Based on purpose or utility, a research approach can either be basic or applied. While basic research aims at expanding knowledge by creating new theories and modifying existing ones, applied research is focused on providing practical solutions to specific problems by analyzing empirical evidence. 

There are several meeting and departure points for these approaches, and it is pertinent for every researcher to understand them effectively. In this article, we will be detailing 15 key differences between basic and applied research methods, while also highlighting some similarities between these  research methodologies. 

What is Basic Research? 

Basic research is a research approach that is entirely theoretical and aimed at improving or expanding the knowledge-base of a particular field of study. It focuses on “knowledge for its own sake” and it is primarily driven by curiosity and the need to explore the unknown. 

It is also known as fundamental or pure research and it is a systematic investigation  set  to achieve a better and more detailed understanding of a research subject or phenomenon, not to solve  a specific problem. 

What is Applied Research? 

Applied research is designed to focus on providing  practical solutions to a specific problem. It is a form of investigation that entails  solution-oriented inquiries  into a phenomenon,a field of study or research subject generally employing  empirical methodologies. 

In many cases, applied research is a follow-up research design for basic research because it further investigates the outcomes of pure or basic research in order to validate these findings and apply them to create innovative solutions to specific problems. 

15 Differences Between Basic and Applied Research

  • Definition 

Applied research is a research methodology that creates practical solutions for specific problems while basic research is an approach to research that seeks to expand knowledge in a field of study. This means that applied research is solution-driven while basic research is knowledge-specific. 

Basic research seeks to advance the frontiers of knowledge by creating new theories or modifying existing ones. On the other hand, applied research is primarily concerned with creating solutions to problems by collecting and analyzing empirical data in order to arrive at valid research outcomes. 

  • Characteristics 

Applied research is primarily defined by its focus on providing a practical solution to a defined problem while basic research is primarily defined by its focus on expanding knowledge. In other words, basic research is theory-oriented, applied research is practical-oriented. 

Applied research is action-oriented and synthetic in nature while basic research is explanatory and analytical in nature. Basic research is solution-specific and primarily concerned with the expansion of knowledge and not with the application of research findings which is the focus of applied research.  

  • Advantages of Basic Research over Applied Research

Basic research results in the acquisition of new knowledge and it also expands existing knowledge while applied research does not lead to the acquisition of new knowledge. Applied research only focuses on applying knowledge to solve existing problems hence, it is solution-specific. 

Findings from basic research have been predominantly responsible for breakthroughs in different fields of study while findings from applied research are primarily useful for solving specific research problems. Hence, basic research is universal in nature while applied research is limited in nature. 

  • Advantages of Applied Research over Basic Research

Applied research helps organizations and individuals to solve specific problems, unlike basic research that is simply focused on expanding knowledge without providing solutions to existing problems. This, however, does not negate the fact that findings from basic research are useful to proffer  solutions to problems. 

Unlike basic research which  is somewhat subjective in its approach, applied research is an objective method of inquiry. Typically, applied research is unbiased because it arrives at outcomes by subjecting empirical evidence to standardized scientific procedures and this makes it a more valid research method. 

  • Examples in Education

In education, applied research is used to improve teaching and learning methods by providing practical solutions to pedagogic problems. On the other hand, basic research is used in education to develop new pedagogic theories that explain different behaviors by teachers and students within the learning environment. 

Examples of basic research in education include: 

  1. How does the human memory work?
  2. How do children acquire new languages? 

Examples of applied research in education include: 

  1. A study to build students’ interests in religious studies.
  2. A study to improve classroom interaction between teachers and students. 
  • Examples in Health

Applied research helps health and medical practitioners to develop evidence-based solutions to pressing health problems. On the other hand, basic research helps medical practitioners to gain insights into different health issues such as the origin and symptoms of diseases and infections which can be useful in developing a cure for such conditions. 

Examples of basic research in health include: 

  1. An investigation into the secondary symptoms of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). 
  2. An investigation into the symptoms of diarrhea. 

Examples of applied research in health include: 

  1. An investigation to determine the healing properties of mushrooms.
  2. An investigation to determine the side effects of alcohol consumption. 
  • Examples in Psychology

Applied research is extremely useful in industrial-psychology to create solutions for problems related to workplace behavior, organizational policies and employee recruitment processes. Basic research in psychology is used to gain insights into different psychological conditions in order to understand these behaviors better. 

