Basic Versus Applied Research

Both basic and applied researches are important to the advancement of human knowledge, but they work in slightly different ways, and they have different end goals in sight.

Basic (aka fundamental or pure) research is driven by a scientist’s curiosity or interest in a scientific question. The main motivation is to expand man’s knowledge, not to create or invent something. There is no obvious commercial value to the discoveries that result from basic research.

Applied research is designed to solve practical problems of the modern world, rather than to acquire knowledge for knowledge’s sake. One might say that the goal of the applied scientist is to improve the human condition.

All business and management research projects can be placed on a continuum (as per below Figure) according to their purpose and context. At one extreme of the continuum is research that is undertaken purely to understand the processes of business and management and their outcomes. Such research is undertaken largely in universities and largely as the result of an academic agenda. Its key consumer is the academic community, with relatively little attention being given to its practical applications. This is often termed basic, fundamental or pure research.

Towards the other end of the continuum (as per below Figure) is research that is of direct and immediate relevance to managers, addresses issues that they see as important, and is presented in ways that they understand and can act on. This is termed applied research. In our view applied research is very similar to consultancy in many cases, particularly when the latter is conducted in a thorough manner.

Research by Shapiro et al. (2007) indicates that many managers and academics do perceive a problem with a gap between basic, fundamental or pure research and applied research. Clearly this has implications for the take up of research findings. Echoing the work of Van De Ven and Johnson (2006) (above box), Shapiro et al. (2007:250) argue that if managers and academics believe that there is problem in which management research is ‘lost in translation’, then proposed solutions might focus on changes in the way research findings are disseminated. Alternatively, if the belief is that there is a knowledge production problem, so that any chance for impact on practice is ‘lost before translation’ (Shapiro et al. 2007:250), then proposed solutions might focus on ways to foster more researcher practitioner collaboration as research programs are developed and carried out.

Wherever your research project lies on this basic–applied continuum, we believe that you should undertake your research with rigor. Your choice of what to research is also likely to be influenced by topics that excite you, and the way you collect and analyze your data by the skills you have or are able to develop.

To conclude basic research is carried out for the sake of increasing knowledge, such as how and why a specific reaction occurs and what the properties of a substance are. Applied research is generally carried out to solve a problem.


Easterby-Smith et al. 2008; Hedrick et al. 1993.


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