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Types of research

Depending on the nature of the problem, different research questions can be formulated, and different research methods can be applied. From this perspective, research can have different purposes.

Exploratory research

The objective of exploratory research is to find key issues and variables relevant for a certain topic, which can be further investigated. This type of research is typically conducted to study a problem that is not clearly defined yet. Exploratory research involves a review of the literature for that topic, conducting interviews or focus groups, in order to identify main ideas and features relevant to the topic.


The exploratory research can help the researcher get a better understanding of the topic, determine what studies should be done further on to deepen the investigation, and informs about best approaches to study the topic. Because of its nature and purpose, exploratory research provides a context for the research study; it cannot provide answers to specific research issues.

Descriptive research

The goal of descriptive research is to describe various aspects of a phenomenon. For example, descriptive research can be used to describe the behavior of a sample population. The purpose of descriptive research is to describe, explain and validate the findings.

Research questions in descriptive studies typically start with “What is…”.

​Explanatory research

The purpose of explanatory research (or causal research) is to understand or to explain relationships between dimensions or characteristics of individuals, groups, situations, or events. Causal (explanatory) research can be conducted in order to assess impacts of specific changes on existing situations.

Longitudinal research

Longitudinal research employs continuous or repeated measures to follow individuals over prolonged period of time often years or decades. Longitudinal studies may take the form of:

  • Trend study - looks at population characteristics over time, e.g. absenteeism rates of employees in an organization during the course of a year;

  • Cohort study - research a sub-population over time, e.g. absenteeism rates for the sales department of the organization;

  • Panel study - research the same sample over time, e.g. graduate career tracks over the period 2010-2020 for the same starting cohort.


Although they are mainly employed in medicine or social sciences, longitudinal studies have an important role in economy and business as well, when comparing, for example, various business and branding aspects. Examples of longitudinal studies are: Market trends and brand awareness; - Product feedback; Customer satisfaction; Employee engagement.


Cross-sectional research

Cross-sectional studies (also known as cross-sectional analysis, transverse study or prevalence study) are those in which data is gathered once, during a period of days, weeks or months. Many cross-sectional studies are exploratory or descriptive in purpose. They are designed to look at how things are now, without any sense of whether there is a history or trend at work. In economic sciences, cross-sectional studies can be conducted, for example, in business and retail.



Creswell, J.W. (2012). Educational Research. Planning, Conducting and Evaluating Quantitative and Qualitative Research. 4th edition. Boston, USA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Creswell, J.W. (2014). Research Design. Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Methods Approaches. 4th edition. USA: SAGE Publications, Inc.