Examples of basic research in psychology include:

  1. How do panic attacks happen? 
  2. What are the symptoms of anxiety disorders? 

Examples of applied research in psychology include: 

  1. What are the treatment options for anxiety disorders?
  2. What are the ways to improve employees’ productivity in the workplace? 
  • Other Names 

Basic research is also known as pure or fundamental research because it is knowledge-specific while applied research is also referred to as contractual research because of its primary focus on providing a solution to a specific problem. 

  • Uses

Applied research is useful for finding practical solutions to defined problems while basic research is useful for gathering novel information about a concept, phenomenon or field of study. 

Basic research explores the functions and features of newly discovered phenomena in order to improve the understanding of these concepts hence; it fuels scientific and technological innovations. Applied research, on the other hand, helps to provide solutions to improve a specific condition or create new technology. 

  • Research Purpose

Basic research is driven by curiosity and the need to explore new areas of knowledge in different fields. On the other hand, applied research is driven by the need to provide answers to specific questions in order to solve a problem. 

This means that applied research is primarily concerned with examining empirical evidence for answers while in basic research, the researcher examines data samples in order to gather more information about them. Such information improves the quality of knowledge of the  subject matter. 

  • Research Context

Basic research is conducted in a controlled research environment such as a laboratory while conceptual research is conducted in a real-life setting that is not sterile or restricted. The sterile research context in basic research allows the researcher to strictly observe the behaviors and characteristics of the research subjects. 

In applied research, however, the researcher allows the dependent and independent variables to freely interact with one another in an unrestricted setting where other variables or third factors may intervene. This allows the researcher to have a broader overview of the research problem and arrive at valid and practical solutions. 

  • Scope of the Research

Generally, applied research is more limited in scope when compared to basic research. This is because unlike basic research that can be applied to diverse concepts, applied research largely focuses on a specific subject, and its research outcomes are primarily relevant to this subject. 

Because it deals with diverse concepts across different subject matters, basic research is considered a more universal research method than conceptual research. Fundamental research explores knowledge across multiple dimensions in order to gather new information and improve an existing body of knowledge. 

  • Theory Formulation

Basic research aims at formulating theories that explain research findings and in the process,  improve   a body of knowledge while applied research aims at arriving at research findings that can solve practical problems. Basic research focuses on principles and theories while applied research focuses on solutions. 

Typically, basic research aims at formulating theories and generalizations that explain a concept, subject or phenomenon and are universally applicable. On the other hand, applied research or conceptual research studies empirical evidence in order to align its findings with a specific problem.  

  • Research Outcomes

After carrying out applied research by testing the empirical evidence, the researcher arrives at valid findings or conclusions that confirm or negate the research hypotheses. These findings typically answer the specific research questions, that is, the reason for the applied research. 

On the other hand, at the endpoint of basic research lies new theories, new dimensions to existing theories or new information that improves on a body of knowledge. The outcomes of basic research do not directly serve as innovative solutions to a practical problem. 

  • Research Approach

Basic research is theoretical in nature while applied research is practical in nature. In this sense, basic research generates theories and improves on existing theories with the aim of contributing to an existing knowledge bank. 

Applied research, on the other hand, is practical and more descriptive in nature. It is more concerned with the utility and value of research outcomes in terms of their end usage, that is, how they can be used to solve existing problems and develop innovations. 

Are There Similarities Between Applied and Basic Research

  • Data Gathering Methods

basic and applied research adopt similar data collection processes in order to gather relevant data and arrive at the most objective research outcomes. They typically make use of qualitative and quantitative data gathering methods such as interviews, questionnaires, surveys, and focus groups to gather information and arrive at research outcomes. 

  • Intersectionality

The research outcomes of basic research often serve as the bedrock for applied research.  

  • Inductive and Deductive Reasoning

Basic and applied research methods make use of both inductive and deductive reasoning to support the research hypotheses. In deductive reasoning, the researcher moves from the idea to observation, while in inductive reasoning, the researcher transits from observation to the idea. 


It is important for  researchers to understand the similarities and differences between applied and basic research methods. As  highlighted earlier, the major difference between applied and basic research is the purpose of the research, that is, what the research is set to achieve.

Apart from the purpose of the research, applied and basic research also differ based on the research outcomes, nature of the research and its contexts, to mention but a few. However, both research methods adopt similar data gathering processes including observation and interviews, in order to arrive at objective outcomes. 

  • busayo.longe
  • on 8 min read


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