Basic Research vs. Applied Research (Including Examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 9 December 2022

Published 8 May 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.

Research is a systematic way to gain new knowledge or use existing knowledge in new ways. The two broad types of research are basic research and applied research. Learning about the differences between these two types of research can help you choose the right research method for your work or study. In this article, we explore the definitions of basic research vs. applied research, provide some examples of each type of research and explain their differences.

Basic research vs. applied research

To understand the differences between basic research vs. applied research, it's important to examine their definitions. Basic research is a research method that focuses on expanding or improving the knowledge base of a field of study. It explores the unknown by examining data and conducting systematic investigations to answer questions involving 'what', 'why' and 'how'.

Applied research provides solutions to existing problems by conducting investigations using empirical methodologies, such as experiments. It focuses on answering specific questions related to a phenomenon or a field of study. By analysing empirical evidence, applied research further investigates the outcomes of basic research to validate the findings and solve problems.

Examples of basic research

Basic research generates new ideas, theories and principles that lay the foundation for applied research. This type of research stems from researchers' curiosity and their desire to explore the unknown. The primary motivation for engaging in basic research is to expand knowledge and improve the understanding of natural phenomena.

Here are some examples of basic research:

  • a study to look at the effects of social media on teenagers

  • a study to examine the genetic code of the fruit fly

  • a study to find out the components of protons, neutrons and electrons

  • a study to investigate how alcohol impacts the brain

  • a study to assess the correlation between stress levels and aggression

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Examples of applied research

Applied research aims to solve practical problems in everyday life affecting individuals, groups or the society. It provides answers to specific questions and derives solutions to defined problems. A broad goal of an applied research scientist is to improve the human condition.

Here are some examples of applied research:

  • a study to optimise a company's hiring process

  • a study to stimulate students' interest in Mathematics

  • a study to improve the energy efficiency of homes and offices

  • a study to investigate factors that contribute to extrinsic and intrinsic motivation

  • a study to find effective sales strategies to increase revenue

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Differences between basic research and applied research

Basic research and applied research are both important ways to gain new information. Researchers begin with a clear definition of their research purpose and the research methodologies to use. While basic research and applied research may use similar data collection methods for their investigations, there are differences between these two approaches that influence a researcher's decisions. Here are some areas where basic research and applied research differ:

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Theory formulation

Basic research focuses on formulating principles and theories to explain concepts or phenomena in different subject fields. It aims to derive knowledge that's universally applicable. Applied research focuses on searching for solutions. Instead of forming theories, it studies empirical evidence to align its findings with specific problems.

Research scope

The research scope for basic research can be very wide, as researchers may work with diverse concepts across a variety of subject matters. Basic research may explore knowledge across different dimensions to seek new information and improve existing knowledge. Applied research usually narrows in on a specific subject and the research outcomes are relevant for this subject only. This means that applied research may have a more limited scope than basic research.

Research context

Researchers typically conduct basic research in a controlled environment, such as a laboratory. This means that they can focus on observing the behaviours of the research subjects. Applied research usually happens in real-life settings without restrictions. In these settings, variables can interact with one another, or third-party variables may intervene with the subjects under study. By emulating actual scenarios, researchers can gain a broader view of the research problem and derive valid solutions.

Research outcomes

Basic research produces outcomes that include new theories, additional aspects of existing theories or new information that adds to an existing database of knowledge. Applied research produces results or conclusions after researchers test the empirical evidence. These findings either confirm or negate the research hypotheses, and researchers use these as a basis for deriving solutions to problems.

Research approaches

Research that seeks new knowledge is often more theoretical in approach. The focus is on generating theories and improving existing theories. Research that aims to solve problems has a more practical approach. The value of this type of research lies in the utility of the research outcomes. It's valuable when people use the research findings to develop innovations and solve problems successfully.

Research commercialisation

Applied research is more likely to lead to commercialisation as there's a potential for creating new products that result in monetary gain. Companies and governments may therefore prefer to undertake or sponsor applied research than basic research. While basic research contributes to a society's knowledge base, there's a lower likelihood of commercialising the findings of this type of research.

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Methods used in basic research and applied research

Both basic research and applied research make use of different methods to collect data when carrying out investigations. Researchers sometimes use these methods interchangeably for both types of research. Here are some common research methods:

Interviews

An interview is a qualitative data collection method used in both basic research and applied research. Interviews involve one-to-one discussions with individuals to gather relevant information that serves as empirical data. Depending on the research purposes, interviews can take on many forms, including structured, unstructured or semi-structured.

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Observations

An observation is a method of gathering data by paying attention to research subjects or phenomena for specified periods. Researchers do this to get information about how the subjects behave, or how they interact with their environment. Basic research frequently uses observation as a research method. Researchers may conduct structured or unstructured observation, depending on their research aims.

Experiments

An experiment is a quantitative method of data collection that aims to support or refute research hypotheses. Researchers conducting experiments can adjust different variables within a laboratory environment to test the hypotheses. Researchers conducting basic research frequently use experiments to achieve objective research outcomes. The three broad types of experiments are controlled experiments, field experiments and natural experiments.

Questionnaires

Questionnaires gather quantitative information that's applicable for both basic research and applied research. A questionnaire usually comprises a series of questions related to the research context that research subjects provide answers to. They may either select from suggested responses or give their own responses. The types of questions in a questionnaire may include open-ended questions, rating questions and multiple-choice questions.

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Occupations that conduct basic research and applied research

There are many career fields that require the use of basic research and applied research. Depending on their research purposes, organisations may expect employees performing particular roles to engage in either type of research. Here are some careers that may conduct basic research and applied research:

  • Scientists: Scientists may work in a wide range of organisations, such as private research laboratories, government agencies and academic institutions. They may conduct basic research to expand knowledge, or applied research to solve an organisation's problems.

  • Sociologists: Sociologists study human behaviour and may use basic research to learn more about a particular group in society. They may also undertake applied research to provide solutions to societal issues.

  • Marketing researchers: Marketing researchers are responsible for finding ways to improve business performance by stimulating sales. They usually carry out applied research to discover marketing strategies that work for their target audience.

  • Academics: Academics are involved in learning and typically work in institutions of higher learning. They engage in basic research to generate new theories or undertake applied research to address practical problems.

  • Business researchers: Business researchers conduct research to seek information that aims to maximise sales and profits for an organisation. They may use applied research methods to determine how to improve organisational performance and uncover effective business strategies.

  • Psychologists: Psychologists may undertake basic research to seek new knowledge about mental health conditions. They may also use applied research findings to help patients manage these conditions.

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