Types of research: What you need to know

Research is how individuals and businesses collect and analyze data. Types of research are the different methodologies used to conduct research. Based on research goals, timelines and purposes, different types of research are better suited for certain studies. The first stage in conducting research is to determine what you want to study and what your goals are.

Research is about using established methods to investigate a problem or question in detail to generate new knowledge about it. It is a vital tool for scientific advancement because it allows researchers to prove or refute hypotheses based on clearly defined parameters, environments and assumptions. Because of this, it enables us to contribute to knowledge as it allows research to be verified and replicated.

Main goal

According to the American sociologist Earl Robert Babbie, “research is a systematic inquiry to describe, explain, predict, and control the observed phenomenon. It involves inductive and deductive methods.”

Research begins by asking the right questions and choosing an appropriate method to investigate the problem. After collecting answers to your questions, you can analyze the findings or observations to draw reasonable conclusions.

  • To collect accurate data, researchers must adopt a systematic approach to gathering their data. In doing so, they must follow a broad set of ethical guidelines when conducting real-time observations or forming logical conclusions.
  • Existing data acts as a reference that researchers can use to compare their data and design new research questions.
  • To ensure accuracy in the data collection process, researchers must consider all the potential variables and any fluctuation that may occur when collecting data. Hence, it is important to note the location(s) where the data is collected; for example, a laboratory is a controlled environment, so it is likely that results will be less susceptible to external influence. In almost all published research articles, researchers who use instruments to collect data will also state the instruments used and how they were calibrated, as well as a clearly presented description of the results obtained.

What is the purpose of research?

Research can be broadly grouped into the following three categories:

  1. Exploratory: The researcher explores several research questions to draw a logical conclusion. Exploratory research methods are generally used to examine as-yet unexplored research areas. After conducting exploratory research, researchers may then apply more comprehensive research methods for data collection and analysis.
  2. Descriptive: Descriptive research aims to describe the behaviors of a study population before formulating an explanation of the data and verifying it. This type of research is generally used to build up a knowledge of current issues through data collection.
  3. Explanatory: Explanatory research, also known as causal research, is generally employed to determine how standard procedures are effected by changes to the existing methods. In this type of research, researchers tend to conduct experiments and explain the results through data analysis.

Research methods

  • Qualitative methods

In qualitative research, the data collected is generally non-numerical. Hence, researchers often conduct interviews comprising open-ended questions. The participants’ responses are then collected and analyzed to determine their opinions and reasons for thinking in such a way.

The most common methods in qualitative research include one-to-one interviews, focus groups, ethnographic studies, text analysis, and case studies.

  • Quantitative methods

Quantitative methods collect numerical data and measurable statistics. This form of data involves the analysis of events or data to determine causal relationships and explain, predict, or control phenomena.

Quantitive research methods fall into three categories: Survey, descriptive, and correlational research.

Types of Research

As stated above, there are 19 research types employed in the data collection process. Selecting the most suitable type is essential to gathering accurate and appropriate data. A number of factors determine the right method, such as the objective and depth of study, the time allotted to collect the data, and numerous other factors. Most research studies will employ more than one research method to conduct a comprehensive analysis. The following section breaks down the 19 research types, with the exception of the qualitative and qualitative methods mentioned above.


Fundamental research, also known as basic research, essentially explores how things work. A predominantly knowledge-based method, researchers conduct fundamental research to further understand particular research areas and expand upon existing theories.

This type of research is typically used in the fields of medicine, education, psychology, and technology, with one example of a study being DNA analysis to determine the specific components at play.


Applied research aims to find applicable and effective solutions based on the data obtained. Fundamental and applied research form the two main research categories. A typical example of applied research would be researching the side effects of a drug or the healing properties of a plant.


Mixed research makes use of qualitative and qualitative data. This research type tends to focus on user experience and statistics. A good example of this would be a research study focusing on apartment rentals; specifically, why users opt for peer-to-peer rentals such as Airbnb as opposed to traditional hotels.


Exploratory research looks at pre-existing knowledge with the aim to fill in any gaps by conducting further research. In this research type, the pre-existing knowledge is first presented to justifying the value of the current study. An example could be a study on war veterans with the aim to understand the experiences most likely to cause PTSD.


Longitudinal research looks at how things change. This method is typically used to find out how, for example, employee satisfaction and morale changes over time.


This type of research focuses on a specific group of participants at one point in time. The group of participants is based on shared characteristics, such as age, profession, gender, salary, or experience. Such groups are chosen to represent larger populations, and researchers tend to focus on the similarities and differences within the group and form comparisons. One example of a cross-sectional study would be how lifestyle affects the health and weight of a study population.


Field research is conducted at the location of the study. As this form of research is generally observational and collected in real-time, field research can be carried out, for instance, in an animal’s natural habitat to study its behaviors, diet, and interactions.


Laboratory research is conducted in a controlled setting; or more precisely, in a lab. Such a controlled environment, researchers are able to control and/or eliminate variables or adapt their studies to suit specific conditions. This type of research is typically used in science and medicine.


Like laboratory research, fixed research also uses controlled variables in a specific setting and with a set number of participants or subjects. Surveys are generally used in fixed research, with product ratings among participants a good example.


Flexible research designs allow greater freedom when collecting data. Surveys, among other methods, are often used. However, in contrast to fixed survey, the participants are free to write their own answers, as opposed to choosing from a set of responses. Fixed and flexible methods correspond to qualitative and qualitative designs, respectively.


Action research is often conducted in the social sciences. As a cyclical process, the researcher identifies the research problem, collects the data, and then analyzes and interprets it. It is often used to produce a critical analysis to determine necessary improvements, as in the context of business, or to test hypotheses in a real-world environment, as in the social sciences. It is also used in education to determine teaching efficacy and conduct self-evaluation.


Policy research focuses on how government and social policies impact resources. Typically applied in an economic context, researchers often perform cost analyses, evaluations, and needs assesments.


Classification research involves the categorization of groups and sub-groups and the evaluation of traits, behaviors, and characteristics.


Comparative research seeks to compare two individuals, subjects, or groups. By studying the similarities and differences between the two, researchers can discover and explain new and existing findings. Comparative research can be used to compare societal differences, as in cross-cultural studies, or provide descriptive and other modes of comparisons. This research type can be both qualitative and quantitative.


Also known as explanatory research, causal research explores cause and effect relationships. Focusing on a set of variables, causal research studies are experimental by nature, and are therefore quantitative and structured. In causal research, a hypothesis is tested by determining whether there is a causal relationship between variables. After analyzing the data, detected correlations can prove a cause-and-effect relationship.


Inductive research involves the detection of patterns in data. To understand these patterns, research propose hypotheses to explain them. Inductive research aims to find out why something happens in a general sense, and is thus considered as theory-building research. The hypothesis is proven when a general assumption about a group or subject also applies at an individual level.


While deductive reasoning also aims to prove theories and hypotheses, the focus is more specific. Hypotheses are tested through either experimentation or observation. Another difference between inductive and deductive reasoning is that deductive reasoning tests an existing theory whereas inductive reasoning is applied to develop a theory. Also, deductive reasoning aims to draw logical conclusions based on two premises. Consider the following example, “All plants perform photosynthesis. A cactus is a plant. Therefore, a cactus performs photosynthesis.”

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