functions, occurrences, frequencies and other required key facts before the researcher moves to correlational or experimental research.

Descriptive research, as opposed to exploratory research, is conclusive. It is predominantly quantitative and fixed on creating statistics. It is also rigid and structured, while exploratory research is flexible and unstructured. 

Correlational research differs from exploratory research in that it is one of the latter forms or research, whereas exploratory is the most preliminary kind. 

It processes well-established information that exploratory and descriptive research have found. Its primary function is to uncover relationships among variables to see how one may affect another or others. 

The results of correlational research can be used to make predictions of future events from present insights.

Experimental research contrasts with exploratory research, in that it is also one of the latter forms of research, if not the very final. Unlike exploratory research, experimental research is far less observational or passive. Rather, as its name hints at, it is highly experimental, as it uses a scientific approach on two sets of variables.

Using a scientific research design, it forms experiments to find cause-and-effect relationships between defined variables. Also called hypothesis testing or a deductive research method, itis conducted in a controlled environment so that variables can be measured, calculated and then compared. .

Experimental research involves manipulating variables to come to a conclusion or finding. It helps find conclusions to an original subject of research or answers to a previously discovered problem in exploratory research. 

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Exploratory Research

Exploratory research offers several benefits for researchers and businesses. However, as with all other research methods, there are a few setbacks to this type of research. 

The Advantages

  1. Enables further research on an established issue.
  2. Unstructured, allowing the researcher to be flexible in their study.
  3. A low-cost form of research.
  4. Allows researchers to decide whether a topic is worth studying further or not.
  5. Can save valuable time, money and resources, if a discovered topic is deemed unnecessary for further research.
  6. Helps researchers in the early stages of discovering the cause of a problem.
  7. Points researchers to an objective or signals researchers to avoid some.

The Disadvantages

  1. Qualitative data, the main kind of data derived from exploratory research, can be easy to misinterpret when generalizing a population.
  2. Although it steers further research, it is inconclusive. 
  3. Although it can be used in different survey sampling methods, it usually involves using a smaller sampling pool, making it inept at generalizing populations.
  4. When collected via secondary sources, the data may be outdated and thus not fully accurate with the present.

How to Conduct Exploratory Research

This form of research is known to be unstructured, so there are no hard and fast rules on how to conduct it, as long as it adheres to its key aspects. The following explains the basic universal approach for conducting exploratory research.

  1. Identify the problem: The core of the research, this may take a few brainstorming sessions.
    1. Accrue secondary research that relates to your suspected problem, issue or phenomenon.
    2. Conduct a basic survey to see if there is any truth to your identified issue.
  2. Create the hypothesis: If there are no prior studies or the problem is not fully under control or has a workaround form a hypothesis based on research from the previous step.
  3. Conduct further research: Continue researching to see if there is any truth to the existence of the problem and its possible solution/hypothesis.
    1. Conduct surveys, focus groups, interviews and more secondary research.
    2. Decide whether the subject at large and its hypothesis are worth delving into further in descriptive research.

Excelling in Exploratory Research

Exploratory research forms the building blocks of an overall research project, as it constructs the groundwork of a research subject that will later be explored (in descriptive research), tested (in correlational research) and manipulated in (experimental research).

As a researcher, perhaps there will be times that you won’t need to conduct much exploratory research. This is true in cases where you have some familiarity with a subject or are certain of its existence in your business, in which case, you can proceed to descriptive or experimental research. 

In any case, you need to be fully aware of a problem or other phenomenon before conducting any further research on it. This is where exploratory research excels.

In order to be skillful in exploratory research, you need to turn to several resources, such as secondary research, case studies, literature within your industry/niche and finally, surveys. Although surveys ask for specifics, they too are invaluable for conducting exploratory research, as they help uncover the what, giving credence to any suspicions you may have had prior to endeavoring in research.

As such, using a potent online survey platform will assist, guide and launch the key tool in your exploratory research.

Frequently asked questions

What is exploratory research?

Exploratory research is conducted on ideas that are not fully developed. Researchers usually start brainstorming an idea that lies within their specialization and develop it into a broader concept.

What are the key features of exploratory research?

The key features of exploratory research include the initial research on a specific topic, laying the foundation of the research topic, investigating the issue, and collecting information that supports descriptive research.

Why is exploratory research important for businesses?

Exploratory research is vital for businesses, as it helps them understand the root causes of their problems and find ways to solve them. As a result, businesses find the correct information and access appropriate resources to develop the chosen idea. It can also help enterprises to set up objectives for continual development studies.

What kind of surveys can you make with exploratory research?

Exploratory research can help you conduct:
Qualitative surveys – brilliant for gathering in-depth information and open-ended questions
Cross-sectional surveys – suitable for studying a sample size of a particular demographic at a time
Employee feedback surveys – help understand how employees feel about the workplace and their work

What is the difference between exploratory research and experimental research?

Exploratory research takes an idea and develops it further. But experimental research is far less observational as it uses a scientific approach to test two sets of variables.