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Understanding basic research

Last updated

8 February 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Cathy Heath

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Research is an essential activity for all of us. It's how we foster curiosity, gather information, learn about the world, and find solutions. There are many different types of research, but they all fall into one of two categories: basic and applied.

This article will look at basic research, what it is, how we use it, and how it compares to applied research.

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What is basic research?

Basic research is all about information-gathering and answering What, Why, and How research questions. It involves learning the facts about a subject, finding out why things happen, perhaps by investigation or observation, and then using this expanded knowledge to better understand the topic.

Basic research is also called fundamental, foundational, or pure research.

Where is basic research used?

You use basic research methods every day, whenever you are trying to learn more about something. You might do basic research when learning how to use a new kitchen gadget or seeking information about how caffeine affects you after 3PM. You are even doing basic research on basic research by reading this article, as you are building your knowledge of this topic.

What are examples of basic research?

  • Studying how a client moves through the sales funnel process

  • Examining the components of a cell

  • Analyzing performance before and after coffee consumption

  • Looking at how stress affects productivity

  • Determining which areas of a country are driest and wettest

  • Understanding how a doctor makes a mental health diagnosis

What are basic research methods?

You can conduct basic research using several different methods. The best method will depend on what you are studying and what questions you are trying to answer.

Some methods available for basic research include:

  • Experimentation

  • Conducting a survey or interview

  • Observation

What is the value of basic research?

Basic research teaches us about the world around us. It helps us gather more primary data about a subject, which we can use later in applied research. Without that basic information on a subject, we wouldn't have the data we need to make informed decisions.

That's why basic research is often called foundational research. The information we acquire through basic research gives us a foundation of knowledge we can build on in the future.

Is basic research qualitative or quantitative?

Basic research can be qualitative, quantitative, or both.

Quantitative data deals with quantities or numbers. You could chart this data on a graph, using measurements such as:

  • Weight

  • Age

  • Income

  • Currency

  • Other numerical data

Qualitative data deals with qualitiesIt focuses more on the language and sentiment found in:

  • Interview responses

  • Observations about human behavior

  • Verbal answers to surveys

You can get qualitative and quantitative data from basic research, depending on what you are researching and the methods you use.

Basic research vs. applied research

Where basic research gathers information and data on a subject, applied research uses that data to look for answers to questions. Applied research takes the data obtained in basic research and applies it to answer a question and provide a possible solution.

There are three types of applied research:

  • Evaluation research: determining how well something is working or what it’s worth

  • Action research: understanding how to improve a process, for example in education or business

  • Research and development: looking at new products and services that businesses can offer consumers to solve a problem

Applied research often hinges on data collected during basic research. For example, you might gather data on how customers move through the sales funnel. The information you learn about the customer journey comes from your basic research, which you might gather through website analytics and customer interviews.

Now you want to know the best method for bringing more people into the sales funnel. You could use applied research to determine if it's better to increase your digital ad spending, send more emails, or use telemarketing to capture more sales leads.

Where is applied research used?

As applied research is solution-based, agencies concerned with medical research, psychology, and education all use it to improve lives. For businesses, applied research is the foundation of research and development (R&D) departments that are looking to create new consumer products and services.

You can also use applied research in your everyday life. You might use basic research to gather data on how caffeine affects your sleeping patterns, then use applied research techniques to determine how to get a better night's sleep.

Examples of applied research

Examples of applied research include:

  • Identifying new products to help aging seniors stay safe at home

  • Looking at ways to treat a medical condition safely

  • Determining how to make products last longer 

  • Examining the best ways to prevent Type 2 diabetes

  • Understanding how to engage teens in math classes

  • How to market a product to Gen Z

  • Understanding how businesses could help reduce their impact on climate change

What is the value of applied research?

Applied research's value lies in its ability to help us solve problems with data-backed solutions. However, without comprehensive basic research at the outset, we wouldn't have the information we need to find those solutions. This illustrates why basic research and applied research often work hand in hand, supporting research efforts and validating better outcomes.

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