Explanatory research


Explanatory research studies specific phenomena that are new or that have not been addressed in depth. The objective of such research is to provide relevant knowledge about them.

Explanatory research, as its name suggests, aims to expand existing knowledge about something we know little or nothing about. In this way, it focuses on the details, allowing us to learn more about a phenomenon. In short, what the researcher does is start from a general idea and go into analyzing specific aspects in depth.

Why Conduct Explanatory Research

The reasons for using this way of doing science are various, and it is important to know them in order to know when to use it.

Let's see the most relevant:

  • In the first place, because, on many occasions, it is the only way to approach a phenomenon. Many situations are new, and although there is previous literature, many causes and consequences have not been studied. A clear example is the new viruses.
  • It is very useful to focus on something specific. Thus, it allows adding, expanding, intuiting or explaining more profusely some previously studied topics. In the example above, the viruses are known, but their mutations are often not.
  • On the other hand, by using qualitative techniques such as the bibliographic review or the case study, it allows a deeper vision of complex issues. Thus, there are issues that can only be approached from this perspective.

Explanatory research characteristics

Explanatory research has a series of characteristics that we must know about. These are related to the reasons why it should be used:

  • Its main objective is to carry out an exploratory approach. It does not seek to issue decisive conclusions on a matter, but to know it a little more thoroughly. It is usually the starting point for others such as the applied one, which does use quantitative methods.
  • Although it suffers from a certain subjectivity, it can be reduced. To minimize bias, unbiased, objective and reliable sources are used. In the case of literature reviews, it is best to use several types that reach different conclusions. In this way, what will be looked for are the common points.
  • It uses causal comparative methods, which observe similarities or differences between variables looking for causes. Also the longitudinal ones, which analyze the evolution over time. On the other hand, there would be the cross-sections that compare variables at a given moment.
  • The main drawbacks have to do with its qualitative vision. No inference can be made from the results, which would be exploratory. On the other hand, we can sometimes find a possible causality that is difficult to verify with small samples.

Explanatory research example

Let's imagine that we want to approach the study of rural entrepreneurship. Although it is a subject that has been researched a lot, in many parts of the world, let's imagine one in which it is an incipient phenomenon.

So, let's see what the study phases would be:

The first thing to do is set the goal and review the information about it. In this case, rural entrepreneurship and its effects. Then we conducted a series of interviews –case studies– with rural entrepreneurs. Later, we will carry out a detailed report on the findings obtained. Finally, through this explanatory research, we can conclude whether there are benefits or not.

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