- For the suburb of Melbourne, Australia, see Research, Victoria.
Research is an active, diligent and systematic process of inquiry in order to discover, interpret or revise facts, events, behaviors, or theories, or to make practical applications with the help of such facts, laws or theories. The term "research" is also used to describe the collection of information about a particular subject.
The word "research" derives from the Middle French (see French language) and the literal meaning is "to investigate thoroughly".
Basic and applied research
Generally, one can distinguish between basic research and applied research.
Basic research (also called fundamental or pure research) has as its primary objective the advancement of knowledge and the theoretical understanding of the relations among variables (see statistics). It is exploratory and often driven by the researcher’s curiosity, interest or hunch. It is conducted without a practical end in mind although it can have unexpected results that point to practical applications. The terms “basic” or “fundamental” research indicate that, through theory generation, basic research provides the foundation for further, often applied research. Because there is no guarantee of short-term practical gain, researchers often find it difficult to obtain funding for basic research.
Basic research asks questions such as:
- At what point in human history did logical thought arise?
- Are living organisms the rule or the exception?
- What is the mind-body connection?
- What is the specific genetic code of the oceanic whitetip?
Applied research is done to solve specific, practical questions; its primary aim is not to gain knowledge for its own sake. It can be exploratory but often it is descriptive. It is almost always done on the basis of basic research. Often the research is carried out by academic or industrial institutions. More often an academic instituion such as a university will have a specific applied research programme funded by an industrial partner. Common areas of applied research include electronics, informatics, process engineering and applied science.
Applied research asks questions such as:
- How can Canada's wheat crops be protected from grasshoppers?
- What is the most efficient and effective vaccine against influenza?
- How can communication among workers in large companies be improved?
- How can the Great Lakes be protected against the effects of greenhouse gas?
There are many instances when the distinction between basic and applied research is not clear. It is not unusual for researchers to present their project in such a light as to "slot" it into either applied or basic research, depending on the requirements of the funding sources. The question of genetic codes is a good example. Unravelling it for the sake of knowledge alone would be basic research – but what, for example, if knowledge of it also has the benefit of making it possible to alter the code so as to make a plant commercially viable? Some say that the difference between basic and applied research lies in the time span between research and reasonably foreseeable practical applications.
Thomas Kuhn, in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, traces an interesting history and analysis of the enterprise of research.
Generally, research is understood to follow a certain structural process. Though step order may vary depending on the subject matter and researcher, the following steps are usually part of most formal research, both basic and applied:
It is sometimes said that "Copying from one source is plagiarism, copying from several sources is research".
Main article: Research funding
Most funding for scientific research comes from two major sources, corporations (through research and development departments) and government (primarily through universities and in some cases through military contractors). Most research funding is obtained from private sources.