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Difference Between Exploratory and Descriptive Research

Exploratory research is one which aims at providing insights into and an understanding of the problem faced by the researcher. Descriptive research, on the other hand, aims at describing something, mainly functions and characteristics.

The research design is defined as a framework for carrying out research activities in different fields of study. The research design is classified into two important categories i.e. exploratory and conclusive research. Conclusive research is further subdivided into descriptive and casual research. The people often juxtapose exploratory research and descriptive research, but the fact is that they are different.

Take a read of this article to understand the differences between exploratory and descriptive research.

Content: Exploratory Research Vs Descriptive Research

  1. Comparison Chart
  2. Definition
  3. Key Differences
  4. Conclusion

Comparison Chart

Basis for Comparison Exploratory Research Descriptive Research
Meaning Explorartory research means a research conducted for formulating a problem for more clear investigation. Descriptive research is a research that explore and explain an individual, group or a situation.
Objective Discovery of ideas and thoughts. Describe characteristics and functions.
Overall Design Flexible Rigid
Research process Unstructured Structured
Sampling Non-probability sampling Probability sampling
Statistical Design No pre-planned design for analysis. Pre-planned design for analysis.

Definition of Exploratory Research

As the name implies, the primary objective of exploratory research is to explore a problem to provide insights into and comprehension for more precise investigation. It focuses on the discovery of ideas and thoughts. The exploratory research design is suitable for studies which are flexible enough to provide an opportunity for considering all the aspects of the problem.

At this point, the required information is loosely defined, and the research process is flexible and unstructured. It is used in the situation when you must define the problem correctly, identify alternative courses of actions, develop a hypothesis, gain additional insights before the development of an approach, set priorities for further examination. The following methods are used for conducting exploratory research

  • Survey of concerning literature
  • Experience survey
  • Analysis of insights stimulating

Definition of Descriptive Research

By the term descriptive research, we mean a type of conclusive research study which is concerned with describing the characteristics of a particular individual or group. It includes research related to specific predictions, features or functions of person or group, the narration of facts, etc.

The descriptive research aims at obtaining complete and accurate information for the study, the method adopted must be carefully planned. The researcher should precisely define what he wants to measure? How does he want to measure? He should clearly define the population under study. It uses methods like quantitative analysis of secondary data, surveys, panels, observations, interviews, questionnaires, etc.

Descriptive Research concentrates on formulating the research objective, designing methods for the collection of data, selection of the sample, data collection, processing, and analysis, reporting the results.

Key Differences Between Exploratory and Descriptive Research

The difference between exploratory and descriptive research can be drawn clearly on the following grounds:

  1. Research conducted for formulating a problem for more clear investigation is called exploratory research. Research that explore and explains an individual, group or a situation, is called descriptive research.
  2. The exploratory research aims at the discovery of ideas and thoughts whereas the primary purpose of descriptive research is to describe the characteristics and functions.
  3. The overall design of the exploratory research should be flexible enough so that it provides an opportunity to consider various aspects of the problem. On the contrary, in descriptive research, the overall design should be rigid which protects against bias and also maximise reliability.
  4. The research process is unstructured in exploratory research. However, it is structured in the case of descriptive research.
  5. Non-probability sampling i.e. judgment or purposive sampling design is used in exploratory research. As opposed to descriptive research where probability (random) sampling design is used.
  6. When it comes to statistical design, exploratory research has no pre-planned design for analysis. Unlike, descriptive research that has the pre-planned design for analysis.


Therefore exploratory research results in insights or hypothesis, regardless of the method adopted, the most important thing is that it should remain flexible so that all the facets of the problem can be studied, as and when they arise. Conversely, descriptive research is a comparative design which is prepared according to the study and resources available. Such study minimises bias and maximises reliability.

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