applied research and basic research examples

Basic vs. applied research

applied research and basic research examples

  • Coding qualitative data for valuable insights

What is the difference between applied research and basic research?

Examples of basic research vs. applied research, basic vs. applied research: a comparative analysis, the interplay between basic and applied research, introduction.

Basic and applied research look at existing knowledge and create new knowledge in different ways. They share the same basic principles of contributing to knowledge through research findings, but their aims and objectives are distinctly different.

applied research and basic research examples

In the vast realm of scientific inquiry, research stands as the cornerstone for advancement, driving our understanding of the world and fostering innovation. At its core, research can be bifurcated into two primary types: applied and basic research . While both serve pivotal roles in contributing to our collective knowledge, they operate with distinct objectives and outcomes.

Any approach that is called basic research delves into the foundational principles and theories of science. It is driven by a researcher's curiosity and the aspiration to expand the frontiers of understanding. The primary goal isn't to solve an immediate problem but to garner knowledge for the sake of understanding.

On the other hand, applied research focuses on analysis intended to solve practical problems. Conducting applied research means seeking solutions to specific, tangible challenges that society or industries face. Using the principles derived from basic research, applied research aims to bring about real-world impact and deliver pragmatic solutions.

Basic research

Basic research, often called "pure" or "fundamental" research , is characterized by its intrinsic quest to unravel the mysteries of nature and society. It is an investigation into the very core of phenomena, aiming to discover new principles, theories, or facts without an immediate application in mind. This kind of research is often propelled by the researcher's curiosity, a thirst to understand the "why" and "how" of things, rather than the "what can we do with it."

applied research and basic research examples

Basic research has a relatively broad scope and aims to enhance the existing body of knowledge in a particular field. It's not about creating a new product, improving a process, or solving a current societal problem. Instead, it's about laying the groundwork for future investigations, paving the way for applied research to build upon. Basic research poses questions like, "What are the fundamental principles of this phenomenon?" or "How does this process work at different levels?"

Such goals provide the essential framework upon which much of our modern understanding and technological advancement rests. Without the exploratory and explanatory nature of basic research, the foundational knowledge needed to drive innovation would be missing.

Applied research

While basic research focuses on curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, applied research takes a different approach by examining how real-world phenomena or outcomes can be altered. At its core, applied research is oriented towards identifying practical solutions to specific problems. Its primary objective is not just to add to the existing knowledge base but to leverage that knowledge to develop solutions, innovations, or interventions that can be directly applied in the real world.

applied research and basic research examples

Applied research is deeply rooted in real-world issues. Whether it's finding a cure for a specific disease, developing a new technological solution for environmental challenges, or creating strategies to improve education in underprivileged communities, the primary goal is to generate practical outcomes that can be directly implemented. Its relevance is often immediately apparent, as it's tailored to answer particular challenges faced by society, industries, or organizations.

The line between basic and applied research can sometimes blur, especially when foundational discoveries from basic research lead directly to tangible applications. However, the main distinction lies in the intent: while basic research seeks to understand the fundamental nature of phenomena, applied research aims to harness that understanding for tangible benefits.

Applied research is invaluable as it accelerates the transition of theoretical knowledge into practical, impactful solutions. Through applied research, the abstract findings of basic research are transformed into actionable insights, tools, and technologies that shape our daily lives and address pressing challenges.

applied research and basic research examples

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Research in the social sciences encompasses a broad spectrum of topics, ranging from understanding human behavior and societal structures to exploring the dynamics of interpersonal relationships. Basic and applied research methods in the social sciences offer unique insights into these areas. Let's delve into some examples to understand their distinct approaches.

Basic research examples

The social construction of reality

A classic area of investigation in sociology is understanding how societies construct reality. This kind of research delves deep into the ways cultures, languages, and institutions shape our understanding of the world. It doesn't immediately aim to solve societal problems but provides essential insights into how perceptions and beliefs are formed. Research methods often used for this type of study include in-depth interviews , participant observations , and ethnographic studies .

Attachment theory in psychology

Attachment theory seeks to understand the deep emotional and physical attachment between a child and at least one primary caregiver. It delves into the nature of attachment and its implications for personal development. The research often involves longitudinal studies that observe behaviors over extended periods.

Applied research examples

Interventions for at-risk youth

Applied researchers might design programs or interventions to help at-risk youth, building on the foundational knowledge of psychology, sociology, and education. The research might involve evaluating the effectiveness of a particular program, using methods like surveys , focus groups , and pre-and-post assessments.

