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Encyclopedia > Basic research
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

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

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.

Research process

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".

Research funding

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.

See also

  Results from FactBites:
Both the didactic and the research phases of an award period must be designed to develop the necessary knowledge and research skills in scientific areas relevant to the career goals of the candidate.
Research Development Support: The amount of research development support is not uniform across the NIH and is determined independently by each awarding component of the NIH.
Applicants for the Population Research K01 must be junior-level researchers with a research or health professional doctorate degree and must propose a mentored research program that will enhance their ability to conduct scientifically sophisticated studies in the field of population research.
RESEARCH OBJECTIVES The need to support discovery and development of biomedical imaging methods was identified at several NIH workshops and conferences on biomedical imaging including a June 25-26, 1999, symposium titled "Biomedical Imaging Symposium: Visualizing the Future of Biology and Medicine", which was coordinated by the NIH Bioengineering Consortium (BECON).
Research areas of interest include methods and contrast agents that enhance spatial or temporal resolution, measurement sensitivity, and specificity as required for the detection, diagnosis, or measurement of treatment efficacy for different disease processes.
All investigators proposing research involving human subjects should read the "NIH Policy and Guidelines" on the inclusion of children as participants in research involving human subjects that is available at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/funding/children/children.htm.
  More results at FactBites »



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