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Explanatory Research - A Guide


Explanatory research is a research methodology that is used to find details regarding why a certain event or incident occurs. This type of research can act as a starting point for further in-depth studies. Having an idea about explanatory research can help understand how to figure out the root cause of a particular situation and fill in the gaps & missing information.

Explanatory research also examines the relationship of cause-and-effect between two items. It explores questions but does not come up with a definite conclusion. An example of explanatory research is trying to understand why cities tend to experience a rise in animals being abandoned. They may find some influencing factors, such as higher populations, but won't reach a conclusion.

Purpose of Explanatory Research

Explanatory research is used to understand a particular concept or problem in depth. This can give a better understanding of a specific topic and can help understand the cause, or hypothesis, behind a phenomenon which can in turn help in predicting future occurrences. Some of its benefits include:

  • Just like any other research, it aims to fill in the gaps in the research
  • It helps in identifying the impacts of changes in processes, techniques, or standards
  • It offers more opportunities for the research of new subjects
  • It helps understand problems better

Characteristics of Explanatory Research

This type of research is distinguished from other types of research by a few components which include:

  • It does not provide conclusive results but does offer insight into the reasons behind those problems.
  • It helps form hypotheses and theories.
  • It uses primary and secondary research to acquire information.
  • It serves as a means of helping an individual understand a topic or subsequent subtopics.

Types of Explanatory Research

Given below are 5 types of explanatory research methodologies:

Case Studies

A case study is an in-depth analysis of one specific person, group, or event where almost every aspect of the life and history of the subject is analyzed to find patterns and causes of behavior. They help researchers analyze patterns in events which offers them new perspectives to help solve their problems more effectively. Analyzing a particular group can help understand complex problems like if a school wants to find out why a lot of students are suddenly leaving the school, they can look at a case study that another school has done on the same.

Literature Research

Literature research can be defined as the process of finding out materials online or offline to help determine the hypothesis of a particular phenomenon. It involves finding articles in newspapers, trade literature, academic sources, and magazines.


Observation can be defined as the act of researchers keeping track of individuals or groups of individuals in their natural settings or situations. This helps them capture what they do, compared to what they say. This can help them get a deeper understanding as to why a certain group is behaving the way they are.

Pilot Studies

These are small-scaled tests researchers can use to evaluate a method or procedure. Pilot studies, as the name suggests, occur before larger studies are to be conducted. They can be used to assess the feasibility of a particular methodology and experience the advantages and disadvantages upfront.

Focus Groups

In a focus group, researchers organize sessions for obtaining data from group members as a means of helping the research. Focus groups are created to tackle very specific problems and in doing so, come up with a solution for the same.

The Explanatory Research Process

Given below is the 5 step process of conducting explanatory research:

Identification of the Problem

The first step in conducting any kind of research is identifying the subject of investigation. The entire research process is guided by this fundamental problem

Creation of a Hypothesis

After the problem has been identified, a hypothesis is to be created. A hypothesis is a proposed explanation regarding why a particular occurrence takes place. So, this is the part where a particular explanation is proposed for the above-mentioned problem.


Select a research method to gather data depending on the budget, the topic being researched, and the deadline within which the research has to be completed, among other factors.

Data Collection

This is the main essence of the research process. The findings of the research can reflect a result in a later stage. However, data collection is the crux of any research, and it needs to be conducted with extreme care and precision.

Result Evaluation

In the end, the data from the research is put for review. As mentioned earlier, explanatory research does not exactly create a formal conclusion. However, it can still be helpful because, on the basis of the findings, further research can be done to elaborate on another area.


So, in short, explanatory research is a type of research that does not exactly provide conclusive proof about a particular subject being studied but rather opens up the possibility to explore connected areas within the same subject or even other areas entirely, as it generates more questions that require answers. There are several other types of research that are used to arrive at conclusions as well - it is just that this particular research methodology has its own epistemology and techniques which makes it unique in its own right. Other research methodologies can also be used according to the requirement and the expected outcome of the research.  

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Suggested Read - Significance of Exploratory Research For Teachers

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