Most research can be divided into three different categories: exploratory, descriptive and causal. Each serves a different end purpose and can only be used in certain ways.
In the online survey world, mastery of all three can lead to sounder insights and greater quality information. Let’s do a quick overview of all three types of research, and how they fit in a research plan.
Surveys are primary research tools that provide data as part of your overall research strategies. Survey research is critical to getting the answers you need to make informed decisions about everything from product development to marketing campaigns.
Understanding more about survey research will help you create effective surveys that yield valuable primary research data.
Depending on the type of information you’re looking for and the survey research method you employ, you’ll find that there are several benefits, including:
Conducting your survey research online is likely the most cost-effective way to gather data. In-person surveys and interviews require trained staff to gather, calculate, and analyze data.
With surveys, you can collect data from a large population in a short time. Don’t have a list of participants from your target market? Use SurveyMonkey Audience to reach the respondents you need.
Surveys can be easily adapted to collect both quantitative and qualitative data. Use a variety of question types, such as multiple choice, Likert scale, dropdowns, ranking, open-ended, and more, to obtain all the information you need.
Like any type of research, there are some disadvantages to using surveys, including:
Survey participants may feel that they don’t have to provide honest answers because of the anonymity of taking surveys online.
Respondents may choose not to respond to some questions, which can lead to bias in your results.
If questions and answers are not specific enough, respondents may have difficulty interpreting and answering. For example, a yes or no question may be difficult for someone who wants to answer “only one time.”
Regardless of how you conduct survey research, it has the following characteristics:
There are several types of research methods. Exploratory, descriptive, and causal are the three main types used in survey research. It helps to familiarize yourself with these types before designing your survey research.
Exploratory research is an important part of any marketing or business strategy. Its focus is on the discovery of ideas and insights as opposed to collecting statistically accurate data. That is why exploratory research is best suited as the beginning of your total research plan. It is most commonly used for further defining company issues, areas for potential growth, alternative courses of action, and prioritizing areas that require statistical research.
When it comes to online surveys, the most common example of exploratory research takes place in the form of open-ended questions. Think of the exploratory questions in your survey as expanding your understanding of the people you are surveying. Text responses may not be statistically measureable, but they will give you richer quality information that can lead to the discovery of new initiatives or problems that should be addressed.
The following are key traits of exploratory research:
Descriptive research takes up the bulk of online surveying and is considered conclusive in nature due to its quantitative nature. Unlike exploratory research, descriptive research is preplanned and structured in design so the information collected can be statistically inferred on a population.
The main idea behind using this type of research is to better define an opinion, attitude, or behaviour held by a group of people on a given subject. Consider your everyday multiple choice question. Since there are predefined categories a respondent must choose from, it is considered descriptive research. These questions will not give the unique insights on the issues like exploratory research would. Instead, grouping the responses into predetermined choices will provide statistically inferable data. This allows you to measure the significance of your results on the overall population you are studying, as well as the changes of your respondent’s opinions, attitudes, and behaviours over time.
The following are the key traits of descriptive research:
Like descriptive research, causal research is quantitative in nature as well as preplanned and structured in design. For this reason, it is also considered conclusive research. Causal research differs in its attempt to explain the cause and effect relationship between variables. This is opposed to the observational style of descriptive research, because it attempts to decipher whether a relationship is causal through experimentation. In the end, causal research will have two objectives:
For example, a cereal brand owner wants to learn if they will receive more sales with their new cereal box design. Instead of conducting descriptive research by asking people whether they would be more likely to buy their cereal in its new box, they would set up an experiment in two separate stores. One will sell the cereal in only its original box and the other with the new box. Taking care to avoid any outside sources of bias, they would then measure the difference between sales based on the cereal packaging. Did the new packaging have any effect on the cereal sales? What was that effect?
The following are the key characteristics of causal research:
Here are some applications of survey research:
Exploratory research applications include case studies, field observations, focus groups, and interviews.
Descriptive research applications include descriptive surveys, descriptive-normative surveys, descriptive analysis surveys, and correlative surveys.
Causal research applications include product testing, advertising improvements, customer retention efforts, and community needs.
Remember, it doesn’t matter whether you’re doing internal or external research, or whether your project's end goal is to improve a business’s image, increase a product’s sales or kick start an initiative’s on the right foot. Finding the proper balance between exploratory, descriptive, and causal research will be a major factor in your goals’ success.