Exploratory Research

Exploratory research is a type of research that is undertaken when a problem is not clearly defined of yet. Exploratory research enables the researcher become familiar with the problems and also with the topic under investigation. It helps in collection of information that will be useful in the definition of the problem and coming up with probable hypothesis. Exploratory research is also done to test concepts of a particular hypothesis before they are rolled out to the marketplace. This research method helps in determining the best data collection methods, research methods and selection of subjects (Babbie, 2007).

Findings made from exploratory research are not useful in problem solving though they provide good insight to a stated problem. Exploratory research mainly relies on secondary data collection methods such as revision of available literature interviews, case studies, pilot studies and informal interviews with employees, competitors, management and customers, group discussions (Cotler, 2006).

Naturalistic observation is where the subject under investigation is observed in its natural habitat without manipulation from the observer without asking questions or carrying out any tests on the subject (Cherry, 2011). When dealing with naturalistic observation, the observer must take great care not to interfere with the behavior that is under investigation so as to produce good results under the natural context. The investigator should only make observations and record them under the usual setting. Naturalistic observation is not made unique by the fact that the environment is created by the observer nor is it to be manipulated in any way during the research.


Naturalistic observation can serve many purposes. It provides a good description of the phenomena under investigation it can also be used as a source of hypothesis. Naturalistic observation comes with a good share of advantages but also have its disadvantages. Observing behavior under its natural setting defiantly will provide more credible results as opposed to the results that can be obtained when observation is made from setting such as a laboratory that is a manipulated setting. However, naturalistic observation is not a good source of explanations of the observed behavior. This type of observation does not provide information on cause-and-effect. Such information can however be explained after experiments are done through manipulation of variables that are contrary to naturalistic observation.

The most basic concept of naturalistic observation is a very keen observer. When dealing with naturalistic observation, two main methods of data collection are applied, overt and covert. When using the overt technique, the subject under investigation is aware of the investigation under way. The subject is also aware and conversant with the purpose of the research. An example of naturalistic observation is when observing different shoppers picking goods from the shelves of a supermarket. The shoppers are aware that they are being observed. Overt observation may however not influence subjects at a distance. The research procedure may be deemed disruptive by some subjects if the purpose of such observations is not explained clearly to the subject. In order to deal with such problems the observer should take some time to explain his presence and the research procedure so as to obtain as much natural behavior as possible (Milgram, 1992).

So as to ensure natural behavior, sometimes the observer may use the covert technique. In covert, the subject under investigation is not aware of the purpose of the investigation or the presence of an observer. The subject is also not aware that they are part of a study project. The investigator can directly mingle with the subject of the investigation and write down note on observations secretly. Hiding one’s work may otherwise restrict one’s ability to make observations (Milgram, 1992). These go against the ethics of research going into consideration of how a researcher is supposed to secretly study his human subjects without their approval.

Data collected through naturalistic observation is primarily qualitative in nature as it seeks to answer questions such as “how many” and “how often.” Naturalistic observation gives details in the form of numeric and or graphs to show how subjects of the research topic behave under their natural setting. Tabulation tables are mostly used in recording of collected data. Although no explanations are given, sometimes the observations made are usually given in the form of word descriptions.

Participant observation, whose main aim is to acquire very close familiarity with a group of the subject part of the study, is mainly used in cultural anthropology. Frank Hamilton extensively used participant observation of research in his study of the Zuni Indians (Atkinson, 1994). In participant observational method, the researcher takes part or is part of the social situation that is under investigation. The researcher experiences the events first hand as the other participants in the study experience them. While observing and experiencing the events, the researcher must however be very objective so as to understand, analyze and be able to explain the social context under study.

