There are many kinds of personnel research. Three dimensions are particularly important in classifying types of research:
Applied vs Basic research. Applied research is research designed to solve a particular problem in a particular circumstance, such as determining the cause of low morale in a given department of an organization. Basic research is designed to understand the underlying principles behind human behavior. For example, you might try to understand what motivates people to work hard at their jobs. This distinction is discussed in more detail in another handout. Click here to read it.
Exploratory vs Confirmatory. Exploratory research is research into the unknown. It is used when you are investigating something but really don't understand it all, or are not completely sure what you are looking for. It's sort of like a journalist whose curiousity is peaked by something and just starts looking into something without really knowing what they're looking for. Confirmatory research is where you have a pretty good idea what's going on. That is, you have a theory (or several theories), and the objective of the research is to find out if the theory is supported by the facts.
Quantitative vs Qualitative. Quantitative studies measure variables with some precision using numeric scales. For example, you might measure a person's height and weight. Or you might construct a survey in which you measure how much respondents like President Clinton, using a 1 to 10 scale. Qualitative studies are based on direct observation of behavior, or on transcripts of unstructured interviews with informants. For example, you might talk to ten female executives about their the decision-making process behind their choice to have children or not, and if so, when. You might interview them for several hours, tape-recording the whole thing, and then transcribe the recordings to written text, and then analyze the text.
As a general rule (but there are many exceptions), confirmatory studies tend to be quantitative, while exploratory studies tend to be qualitative.