GuidesResearch methodsBasic vs. applied research: what’s the difference?

Basic vs. applied research: what’s the difference?

Last updated

27 February 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Cathy Heath

Research is a detailed study of a subject, especially to discover new information or reach a deeper understanding.

Research can be used to learn new facts, create new products, and solve various problems. Yet, there are different ways to undertake research to meet a desired goal. 

The method you choose to conduct research will most likely be based on what question you want to answer, plus other factors that will help you accurately get the answer you need. 

Research falls into two main categories: basic research and applied research. Both types of research have distinct purposes and varied benefits. 

This guide will help you understand the differences and similarities between basic and applied research and how they're used. It also answers common questions about the two types of research, including:

  • Why is it called basic research?

  • What is more important, basic research or applied research?

  • What are examples of pure (basic) research and applied research?

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What is basic research?

Basic research (sometimes called fundamental or pure) advances scientific knowledge to completely understand a subject, topic, or phenomenon. It's conducted to satisfy curiosity or develop a full body of knowledge on a specific subject.

Basic research is used to bring about a fundamental understanding of the world, different behaviors, and is the foundation of knowledge in the scientific disciplines. It is usually conducted based on developing and testing theories.

While there is no apparent commercial value to the discoveries that result from basic research, it is the foundation of research used for other projects like developing solutions to solve problems. 

Examples of basic research

Basic research has always been used to give humans a better understanding of all branches of science and knowledge. However, it's not specifically based on identifying new things about the universe.

Basic research has a wide range of uses, as shown in the following examples:

  • Investigation into how the universe began

  • A study searching for the causes of cancer

  • Understanding the components that make up human DNA

  • An examination into whether a vegetarian diet is healthier than one with meat

  • A study to learn more about which areas in the world get the most precipitation

Benefits of conducting basic research

Called basic research because it is performed without an immediate or obvious benefit, this type of research often leads to vital solutions in the future. While basic research isn't technically solution-driven, it develops the underlying knowledge used for additional learning and research. 

There are many benefits derived from basic research, including:

  • Gaining an understanding of living systems and the environment

  • Gathering information that can help society prepare for the future

  • Expanding knowledge that can lead to medical advances

  • Providing a foundation for applied research

What is applied research?

Applied research studies particular circumstances to apply the information to real-life situations. It helps improve the human condition by finding practical solutions for existing problems.

Applied research builds off facts derived from basic research and other data to address challenges in all facets of life. Instead of exploring theories of the unknown, applied research requires researchers to use existing knowledge, facts, and discoveries to generate new knowledge. 

Solutions derived from applied research are used in situations ranging from medical treatments or product development to new laws or regulations.

Examples of applied research

Applied research is designed to solve practical problems that exist under current conditions. However, it's not only used for consumer-based products and decisions.

Applied research can be used in a variety of ways, as illustrated by the following examples:

  • The investigation of ways to improve agricultural crop production

  • A study to improve methods to market products for Gen Z consumers

  • Examination of how technology can t make car tires last longer

  • Exploration of how to cook healthy meals with a limited budget

  • A study on how to treat patients with insomnia

Benefits of using applied research

Although applied research expands upon a foundation of existing knowledge, it also brings about new ideas. Applied research provides many benefits in various circumstances, including:

  • Designing new products and services

  • Creating new objectives

  • Providing unbiased data through the testing of verifiable evidence

Basic research vs. applied research: the differences

Both basic and applied research are tactics for discovering specific information. However, they differ significantly in the way research is conducted and the objectives they achieve. 

Some of the most notable differences between basic and applied research include the following:

Research outcomes: curiosity-driven vs. solution-driven

Basic research is generally conducted to learn more about a specific subject. It is usually self-initiated to gain knowledge to satisfy curiosity or confirm a theory. 

Conversely, applied knowledge is directed toward finding a solution to a specific problem. It is often conducted to assist a client in improving products, services, or issues.

Research scope: universal scope vs. specific scope

Basic research uses a broad scope to apply various concepts to gain more knowledge. Research methods may include studying different subjects to add more information that connects evidence points in a greater body of data.

Meanwhile, applied research depends on a specific or narrow scope to gather specific evidence to address a certain problem.

Research approaches: expanding existing knowledge vs. finding new knowledge

Researchers conduct basic research to fill in gaps between existing information points. Basic knowledge is an expansion of existing knowledge to gain a deeper understanding. It is often based on how, what, or why something is the way it is. Although applied research may be based on information derived from basic research, it's not designed to expand the knowledge. Instead, the research is conducted to find new knowledge, usually in the form of a solution.

Research commercialization: Informational vs. commercial gain

The main basis of product development is to solve a problem for consumers.

Basic research might lead to solutions and commercial products in the future to help with this. Since applied research is used to develop solutions, it's often used for commercial gain.

Theory formulation: theoretical vs. practical nature

Basic research is usually based on a theory about a specific subject. Researchers may develop a theory that grows and changes as more information is discovered during the research process. Conversely, applied research is practical in nature since the goal is to solve a specific problem.

Are there similarities between applied and basic research?

While some obvious differences exist, applied and basic research methods have similarities. For example, researchers may use the same methods to collect data (like interviews, surveys, and focus groups) for both types of research. 

Both types of research require researchers to use inductive and deductive reasoning to develop and prove hypotheses. The two types of research frequently intersect when basic research serves as the foundation for applied research.

While applied research is solution-based, basic research is equally important because it yields information used to develop solutions to many types of problems. 

Methods used in basic research and applied research

While basic and applied research have different approaches and goals, they require researchers or scientists to gather data. Basic and applied research makes use of many of the same methods to gather and study information, including the following:

  • Observations: Studying research subjects for an extended time allows researchers to gather information about how subjects behave under different conditions.

  • Interviews: Surveys and one-to-one discussions help researchers gain information from other subjects and validate data.

  • Experiments: Researchers conduct experiments to prove or disprove certain hypotheses based on information that has been gathered.

  • Questionnaires: A series of questions related to the research context helps researchers gather quantitative information applicable to both basic and applied research.

How do you determine when to use basic research vs. applied research?

Basic and applied research are both helpful in obtaining knowledge. However, they aren't usually used in the same settings or under the same circumstances. 

When you're trying to determine which type of research to use for a particular project, it's essential to consider your product goals. Basic research seeks answers to universal, theoretical questions. While it works to uncover specific knowledge, it's generally not used to develop a solution. Conversely, applied research discovers answers to specific questions. It should be used to find out new knowledge to solve a problem.

Bottom line

Both basic and applied research are methods used to gather information and analyze facts that help build knowledge around a subject. However, basic research is used to gain understanding and satisfy curiosity, while applied research is used to solve specific problems. Both types of research depend on gathering information to prove a hypothesis or create a product, service, or valuable process. 

By learning more about the similarities and differences between basic and applied research, you'll be prepared to gather and use data efficiently to meet your needs.

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