What is applied research?

What is Applied Research?

Research is an important aspect of human existence. Many forms of research are used across various educational fields for various purposes. Applied research is a type of research that does not confine itself to the academic community but moves into the real economy to solve tangible problems.  It is not mainly focused on theory but rather emphasizes practice.

Applied research explained

Applied research is a type of research that uses the scientific method to provide practical solutions for real-life problems. It scrutinizes and adopts existing knowledge (theories, methods, techniques, etc) to answer challenging questions in all spheres of life. The first step in applied research is to identify a problem. After this, applied researchers embark on a thorough investigation of the problem with the aim of coming up with a solution.

Their approach towards a solution depends on a number of factors such as the nature/characteristics of the problem and the existing scientific and technological tools to tackle it, among othersExperiments can be performed using treatment and control groups. Applied research can sometimes be a long process. This is because a solution may require several failures before it is discovered.

Most kinds of applied research usually prefer empirical methods of problem-solving. The empirical method usually includes formulating a hypothesis and testing the hypothesis to provide answers for both the hypothesis and research questions.

Being practical in nature, applied research differs from basic or fundamental research which has a theoretical outlook.

Applied research vs Basic research

Applied research is often a practical implementation or application of the knowledge provided by basic research to solve real-world problems. In that sense, the former can be seen as a complement to the latter. Also, both methods use the same empirical procedures that include data collection and testing hypotheses among others. But despite these similarities, both approaches have some unique characteristics.

Below are some of these characteristics as articulated by Baimyrzaeva (2018).

                                                       Basic Research                               Applied Research
Purpose To advance human understanding and knowledge of the universe. To uncover universal laws, e.g. pertaining to space, matter, energy, society, living and nonliving systems, etc. To help clients (e.g. policymakers or organi­zational leaders) to make a decision about a particular situation, problem, or opportunity.
Initiative Researcher initiates based on their own expertise, research skills, and interest. Client initiates based on their need for infor­mation in response to a particular situation, problem, or opportunity.
Funding Funding is usually available from govern­ment, universities, and private foundations in the form of research grants. The client pays for a consultant or employs an in-house member of staff. Funding is usually much less than needed for thorough research.
Who does research A solo researcher, usually from one disci­pline Team projects are less common In-house member of staff or consultant(s). (Ideally, it should be a research team consist­ing of experts from relevant and complementa­ry disciplines.)
Timeframe Usually, longer timeframes compared to applied research Tied to the client’s timeframes; Significantly shorter deadlines than research­ers would ideally need.
Research setting Research can be autonomous from its environment Research is embedded in, and inseparable from, its real-world context
Research methods Usually uses fewer varieties of data sources and data collection methods. Data collection and analysis methods usually build on the researcher’s unique strengths. Tends to use a combination of multiple meth­ods of data collection from different sources and a mix of qualitative and quantitative data analysis methods.
Evaluation and outlet Presented in scientific conferences and published in journals subject to a peer-review process. Presentation and report submitted only to the client who is the sole evaluator of the work. The client decides whether and how to use the information and whether to make it public.
Source: Baimyrzaeva, M., 2018. Beginners’ Guide for Applied Research Process: What Is It, and Why and How to Do It. University of central Asia: Institute of Public Policy and Administration.

Benefits of Applied research

Helps to apply basic research theories to the real economy

As noted above, applied research is mostly used in real-life situations. Most times, it draws knowledge developed from basic research in educational institutions. Thus it is a good way of authenticating, modifying, or disproving theories that have been propounded over time.

Can aid socio-economic development

All societies and economic sectors require constant improvements and innovation to help tackle both existing and emerging problems. This is exactly what applied research aims to achieve. For example, research and development efforts in the IT industry can lead to the creation of new professions or expanding the scope of existing ones. These are capable of creating several new jobs thereby reducing poverty and lowering unemployment rates. Indeed, it is hard to imagine socio-economic progress without applied research.

Promotes creativity and ingenuity

Though it uses the strict scientific method, applied research tends to stimulate the creative and innovative traits of applied researchers. This can be very helpful when searching for solutions for difficult and complex problems.

Promotes competition

Many big firms have research and development (R&D) departments that are in a constant competitive race to evolve new products or rebrand existing ones. This race is meant to achieve certain organizational objectives like increased profit, market share, and domination. These research rivalries not only help to check monopolistic tendencies but also assist consumers in terms of choice. R&D efforts concern themselves exclusively with applied research by finding out new solutions to tackle problems that give the researching organizations a competitive advantage in their respective markets.

Establishes trends for the future

The future is unknown and therefore characterized by uncertainty. This is why most kinds of basic research attempt to make long-term predictions. In solving present problems, applied research usually provides an inkling of a society’s future direction. For example, the invention and adoption of electric cars suggest that in the future, petrol may not be as crucial as it is for automobiles presently. 


Applied research (and applied science) serves a very important purpose for both individuals and society at large. It helps to evolve practical solutions to everyday problems. Applied research enables researchers to combine creativity and knowledge to find solutions for societal problems. The academic community, the business world, and the society at large will not have made much progress without applied research.

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