Communication strategies for public health

Understanding human behavior is crucial for successful public health campaigns. Researchers might study the best ways to communicate vital health information to various populations, especially in times of crisis like pandemics. Methods often include A/B testing of messages, surveys to assess message efficacy, and observational studies to gauge real-world behavior following communication campaigns.

The distinction between basic and applied research is not just a matter of intent or outcome; it also encompasses differences in methodologies , scopes, and approaches. Let's undertake a comparative analysis to illuminate these distinctions further, particularly in the context of the social sciences.

Purpose and motivation

Basic research is motivated by the quest for knowledge. It seeks to answer fundamental questions about human behavior, societal structures, and the interplay between various social factors. The driving force here is curiosity. In contrast, applied research is driven by the need to address specific societal or practical problems. Its purpose is to take the theoretical knowledge derived from basic research and convert it into actionable solutions.

Methodological approaches

It's important to acknowledge that there is no one universal research method that can address all potential research inquiries. Moreover, the same research methods, such as conducting interviews or engaging in inductive and deductive reasoning , can be utilized in basic and applied research, but they will differ in their scope and objectives. While applied research is more experimental or confirmatory, a basic research approach is often exploratory or explanatory in nature. Basic research methods include ethnography , in-depth interviews , or longitudinal studies to gain a deep understanding of a topic. The focus is on generating theories and understanding patterns.

applied research and basic research examples

Applied research, on the other hand, often employs more structured and targeted methodologies. Surveys , experiments, and evaluations are commonly used to verify propositions, assess the efficacy of interventions, or gauge public opinion. The approach is more pragmatic, seeking results that can inform decisions and guide actions.

Outcomes and results

Basic research outcomes are usually theoretical contributions: new concepts, theories, or insights into existing phenomena. The results expand the academic literature and provide a foundation for future studies.

Applied research results in tangible solutions or recommendations. The outcomes might include a new social program, policy recommendations, interventions, or communication strategies. The results are geared towards immediate implementation and often have direct implications for organizations, governments, or communities.

The discourse on basic and applied research often sets them apart, emphasizing their distinct objectives and methodologies. However, it's crucial to recognize that these research types aren't isolated from each other. They coexist in a symbiotic relationship, where the findings from basic research often provide the foundational knowledge for applied research, and the results of applied research can inspire further basic investigations.

The transition of knowledge

One of the most notable instances of the interplay is how basic research's findings become the bedrock for applied research projects. For example, a basic research study on cognitive development in children might reveal specific patterns or stages. An applied researcher, recognizing the implications of these findings, could then design educational interventions tailored to these developmental stages.

How one complements the other

Basic research pushes the boundaries of our understanding, expanding the horizon of what we know. Applied research, on the other hand, can reframe this expansive knowledge and make it relevant and actionable for society's immediate needs.

applied research and basic research examples

But the relationship is reciprocal. Applied research can also highlight gaps in our understanding, pointing out areas where basic research is needed. For instance, if an intervention designed based on current knowledge fails to achieve its intended results, it signals to basic researchers that there might be underlying factors or dynamics not yet understood.

The dynamic continuum

Instead of viewing basic and applied research as two separate entities, it's more accurate to see them as points on a continuum. The knowledge generated by basic research flows towards applied projects, which in turn can inspire further basic investigations. This dynamic loop ensures that research in the social sciences remains both grounded in fundamental understanding and relevant to real-world challenges.

applied research and basic research examples

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applied research and basic research examples

  • Key Differences

Know the Differences & Comparisons

Difference Between Basic and Applied Research

basic vs applied research

On the contrary, applied research implies the research that is put to practical use and is beneficial to solve practical problems. This article might help you in understanding the difference between basic and applied research.

Content: Basic Research Vs Applied Research

Comparison chart.

Basis for ComparisonBasic ResearchApplied Research
MeaningBasic Research refers to the study that is aimed at expanding the existing base of scientific knowledge.Applied Research is the research that is designed to solve specific practical problems or answer certain questions.
Concerned withDeveloping scientific knowledge and predictionsDevelopment of technology and technique
GoalTo add some knowledge to the existing one.To find out solution for the problem at hand.

