When we think of research an image comes to our mind of the lab coat professor going over calculations, long formulas and test tubes to come up with the next greatest discovery. No need for the coke bottle glasses that move into the finite details of "fineness". Exploratory research may ask a question but doesn't necessary seek a specific answer. Its main goal is to get into the weeds to understand the inner workings of their subject without coming to an pre-conclusions.
When you are not sure exactly what is going on but you got a solid "hunch" you may want to explore ideas and concepts to better understand a problem. It focuses in a broad area and continues to adjust and changes as the situation changes. It is possible to start with one understanding and end with a completely different one later on.
The essential purpose of exploration is to go into the unknown and explore what seems to be an appropriate path of discovery. You really don't know what to expect and instead allow elements to go forward unimpeded so that you can start to see some relations between elements in a way that leads to future research.
Description of Occurrence.
As you explore ideas and concepts you want to include as much descriptive detail as possible. Because you don't know what the elements are you want to record as much pertinent information as you can so as to further your analysis. Sometimes things that seem important today are not so important tomorrow. At some other time you very well may find the opposite to be true.
Describing what is occurring and taking proper notes, recordings, and other documentation helps in the overall evaluation down the road. You will want to document any study you have conducted from start to finish. There should be some logic and method you are following throughout your work and the type of documentation will relate to your design.
There is no Causality in Exploratory Research
There is no causality in exploratory research. We don't know what the variables are but have an idea of where to look for them. While you may end up making some inferential judgments about causality the strength of those connections and whether they are relevant relies on a more quantitative approach.
Don't go into the research with a lot of pre-beliefs and bias or the directions you take will end up leading to false conclusions. The goal is to find new associations among ideas and concepts and not necessarily to prove that existing one's exist. Time again and again the bias of the research makes it into what they are discovering.
Why its not like a Lab?
In a lab you can design studies that manipulate variables. In the field the variables are at the mercy of their environment making cause and effect much more difficult to determine. Exploratory research allows one to determine potential connections while quantitative determines the strength, or insignificance, of those connections.