There’s nothing more exciting for a market researcher than learning something unexpected and new from a respondent—and often the initiatives that uncover the most surprising insights are exploratory in nature. Often thought of as a preliminary step within a larger research process, at iModerate we consider exploratory research to be an important element of any qualitative project. A typical exploratory study occurs when there is no clearly defined problem or hypothesis—this means the researcher has freedom and flexibility to adjust and adapt the study along the way. Good exploratory research has the ability to unearth new ideas, take surprising twists, and shape your thinking in ways you would not have imagined—that’s why taking an exploratory mindset can help you get the most out of any qualitative work, preliminary or not. Here are our best practices for conducting exploratory research:
Remove all assumptions
If you approach your research thinking you already know who your customer is, then you may miss an opportunity to find out who they really are. Any assumptions about audience, demographics, or what you expect to find in the data can keep you from discovering something you didn’t expect. Remember to keep an open mind, be curious, and let the findings come to you.
Be willing to kill your darlings
Just as a writer must be willing to cut his or her favorite scene to improve a novel as a whole, researchers must accept the fact that their research may negate their favorite hypotheses. Exploratory research doesn’t have to be entirely without hypothesis, but it does have to be flexible enough to allow for changes and improvements as you go. Be ready to accept new points-of-view throughout the course of your study, and be prepared to probe further on findings as they arise.
Ask innovative questions
Exploratory research is often designed to tackle more nebulous, unformulated subject matter—without concepts to test or stimuli to present, exploratory research gives you the opportunity to get creative with the types of questions you ask. Instead of asking directly about a person’s thoughts on a particular topic, craft questions that will get at their experiences and personal identity. Check out iModerate’s ThoughtPath framework for some ideas.
Let your respondent be free
As with any qualitative work, make sure your methodology does not apply any influence or color to the respondent’s feedback. Anonymity, convenience, and a moderator/interviewer who is free of judgment or bias can help a respondent feel comfortable and ready to share. Give your respondents a space to be open and honest, and you will find out what’s truly on their minds.