Definition of Basic Research

Basic Research or otherwise called as pure or fundamental research, is one that focuses on advancing scientific knowledge for the complete understanding of a topic or certain natural phenomenon, primarily in natural sciences. In a nutshell, when knowledge is acquired for the sake of knowledge it is called basic research.

Basic Research is completely theoretical, that focuses on basic principles and testing theories. It tends to understand the basic law.

Basic Research deals with generalization and formulation of theory about human behaviour. It is aligned towards collecting information that has universal applicability. Therefore, basic research helps in adding new knowledge to the already existing knowledge.

Definition of Applied Research

Applied Research can be defined as research that encompasses real life application of the natural science. It is directed towards providing a solution to the specific practical problems and develop innovative technology.

In finer terms, it is the research that can be applied to real-life situations. It studies a particular set of circumstances, so as to relate the results to its corresponding circumstances.

Applied research includes research that focuses on certain conclusions experiencing a business problem. Moreover, research that is aligned towards ascertaining social, economic or political trends are also termed as applied research.

Key Differences Between Basic and Applied Research

The points given below explain the differences between basic and applied research:

  • Basic Research can be explained as research that tries to expand the already existing scientific knowledge base. On the contrary, applied research is used to mean the scientific study that is helpful in solving real-life problems.
  • While basic research is purely theoretical, applied research has a practical approach.
  • The applicability of basic research is greater than the applied research, in the sense that the former is universally applicable whereas the latter can be applied only to the specific problem, for which it was carried out.
  • The primary concern of the basic research is to develop scientific knowledge and predictions. On the other hand, applied research stresses on the development of technology and technique with the help of basic science.
  • The fundamental goal of the basic research is to add some knowledge to the already existing one. Conversely, applied research is directed towards finding a solution to the problem under consideration.

The type of research may vary on the basis of the level at which research is carried out and its purpose. One can choose basic research over applied research when the purpose is to add certain scientific knowledge, whereas when it is important to identify a proper solution to the problem under study, applied research is preferable.

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November 7, 2018 at 5:41 pm

Please guide me about research & impact evaluation… me impact evaluation is an assessment procedure & it’s formatted differently than research…what r the basic differences between the two? Thank u.

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Author’s name?

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This article is very useful to me because it Helps to answer my assignment Explain the distinctions between basic research and applied research. Thank you

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  • Basic vs Applied Research: 15 Key Differences


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: 

  • How does the human memory work?
  • How do children acquire new languages? 

Examples of applied research in education include: 

  • A study to build students’ interests in religious studies.
  • 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: 

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

Examples of applied research in health include: 

  • An investigation to determine the healing properties of mushrooms.
  • 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:

  • How do panic attacks happen? 
  • What are the symptoms of anxiety disorders? 

Examples of applied research in psychology include: 

  • What are the treatment options for anxiety disorders?
  • 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. 

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. 


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Understanding basic research

Last updated

8 February 2023

Reviewed by

Cathy Heath

Short on time? Get an AI generated summary of this article instead

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.

Analyze your basic research

Dovetail streamlines analysis to help you uncover and share actionable insights

  • 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?
  • 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:


Conducting a survey or interview


  • 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:

Other numerical data

Qualitative data deals with  qualities .  It 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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Academia Insider

The difference between basic and applied research – Key differences

 In a rapidly evolving landscape of scientific and technological innovation, understanding the inner workings of research is increasingly vital.

Whether you’re a seasoned academic, an industry professional, or simply a curious individual, comprehending the difference between applied and basic research is used to provide critical insights into how knowledge is both generated and utilized. 

These two kinds of research, while distinct in their aims and methodologies, often serve as two sides of the same coin, each with its unique contributions and challenges.

By examining research outcomes, funding sources, criticisms, and examples from both categories, this comprehensive blog demystifies the often blurry line that separates basic research vs applied research methods. 

If you’ve ever pondered which type of research to use for a project or questioned how basic principles derived from foundational studies turn into real-world applications, this exploration offers a lens into the multifaceted world of research.

Key Differences Between Basic and Applied Research

In the realm of scientific inquiry, understanding the key differences between basic and applied research is crucial. These two types of research serve distinct purposes and often utilize different research methods, but they are interconnected in the quest for new knowledge.

