There are numerous methods for looking into vague research issues. In this part, several of the most well-liked qualitative methods are covered. Yet, whether a study is exploratory, descriptive, or causal is determined by the purpose rather than the methodology. The flexible techniques covered in this chapter enable in-depth, extensive questioning of responders, and they are large, though not exclusively, utilized for exploratory purposes. Further, you will study about different methods of exploratory research.
Top 4 Methods of Exploratory Research
A manager may choose from four general categories of methods of exploratory research:
- Experience surveys
- Secondary data analysis
- Case studies
- Pilot studies
Each category provides various alternative ways of gathering information.
1. Experience Surveys
In attempting to understand the problems, managers may discuss issues and ideas with top executives and knowledgeable managers who have had experience in the field. This constitutes an informal experience survey.
A chain saw manufacturer, for instance, was advised by its Japanese distributor to alter its equipment and use it to plant mushrooms by adding a drilling attachment to the sprocket in place of the chain and guide bar. According to the distributor, several of these units were sold in Japan. However, a review of one person’s experience, the Mushroom Growers Association president, revealed that the product needed to be more commercially viable in the United States. It is one of the methods of exploratory research.
Instead of the Japanese mushrooms grown on wood, Americans eat white mushrooms that have been cultured and produced in enclosed spaces or caves. According to the mushroom specialist, Americans must adjust their eating habits to include the Japanese species because they believe too many urban legends about poisonous mushrooms.
It is the very crucial methods of exploratory research. Exploratory research during situational analysis may be relatively informal. Discussions with knowledgeable people inside and outside the company may be more than conversations. This activity, intended only to get ideas about the problem, may be conducted by the line manager rather than the research department. The economic research analyst may have within the industry many contacts that they rely on for information.
Exploratory information from an experience survey is not expected to be conclusive. An experienced survey often consists of interviews with a few experienced people who have been carefully selected. Some formal questions may be asked, but the respondents can discuss the questions with few constraints. Knowledgeable people should be selected because they are articulate individuals rather than a representative probability sample. The purpose is to help formulate the problem and clarify concepts rather than develop conclusive evidence.
2. Secondary Data Analysis
Another economical and quick source of background information is trade literature in the public library. Searching through such material is exploratory research using secondary data analysis. Basic theoretical research is only conducted with extensive literature reviews or similar research. Using secondary data may be equally important in applied research. For example, a personnel manager may want to evaluate her company’s formal training programs.
A short time in a library may reveal that in companies with more than 50 employees, the average executive receives 41.4 hours of training per year while the average office secretarial worker gets 18.8 hours of training, industry differences in training, used, and the like may help clarify the issues that need to be researched.
If the problem is to determine the reasons for a sales decline of an existing product, the manager’s situational analysis might begin with analyzing sales records by region and by the customer or some other source of internal data. Investigating data compiled for purposes other than the project at hand, such as according to records or trade association data, is one of the most frequent forms of exploratory research.
Once a situational analysis using secondary data or experience survey has been informally carried out, issues that still need clarification may warrant further investigation beyond gathering background information. At this point, the research specialist is needed to design more detailed exploratory research. Methods of exploratory research and preliminary research techniques that can aid in defining the problem are presented in the following pages.
3. Cases Study Method
The purpose of the case study method is to obtain information from one or a few situations similar to the researcher’s problem. For example, a bank in the U.S.A. may intensively investigate the compute-security activities of an innovative bank in California. To determine the nature of any issues or themes that need to be examined, an academic researcher interested in conducting a national survey of union workers may first look at a few union locals. An Atlas bicycle business research manager used observational techniques for an exploratory case study analysis.
The main benefit of using a case study is that an entire company or institution can be thoroughly and painstakingly examined. This highly focused attention enables the researchers to study the order of events as they occur carefully or to concentrate on identifying the relationship among functions, individuals, or entities. A fast-food restaurant may test a new store design, operating procedure, or menu item in a single location to learn about potential operational problems that could hinder service quality.
Conducting a case study often requires the cooperation of the person whose history is being studied, for example, a franchisee which allows the franchiser access to the former’s records and reports. Again, intensive interviews or long discussions with the franchisee and their employees may provide an understanding of a complex situation. Researchers, however, need standard procedures to follow. They must be adaptable and try to get knowledge and insights from every source. Any case study’s success depends heavily on the awareness, inventiveness, intelligence, and motivation of the person conducting the case analysis due to the freedom to look for any data an investigator is essential.
Like all exploratory research, the case analysis results should be tentative. Generalizing from a few cases can be dangerous because most situations are typical in some sense. A bank in Montana may be in a different situation than one in California. But even if situations are not directly comparable, several insights can be gained, and hypotheses suggested for further research.
4. Pilot Studies for Qualitative Analysis
The term pilot studies cover several diverse research techniques. Within the context of exploratory research, a pilot study conveys the message that some aspect of the research (e.g., fieldwork) will be on a small scale. Thus a pilot study is a research project that involves sampling, but the rigorous standards used to obtain precise, quantitative estimates from large, representative samples are relaxed.
A pilot study generates primary data, usually for qualitative analysis. This characteristic distinguishes pilot studies from secondary data analysis to gather background information. Some researchers refer to a pilot study that generates qualitative information as qualitative research. The primary data usually are collected from employees, consumers, voters, or other subjects of ultimate concern rather than from a few experts or a case situation. This distinguishes pilot studies from experience surveys and case studies.