Types of Research

Picture of bright star in blue space Research is often put into categories:

  • Pure and applied
  • Quantitative and qualitative.

Pure and applied research

Pure research (also known as “basic” or “fundamental” research) is exploratory in nature and is conducted without any practical end-use in mind. It is driven by gut instinct, interest, curiosity or intuition, and simply aims to advance knowledge and to identify/explain relationships between variables. However, as the term “fundamental” suggests, pure research may provide a foundation for further, sometimes applied research.

In general, applied research is not carried out for its own sake but in order to solve specific, practical questions or problems. It tends to be descriptive, rather than exploratory and is often based upon pure research. However, the distinction between applied and pure research may sometimes be unclear; for example, is research into the genetic codes of plants being carried out simply to advance knowledge or for possible future commercial exploitation? It could be argued that the only real difference between these two categories of research is the length of time between research and reasonably foreseeable practical applications, either in the public or private sectors.

ActivityActivity 4: Pure or applied research

This activity invites you to differentiate between pure and applied research questions. Open your log book and complete this activity.



The terms “quantitative research” and “qualitative research” are commonly used within the research community and implicitly indicate the nature of research being undertaken and the types of assumptions being made. In reality, many research activities do not fall neatly into one or other category, as we shall discuss later. However, as a staging post in our exploration of “research”, it is useful to discuss each term. The terms will be explored in the next section of this theme.