AttributeBasic ResearchApplied Research
Primary ObjectiveTo acquire new knowledge and understandingTo solve a specific, practical problem
FocusTheoretical, general conceptsReal-world applications
Research MethodsObservational, theoretical, experimentalControlled experiments, surveys, case studies
Immediate ApplicationTypically noYes
ExamplesEinstein’s theories in physicsHealth campaigns to reduce heart disease
CriticismsMay lack immediate practical useMay not contribute to theoretical understanding
Time HorizonLong-term, foundationalShort-term, actionable
Funding SourceOften academic or government grantsTypically industry, private sector, or targeted grants
Real-world ImpactMay lead to unforeseen applicationsDirectly aimed at current issues
InterconnectednessCan lay the groundwork for applied researchMay contribute to general understanding

Basic Research

Basic research focuses on the acquisition of fundamental understanding without immediate application in mind. 

For example, when Einstein was formulating his theories in physics, he was conducting basic research.

He sought to explain the laws governing the universe but didn’t necessarily aim to solve a practical problem.

Basic research often gets criticized for not having apparent applications, but it lays the groundwork for future advancements. Years after Einstein, his theories paved the way for the development of laser technology, used in everything from DVDs to medical procedures.

Applied Research

Applied research focuses on solving specific, practical problems. It’s the type of research used when health psychologists want to tackle rising rates of cardiovascular diseases, for instance. Conducting applied research, they may investigate effective messaging strategies to encourage healthier diets, aiming to produce tangible benefits in public health. 

Applied research seeks to utilize scientific understanding for a particular real-world issue.

The line between basic and applied research is not always clear-cut. While applied research may yield new knowledge that contributes to a broader understanding of human behavior, basic research may inadvertently lead to practical applications.

For instance, research in quantum mechanics, which was initially considered highly theoretical, has found applications in modern computing.

It’s also worth noting that the research methods employed may differ based on the type of research being conducted.

Applied research often employs methods like case studies, surveys, or controlled experiments aimed at resolving a specific issue, whereas basic research might involve more theoretical or observational methods aimed at general understanding.

While basic research often explores theoretical concepts without an immediate application, applied research focuses on real-world issues. Both are integral in advancing our collective knowledge and sometimes unexpectedly complement each other in offering solutions to challenges we face.

 What’s better? Basic vs applied research?

The debate between the impact of basic and applied research is an enduring one, and both sides have compelling arguments. The key differences between the two types of research are their aims and methods.

  • Basic research focuses on generating new knowledge and understanding fundamental principles, often without an immediate application in mind.
  • Applied research, on the other hand, seeks to solve specific problems and is often guided by practical outcomes.

One could argue, as some experts do, that basic research often has a more profound long-term impact. For instance, the discovery of the structure of DNA was a feat of basic research.

Today, it serves as the cornerstone for a multitude of applied research projects in genetics, forensics, and medicine. Another example of basic research is the development of quantum mechanics, which initially appeared to be an abstract field but has led to the invention of technologies like semiconductors and MRI machines.

Conversely, applied research focuses on immediate needs and therefore, its impact can be more immediately visible.

Examples of applied research include the development of COVID-19 vaccines or the creation of energy-efficient technologies. This type of research often uses methods and knowledge generated by basic research to achieve its goals.

The contention that applied research can be counterproductive due to its narrow focus and the push to monetize findings is a nuanced issue.

While entrepreneurship courses in academic settings may appear to detract from the purity of research, they can also offer researchers tools to transform basic research into applied solutions, bridging the gap between theory and practice.

The two aren’t mutually exclusive; basic research and applied research often go hand in hand.

Researchers conducting applied research may stumble upon findings that contribute to new knowledge, just as those conducting basic research may see their work result in unexpected applications.

Examples of basic research vs applied research

Basic research:.

  • Genetic Sequencing : Research to understand the sequences of DNA and what each gene does.
  • Particle Physics : Experiments in places like CERN to understand the basic building blocks of the universe.
  • Social Psychology Theories : Studying human behavior in a controlled environment to understand basic social interactions.
  • Climate Models : Researching the fundamental mechanisms that control climate change without necessarily looking for immediate solutions.
  • Pure Mathematics : Investigating abstract mathematical concepts that may not have an immediate application.
  • Astronomy : Observing and mapping distant celestial bodies to understand the universe’s structure.
  • Brain Mapping : Basic research on how neurons communicate within the brain, without a targeted application.
  • Evolutionary Biology : Studying how organisms evolve over time to adapt to their environment.

