Descriptive vs. Exploratory Research: Understanding the Differences

Descriptive vs Exploratory Research

Research is a systematic activity undertaken by scholars to broaden our knowledge base in various fields of education. It is carried out in both social sciences and science subjects such as physics and biology. There are numerous types of research, including descriptive, exploratory, explanatory, and evaluation research, which can be confusing for students due to their similarities. This article aims to clarify the differences between descriptive and exploratory research.

What is Descriptive Research?

Descriptive research, as the name suggests, is descriptive in nature and collects statistics that are later analyzed to draw conclusions. In fact, descriptive research often leads to the formulation of hypotheses as the collation and analysis of data produces conclusions that form the basis of another research. For example, if there is research about the use of alcohol among teenagers, it typically starts with collecting data that is descriptive in nature, informing people about the age and drinking habits of students. Descriptive research is useful for calculations and arriving at statistical tools such as median, averages, and frequencies.

What is Exploratory Research?

Exploratory research is challenging because it addresses vaguely defined hypotheses and attempts to find answers to questions. This type of research is social in nature and requires some preliminary work in the direction of the research. Sociologist Earl Babbie considers exploratory research as the purpose of research, stating that it is useful when the hypothesis has not yet been formed or developed. There are certain basic premises that need to be tested at the beginning of an exploratory research. Using these hypotheses, the researcher hopes to arrive at more generalizations.

Key Takeaways

  • Descriptive research is quantitative, restrictive in terms of open-ended questions, and useful for calculations and statistical tools, while exploratory research is more qualitative and flexible in design, addressing vaguely defined hypotheses.
  • Exploratory research offers more flexibility in design than descriptive research and allows the researcher to develop designs that are more qualitative in nature.
  • The amount of information known to the researcher at the start of the research plays a significant role in deciding upon the type of research. With only vague ideas in mind, it is better to opt for exploratory design, while more information, such as quantitative data, allows a researcher to choose descriptive research that leads to uncovering causal relationships.
Maria Nguyen
Maria Nguyen
Maria Nguyen is a talented writer with a flair for developing captivating content in a range of formats. Her commitment to thorough research and producing top-notch material has contributed to over 4 years of professional writing and editing experience. Outside of work, Maria finds pleasure in solitary activities and immersing herself in nature. Her introspective nature and passion for self-reflection inspire her creativity. She believes that spending time alone and observing the natural world can provide valuable insights and foster personal growth, broadening her perspective as a writer.


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