What’s the Difference Between Academic Research and Applied Research?

The difference between academic research and applied research can be thought of as a dichotomy of basic versus applied science.

Academic research aims to answer fundamental questions about a topic, whereas applied research focuses on solving a specific problem.

For example, while academics might want to know what causes autism, an applied researcher might want to find out if certain diet changes could help autistic children improve their language skills.

Read on to learn more about these differences in detail!

Academic Research Vs. Applied Research


Why understanding the difference can be important?

The line between academic research and applied research can be blurry, but it’s important to understand the distinction because they are two different types of activities with different goals.

If you’re working in a laboratory at a university, your goal may be doing academic research that contributes to the body of knowledge available to everyone. If you’re working for a pharmaceutical company, your goal is probably to do applied research so that you can create new drugs or treatment methods.

Your work will likely be subject to strict confidentiality agreements and other regulations that don’t apply to academics. Some scientists move back and forth between academia and industry throughout their careers; most people who do academic research eventually spend some time working in the industry, too.

Understanding the difference can be helpful when considering whether to apply for a job at either an academic institution or a private enterprise. In addition, there are benefits to each type of position: those in academia often have more independence than those employed by private companies, while those employed by private companies often have the opportunity to publish their results sooner and potentially make money from patents associated with their discoveries.

What is the Main Difference

The primary difference between academic research and applied research is the reward system.

In academia, researchers are rewarded for publishing their findings in peer-reviewed journals. On the other hand, applied researchers are often rewarded for commercializing their findings or developing new products or services. This can lead to different priorities and motivations.

For example, academics may be more interested in publishing their work whereas applied researchers may be more interested in generating revenue for a company.

However, there are examples of academics working on research projects that generate revenue as well as many examples of corporate scientists making significant contributions to academic knowledge through publication.

In general, both types of research have similar goals: understanding how something works and using this information to solve problems.

Types of Applied Research

There are many ways to categorize applied research, but one useful way is dividing it into categories based on its use case.

One category is called applied social sciences, which includes topics like education, medicine, sociology, psychology, political science, and economics.

Another category is called applied natural sciences, which includes fields like physics and chemistry.

Applying these categories can give you an idea of where to focus your search for a particular job opening or project. For instance, if you were looking for a position in biophysics, you would want to look under applied natural sciences.  A listing in education would fall under applied social sciences.

Applied research can also be categorized as either, action research, evaluation research, or research and development.

Action Research

This type of research typically involves trying to solve a specific problem and then reporting on how well the solution worked. For example, imagine you’re designing traffic signs that need to be readable both day and night.

You might design the signs using different colors during the day and then again using black letters against a yellow background at night. You’d collect data about how easy it was to read the sign both times and compare them in order to decide which color scheme should be used all the time.

Evaluation Research

This type of research also has a specific purpose, such as determining whether giving blood pressure medication makes people live longer.

Here, the goal of the research is to see if a particular intervention (the medication) helps a particular population (those with high blood pressure).

Research and Development

In this type of research, you’re looking for solutions to problems without having any specific issue in mind.

To determine what works best, you might test several different approaches to solving a single problem or conduct various experiments. For example, you might try to develop a cure for a disease and experiment with different treatments.

Types of Academic Research

There are three general types of academic research: Descriptive, intervention, and associational.

Descriptive Academic Research

This type of research is simply describing the current state of affairs. Researchers conducting descriptive research are often interested in discovering trends and patterns or describing a situation in great detail.

For example, a researcher might be exploring the rise in cases of dementia among people aged 65 and older.

This type of research is sometimes conducted to describe what the situation is now so that it can be compared to future research findings. It may also be done to explore a certain topic that hasn’t been studied much before.

Intervention Research

In an intervention study, you are looking for solutions to specific problems.

For example, if you wanted to reduce binge drinking among college students, you might design a program that teaches students about the negative consequences of binge drinking.

You would then track students’ binge drinking rates before and after implementing your program to determine whether it was effective. Intervention academic research is often associated with randomized controlled trials.

Randomized controlled trials are usually large studies in which participants are randomly assigned to two groups: a group that receives the treatment being tested and a control group that does not receive the treatment.

After following each participant for some period of time, researchers measure differences between the two groups to see if there was any change due to receiving the treatment.

Associational Academic Research

Associational research studies don’t directly test a hypothesis. Instead, researchers are looking for relationships between variables.

For example, a researcher might be interested in exploring whether there is a relationship between socioeconomic status and income level. In other words, does someone from a low-income family typically earn less than someone from a high-income family?

An associational study would look at other characteristics that might be affecting income levels, such as education level or upbringing.

Another example of an associational study would be a correlation study, which seeks to find out whether there is a correlation between stress levels and heart disease. A correlational study won’t answer questions about causation; instead, it will tell us more about correlations within society.

The Importance of Collaboration between Academic and Applied Research

There is a growing need for academic research to be more focused on providing solutions to real-world problems. This is where applied research comes in.

Applied research takes the findings of academic research and looks at how they can be practically implemented. This type of research is important because it has the potential to make a real impact on people’s lives.

However, it is only effective when there is close collaboration between academic and applied researchers. It’s important that academics communicate their theories with those who are working on practical applications.

Without this, valuable time may be wasted as these researchers work independently and don’t share what they have learned with each other. The collaborations also allow them to find out if they’re heading down a dead end or not.

For example, an academic researcher might focus on developing software programs while an applied researcher may focus on the implementation of said programs in schools.

The two groups would benefit from talking to one another about the feasibility of their respective projects. If it was determined that a program wouldn’t work for all children, then the academic group could modify its design so that it does.

Conversely, if the applied group determined that something would take too long to implement and change practices among educators, then they could recommend cutting certain features in order to save time.

By working together instead of separately, both types of researchers are able to produce better outcomes.


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