Applied Research:

  • Pharmaceuticals : Developing new drugs based on an understanding of disease mechanisms.
  • Renewable Energy : Researching better solar panels or wind turbines to harness energy more efficiently.
  • Market Research : Understanding consumer behavior to improve product design or advertising strategies.
  • Educational Methods : Evaluating teaching strategies to improve educational outcomes.
  • Medical Procedures : Research to develop new surgical techniques or medical devices.
  • Cybersecurity : Designing new types of encryption or security measures based on vulnerabilities.
  • Agricultural Techniques : Researching better ways to increase crop yield or protect against pests.
  • Transportation : Developing new materials for lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Careers in basic research and applied research

Here are some examples of careers that use mainly basic or applied research – but some scientists do a mixture of both.

Careers in Basic Research:

  • Theoretical Physicist : Focuses on understanding the fundamental laws governing physical phenomena.
  • Astrophysicist : Studies the properties and behaviors of celestial bodies and the universe.
  • Mathematician : Conducts research in pure mathematics, exploring abstract concepts.
  • Geneticist : Investigates genes, genetic variation, and heredity in organisms.
  • Neuroscientist : Researches the complexities of the nervous system, including the brain.
  • Biochemist : Studies the chemical processes within and related to living organisms.
  • Cognitive Psychologist : Explores the mental processes behind human behavior.
  • Archaeologist : Conducts research to understand human history and pre-history through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artifacts.
  • Geologist : Studies the Earth’s physical structure and substance, its history, and the processes that act on it.

Careers in Applied Research:

  • Pharmaceutical Researcher : Develops new drugs or medical treatments.
  • Environmental Consultant : Provides advice on environmental regulations and conducts research to solve environmental problems.
  • Data Scientist : Uses statistical models to analyze data for actionable insights, often for businesses.
  • Mechanical Engineer : Designs and tests new devices, often focused on solving specific mechanical problems.
  • Market Research Analyst : Conducts research to understand market trends and consumer behavior.
  • Clinical Psychologist : Applies psychological research to treat mental health disorders.
  • Agricultural Scientist : Researches ways to improve the sustainability and productivity of agricultural systems.
  • Software Developer : Creates new software based on research into user needs, technological advancements, or problem-solving.
  • Nutritional Epidemiologist : Studies the relationship between diet and health outcomes, often aiming for public health applications.

Wrapping up – applied research and basic research

As we’ve journeyed through this comprehensive exploration of applied research and basic research, it’s clear that each holds its unique place in the expansive world of research.

The two are like siblings—different in personality but stemming from the same family of intellectual inquiry.

Basic research is theoretical and often provides the foundation for applied research. On the flip side, applied research is practical in nature and focuses on solving immediate real-world problems.

Despite their differences, one can’t exist optimally without the other.

Basic research helps pave the way for advancements in applied research, while findings from applied research can loop back to enrich our foundational knowledge.

While basic research tends to engage with more conceptual questions, applied research is driven by practical problems that require immediate solutions. These different types of research methods can serve different purposes but are not mutually exclusive.

The world of research is enriched by the interplay between basic and applied research methods. Whether theoretical or practical, long-term or immediate, both contribute significantly to our understanding and make up the vibrant tapestry of research that seeks to answer questions, solve problems, and improve our lives.

And there we have it—your guided tour through the landscape of applied and basic research is complete!

Whether you’re an aspiring researcher, an industry professional, or a curious individual, understanding these key differences between basic and applied research will surely add a valuable layer to your perspective.

applied research and basic research examples

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.

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applied research and basic research examples

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applied research and basic research examples

Science in School

Science in School

What is it good for basic versus applied research teach article.

Author(s): Martin McHugh, Marcus Baumann, Sarah Hayes, F. Jerry Reen, Laurie Ryan, Davide Tiana, Jessica Whelan

Basic research is often misunderstood by the public and misconstrued by the media. Try this role play to learn how research is funded and how basic research advances and protects society.

In 2019, an international research group published a paper examining the effect of the song Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites by Skrillex on the breeding behaviours of mosquitos. [ 1 ]  The paper became a viral news story, with many media outlets using the ‘obscure’ research story to generate clicks. However, the research concluded that, when mosquitos were exposed to the song, they bit less and refrained from mating. The paper generated equal amounts of praise and criticism but highlights the potential of basic research and creative thinking in science. Indeed, the historical problem with basic research is the lack of immediate commercial objectives. To non-scientists, basic research can seem like a waste of money, whereas applied research, designed to solve practical problems with obvious scientific and societal benefits, seems like a better use of resources.