Non participant observational method is a research based method that is conducted without the awareness of the research subject. It is also known as unobtrusive or nonreactive research. There are two types of non-participant observational methods, disguised observation and natural experimentation. Data generated from nonparticipant observational method is mainly qualitative.  Initially, permission was not sought from the subjects of a research topic during the observing stage but now failure to seek permission violates the ethics of research, informed consent. Anyway some styles of non-participant observation still are used in sociology, cultural anthropology, and social psychology. Commonly used non participant study methods are behavior trace studies, content analysis and archival research. These methods do not necessarily require the observer to be involved in the actual setting observation for natural behavior to be observed. When using non participant observational methods, the researcher can only rely on systematically recorded data as they cannot verify the findings from nonparticipant subjects.

Although both methods are used secretly, the main difference between participant and non-participant observation is that in participant observation, the researcher joins the group under investigation and at the same time should be able to make observations. In nonparticipant observation, the researcher only observes the events but does not take part in them.

Concealed observation is a type of observation that is hidden from the participants of the research objective. It may be hidden or concealed for any particular purpose only well known by the researcher. This method is the same as the covert technique that is done without the consent of the subjects. Non concealed observation is an observational method where observation and recording is done in the awareness of the subject. This method is the same as the overt technique.

Systematic observation includes naturalistic observation that is the structure and real life observation that takes place in the natural environment of the subject, but where manipulation is accepted. Systematic observation when used eliminates and reduces bias. In the natural setting, the researcher can be able to see the cause of a specific behavior that cannot be seen in an artificial setting such as a laboratory. The researcher cannot however control outside variables that can affect the visible behavior especially when the subject is aware that they are being watched. The researcher in this method can also interfere with the findings. Data collected through systematic observation has quantitative qualities. It gives an account of the step to step observations made as the researcher manipulates the variables of the subject under investigation. Although qualitative data recording may be used, words best describe and explains the cause-and-effects during the observation.

A coding system is a system used in transforming collected data from research, especially qualitative into a language understandable by computer software. Data is first classified before it is fed into a computer for processing. When coding, a coder must take into consideration the type of data that is to be coded. Data can either be qualitative or quantitative.

When coding quantitative analysis, data is measured and recorded as ordinal and nominal variables. Questionnaire data can first pre-coded (assigning specific codes to accepted answers on the questionnaire), post-coded (open questions coding) or office-coded (work done after field work). Spreadsheets such as SPSS, Excel and Mat lab are usually used. For qualitative data that is in the form of statistics, numbers and numeric, a variety of coding methods can be used. A two-step approach is used that first involves a basic coding system that is used to distinguish overall themes that are followed by an interpretive code where more specific patterns and trends are interpreted. The process can be done manually by simply highlighting different sets of data using different colors or directly fed into computer software (Hay, 2005).

A case study is an analysis of the event, decision, person, project, period, or any other system that is studied as a whole using one method or by a number of methods (Thomas, 2001). A case is keenly selected on the bases of its representativeness so as to produce insights that can be generalized. When selecting a case the researcher must use information oriented but not random sampling.  Besides making decisions on the selection of the case study, decisions on the purpose approach and process to be used. A case study can be a mix of both qualitative and quantitative material.  A case study is used in bringing a researcher into an understanding of a complicated issue or object. Case studies are also used to add strength on what is already known about the issue under scrutiny. Case studies have been of great use in social sciences in examining contemporary real life situations and providing bases for the generalization of ideas.

Psychobiography seeks to understand the significant people in the history such as leaders or artists through methods such as psychological theories and research. The purpose of such studies is to bring into light to significant individuals through their biographies so as to understand some actions or decisions made by these particular individuals (Horowitz & Strack, 2011). Some very popular subjects of psychobiographies include Adolf Hitler, Vincent van Gogh, Shakespeare, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and Saddam Hussein.

Archival research deals with searching for archive materials and extracting useful information from them. The main sources of original archival materials are institutional archive repositories or the custody of an organization such as the government, family or agency that is originally generated it or in the hands of a successor.

Content analysis is the study of literature and empirical documentation. It can also be referred to as the study of recorded communications such as websites, books and paintings. Texts are studied so as to determine their authorship, originality and meaning.  Content analysis is used in making inferences and describing the characteristics of communication and the effects of such communication (Hanley, Humprey & Lennie, 2012).






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