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Encyclopedia Entry

Explanatory Research

Joseph A. Maxwell & Kavita Mittapalli

The term explanatory research implies that the research in question is intended to explain, rather than simply to describe, the phenomena studied. This type of research has had a contested history in qualitative inquiry, and divergent views of the appropriateness of such goals in qualitative research are currently held. This entry summarizes the current state of this debate and describes some of the most important qualitative methods for such explanation. Traditionally, the research denoted by the term explanatory research has been quantitative in nature and has typically tested prior hypotheses by measuring relationships between variables; the data are analyzed using statistical techniques. In the narrowest sense, this term is sometimes used synonymously with experimental research , with the implication that only experiments are capable of answering causal questions. More broadly, it can also include other types of quantitative research grouped under terms such as causal modeling and structural equation modeling ...

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