The following activity will bring the debate into the classroom and allow students to explore the pros and cons of basic and applied research. Using an argumentation framework, students will discuss the merits of a variety of research projects, with updates to show how some of them later turned out to be important for vaccine development for COVID-19.

What kinds of research should be funded?

In this activity, students will be divided into groups of funders and scientists. Using the materials provided, the scientists will pitch their research proposals to the funders, who will have €100 000 at their disposal. The activity will also provide cues to promote argumentation among students to develop critical thinking, reasoning, communication, and scientific literacy skills. [ 2 ]

applied research and basic research examples

Learning objectives and context

After the activity, students should understand

  • how scientific research is funded and that this involves difficult decisions;
  • the difference between basic and applied research;
  • how applied research relies on basic research findings, and that it is difficult to predict what might become useful.

To set the scene, students should be asked who they think funds scientific research. Students will generate multiple answers, from the government to universities and industry. Truthfully, funding can come from a variety of sources and can be public, private, national, or international.

The next question is how do funding bodies select what research should be funded. Scientific research is often broadly divided into two types: basic research (also called fundamental research) and applied research.

  • Basic research is about pushing the boundaries of our understanding and generating new knowledge. An example is researching how a physiological process works at the molecular level.
  • Applied research involves applying existing knowledge to create solutions to specific problems. An example is developing a treatment for a disease.

However, many research projects have elements of both basic and applied research. Research scientists from around the world must compete and push the merits of their work to get funding.

The following role-play activity will put students in the shoes of both the funding bodies and scientists. In groups, students will be asked to pitch their project proposal to the funders, who will ultimately decide how to allocate €100 000 to a variety of projects.

A key element of this lesson is to encourage debate and argumentation. Students acting as scientists should try to convince funders with their words. They should be encouraged to make claims, rebuttals, and back up their statements with data, if possible. Each scientist will have an individual text that will give them the information to argue effectively. To support debate, funders are given a list of key questions, along with more probing questions. This activity can also be extended over multiple lessons to allow students time to debate.

Funder information sheet

Project proposal cards

Discussion cards

  • For this role-play activity, divide students into groups of five or six. Each group requires four scientists and at least one funder.
  • Hand out the project proposal cards to the four scientists in each group.There are four project proposals and each scientist should get a different one. One of these proposals is highly applied, while the others are more basic. All funders receive the same information sheet and can allocate €100 000. If there are two funders in a single group, then they must come to a consensus.
  • Give students 10 minutes to read over their documents. Funders need to be aware of the key questions (on the information sheet) they can use to assess the proposals. Scientists need to be aware of the key arguments they need to make to receive funding (on the proposal cards).
  • Each scientist then gets 2 minutes uninterrupted to make their ‘pitch’ for funding. Once complete, funders need to ask key questions and all scientists are allowed argue their positions against each other. This should take around 15 minutes.
  • At the end of the activity, funders are asked to fill in the funding-allocation table at the bottom of their information sheet. This is to be kept private.
  • In turn, ask the funders from each group to the front of the class. The table on their sheets can be copied onto the board and funders can fill this out. Once complete, they need to give a brief justification to the class for their decision.
  • Throughout this process, ask the students if they are seeing any patterns emerging in the funding between groups.
  • Ask whether the students think each project is more basic or applied.
  • Next, hand out the discussion cards to each group. Project 3 is purely applied and has a clear link to vaccines, but these cards describe how proposals 1, 2, and 4 turned out to be fundamental to the development of the COVID-19 vaccine in unexpected ways.
  • Get the class to discuss whether this new information would have changed their funding decisions.
  • Discuss whether the applications envisioned by the researchers were necessarily those that turned out to be important.

As previously stated, the goal of this activity is that students understand how research is funded and the differences between applied and basic research. The activity is designed to highlight how basic research often forms the foundation for applied research. Both types of research are important, but basic research can be perceived negatively in the eyes of the public. It is often impossible to predict how knowledge gained through a basic research project could be vital for an application in the future. Often multiple scientific advances have to be combined for an applied impact. Sometimes, scientists must accept that they may not be able to identify an immediate application for new knowledge generated. However, without new knowledge, we may lack the foundation for future applications that could be years away.

applied research and basic research examples

In this example, the three more basic research proposals proved to be vital to the final application. This can be easily illustrated with proposal cards 1 and 3. Proposal card 1 discusses modified mRNA, and this research underpinned the manufacture of the COVID-19 vaccine. The two proposals are so closely linked that you can replace the word ‘polynucleotide(s)’ with mRNA on proposal card 3 and the document still makes perfect sense.

