Types of Research

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.

Quantitative and qualitative research

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,

Some quantitative studies involve mathematics so complex that very few researchers are able to understand and reproduce the work. In contrast, some qualitative research studies can be carried out in a systematic and logically ordered fashion that may be replicated relatively easily by other researchers. The reverse is also true.

However, most research does not fit clearly into one category or the other. Many studies are best performed using features of both. For example, trends in economic behaviour may be presented as time series graphs, analysed statistically and modelled mathematically, but individual events (i.e. a blip on the graph) may best be explained using a qualitative approach (e.g. an in-depth personal interview).

There is an ongoing, often quite fierce debate between some practitioners of qualitative and quantitative research. Quantitative researchers often argue that reliability and validity are difficult to prove when doing qualitative research and the approach is too subjective. Quantitative research regards itself as objective and ‘value-free’; many Feminist evaluators have attacked what they call the ‘myth’ of value-free scientific inquiry. Qualitative researchers also argue that most quantitative data is based on qualitative judgement, i.e. numbers can’t be interpreted without understanding the assumptions which lie beneath them.

The key features outlined below for quantitative and qualitative research are generalisations but provide an outline for you.


The next section describes the originality and critical analysis of research.

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