What experimental research is and how it can help businesses

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 15 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

An experimental study has a wide range of applications. Researchers often use it in the physical and life sciences, but it can guide and inform decision-making in various contexts. There are many ways of conducting this type of research, but all involve studying cause-and-effect relationships. In this article, we define experimental research, explore the different types, see its advantages, learn how it can help businesses, note the disadvantages and provide examples of this type of research.

What is experimental research?

Experimental research is a scientific method of investigation in which a researcher conducts tests to prove or disprove a theory. The aim of an empirical study is to reach a corroborated conclusion. The key features of experimental study are:

  • A hypothesis: The hypothesis is a statement that proposes the researchers' theory. In an experimental study, the hypothesis is how the variables relate.

  • Independent variables: Independent variables are the variables that the researcher manipulates to test their hypothesis. In an experimental study, there is at least one independent variable.

  • Dependent variables: The dependent variable is what researchers believe the independent variable affects. An experimental study has at least one dependent variable, which the researchers measure to determine whether their hypothesis is correct.

  • An experimental group: The experimental group receives the experimental treatment, which is the introduction of an independent variable. Researchers observe this group and measure the effect independent variables have on the dependent variables.

  • A control group: This group doesn't receive the experimental treatment, and they're there for comparison with the experimental group. This is to be reasonably sure that any observed effect on the experimental group is due to the independent variable and not any other factors.

  • Random distribution: Researchers conduct an experimental study with a random distribution of participants into experimental and control groups. This removes the chance of selection bias affecting the results.

  • Controlled conditions: Conducting experimental study under controlled conditions helps eliminate any other variables that might affect the results. Researchers usually do this in a laboratory, but investigations also occur in different settings, such as schools and workplaces.

  • Replication: Researchers usually replicate research to ensure that the findings are robust and not due to chance. This is important in the experimental study as it helps to increase the validity of the results.

Related: What are the different types of research methodology?

Types of experimental research

There are three types of this kind of study:

1. True experimental design

A true experimental study is the most accurate form. It allows researchers to draw conclusions about a cause-and-effect relationship between an independent and dependent variable. It requires:

  • a control group (in addition to the experimental group)

  • an independent variable

  • random distribution

2. Pre-experimental design

The pre-experimental study is when researchers observe subjects after implementing a cause and effect factor. This design can't establish cause and effect, but researchers can use this design to determine whether they need to conduct further study. Three types of this research design are:

  • One-shot case study: Researchers study their subjects after the introduction of a factor that they expect has had an effect.

  • One-group pretest-posttest: Researchers compare the results from before and after they introduce a factor that they expect to have an affect.

  • Static-group comparison: Researchers compare results after implementing a factor with a group of subjects that they didn't expose to that factor.

3. Quasi-experimental design

The quasi-experimental study is also known as nonrandomised or pre/post-intervention studies. Researchers don't randomly assign subjects to groups in this approach, and a control group isn't always necessary. Methods of conducting quasi-experimental study include:

  • Control posttest only: Researchers measure the dependent variable following the introduction of an independent variable and compare their findings to a control group.

  • Control pretest-posttest: Researchers measure the dependent variable before and after introducing an independent variable and compare their findings to a control group.

  • No control removed treatment: Researchers introduce an independent variable and measure its impact on the dependent variable and then remove the independent variable and measure the dependent variable again.

  • Interrupted time-series designs: Researchers introduce an independent variable after taking several equally spaced measurements of the dependent variable and then take further measures following the introduction.

Related: What is quantitative research? (With definition and uses)

What are the advantages of experimental study?

The advantages of experimental study include:

  • It works in a wide variety of fields: Experimental study has a wide range of applications and works in many different areas, including medicine, psychology, digital services and marketing.

  • It can test hypotheses: This is advantageous as it allows researchers to test specific hypotheses and draw a corroborated conclusion.

  • It can establish cause and effect: This allows researchers to understand how different variables can impact each other and inform decision-making.

  • Other researchers can replicate experimental study: This increases the validity of the findings and enables other researchers to verify the results.

  • It doesn't always require a randomised control group: This makes the experimental study more feasible to conduct and enables it to have a wide range of applications.

  • It can use pre-existing data: Researchers can conduct pre-experimental and quasi-experimental study using data that they previously collected, which makes it more cost-effective.

Related: What is experiment marketing, and when do companies use it?

How can experimental study help businesses?

The experimental study can help businesses in several ways, such as:

Providing a way to test new products or services before they launch

Conducting research can help companies predict the response to new products or services and identify where they need to make improvements. Many digital products undergo this type of testing before they're launched. For example, a streaming company might conduct an experimental study on a subset of subscribers before making changes to their entire service.

Helping businesses better understand their customers' behaviour

Researchers can use this type of research to study customer behaviour. For example, a company might want to know why customers leave their website. They could test different variables to discover what's causing their customers to leave the site.

Informing marketing and advertising decisions

It can help businesses make more informed marketing and advertising decisions. A company wanting to know where to focus its marketing efforts to appeal to younger people could research to test various marketing strategies. They could set up two experimental groups, each with a different marketing mix, to see which one performs better.

Guiding the allocation of resources

Businesses that want to know how best to allocate their resources can test different scenarios. For example, an airline looking at whether it's more effective to focus on in-flight entertainment or better food options could set up two experimental groups. One group would receive improved in-flight entertainment, and the other would receive enhanced food options. By measuring customer satisfaction, they could determine where to allocate their resources.

Related: How to conduct market research (With types and benefits)

What are the disadvantages of experimental study?

The experimental design does have some disadvantages. The Hawthorne effect may affect some test subjects. This is when participants change their behaviour in response to people observing them. When this happens, it can impact the results of this type of research. Other limitations include:

  • It can be time-consuming and expensive.

  • The number of participants can limit the results.

  • Researchers may unintentionally over-manipulate variables resulting in an artificial environment.

  • It can be vulnerable to flaws in methodology.

  • Researchers may not be able to manipulate some variables.

  • Some research experiments are too impractical to conduct.

Related: 10 common types of variables in research and statistics

Examples of experimental study

Here are some examples of this type of research:

An example of a pre-experimental design

A rideshare driver wants to know if listening to music while driving will impact their earnings. They play music while they work for two weeks and then compare their earnings to the two weeks prior when they didn't listen to music. Because there is no control or comparison group and would need further study to determine cause and effect, the driver's experiment is a one-group pretest-posttest design.

An example of a quasi-experimental design

A school wants to evaluate the effect of using new technology on its students' learning. It can't randomly assign students to use the technology or not, so it adopts a quasi-experimental design and uses the control pretest-posttest method. The school measures one class's level of learning before it implements the new technology and takes a second measurement after implementing the new technology. It then compares this to data from another class that didn't receive the new technology.

An example of a true experimental design

An employer wants to find the best lighting conditions for its office staff. It randomly assigns employees to different lighting conditions and measures their performance and mood. It also tests a control group of employees who continue to work in the same lighting conditions. The employer then analyses the data to see which lighting condition had the best results.

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