As a follow up to this activity, ask students to go online and find the most obscure and weird basic scientific research (that has been published in a peer-reviewed journal) they can find. The Ig Nobel Prizes are a good source of inspiration for this. Similar to the mosquito example used in the introduction to this activity, get the students to find practical applications behind the headlines and articles.

[1] Dieng H et al. (2019). The electronic song “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” reduces host attack and mating success in the dengue vector Aedes aegypti . Acta tropica 194 :93–99. doi: 10.1016/j.actatropica.2019.03.027

[2] Erduran S, Ozdem Y, Park JY (2015). Research trends on argumentation in science education: a journal content analysis from 1998–2014 . International Journal of STEM Education , 2 :5. doi: 10.1186/s40594-015-0020-1.

  • Discover CRISPR-Cas9 and how it revolutionized gene editing: Chan H (2016)  Faster, cheaper, CRISPR: the new gene technology revolution .  Science in School   38 :18–21.
  • Read an article on different techniques to resolve and predict protein structures: Heber S (2021)  From gaming to cutting-edge biology: AI and the protein folding problem .  Science in School   52 .
  • Read an article on how modern vaccines work: Paréj K (2021)  Vaccines in the spotlight .  Science in School   53 .
  • Visit the Annals of Improbable Research , which runs the Ig Nobel Prizes, to learn more about research that makes you laugh and then makes you think.
  • Read a simple explanation of basic research and its importance from the National Institute of Health.
  • Read a short article from Harvard University on the importance of basic research .
  • Watch a video on the potential uses of CRISPR outside gene editing.
  • Watch a video on how 50 years of fundamental research enabled the rapid development of mRNA vaccines for COVID-19.
  • Read an article from STAT describing the main steps that – 50 years later – led to COVID-19 mRNA vaccines .
  • Watch a video introducing the ESRF and its 41 beamlines .
  • Read an article from Scientific American that underlines the important issue of research funding and final profits .
  • Read an article from c&en magazine on synchrotrons and their uses .
  • Read an   interview with Katalin Karikó  in  Scientific American  that discusses her role in developing the mRNA technology used in COVID-19 vaccines.

Dr Martin McHugh is the education and public engagement officer for SSPC , the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) research centre for pharmaceuticals at the University of Limerick. Formerly a researcher in informal learning and part-time lecturer on science education, he has degrees from NUI Galway and the University of Edinburgh in environmental science and teaching. He is also a qualified secondary school science and biology teacher.

Dr Marcus Baumann is an assistant professor in the School of Chemistry at University College Dublin. He leads a research group aiming to develop new methods for the sustainable generation of drug-like molecules through the use of continuous-flow technologies. These methods are based on using light and enzymes in combination with machines to synthesise biologically active molecules.

Dr Sarah Hayes is the chief operating officer (COO) of SSPC . Sarah’s background is in physical chemistry and she received her PhD in Science Education. Sarah has many years of teaching experience as a physics and chemistry teacher. Through her various roles, she has been involved in research, curriculum development, and continuous professional development courses. Her most significant focus has been informal and non-formal learning and engagement.

Dr Jerry Reen is a lecturer in molecular microbial ecology at University College Cork. His research team study polymicrobial biofilm communities to understand molecular communication systems between species in disease and biotechnology. They also apply molecular technologies to harness biocatalytic proteins and bioactive compounds of marine origin.

Laurie Ryan is an assistant lecturer in general science at Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT). She is a former secondary school science teacher and conducts research in the area of STEM education and outreach. She is currently finishing her PhD examining argumentation in non-formal learning environments.

Dr Davide Tiana is a lecturer in inorganic chemistry at University College Cork. His independent group uses computational chemistry to study, understand, and explain chemistry. Their research goals range from developing new models to better explain chemical interactions (e.g., chemical bonding, dispersion forces) to the design of new molecules such as nanodrugs.

Dr Jessica Whelan is a lecturer at the University College Dublin School of Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering. Her research focuses on developing tools and approaches to optimize the production of proteins, vaccines, and cell and gene therapies. The aim is to make medicines available to patients at the highest quality and lowest cost possible.

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