What is applied research and how can it help businesses?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 28 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The definition of applied research is research that applies to a specific problem or need. Business, education and health care are examples of the wide range of areas that use it to inform decision making. Organisations in all sectors can benefit from the insights this type of research provides. In this article, we explain what applied research is and when people use it, explore the different types and their relevance in business, and find out how to conduct it and the benefits it can bring.

What is applied research?

Applied research, or contractual research, is a type of scientific study that aims to solve a real-world problem or issue. Although it's a scientific method of inquiry, it's widely applicable beyond the scientific field. Researchers can apply this type of research to a range of disciplines, including business, sociology, psychology and art. Any study that aims to discover an actionable solution to a problem comes under the classification of contractual research. Here are some examples:

  • a study of the impact of a new type of chemotherapy on cancer patients

  • a study into the impact of social media on body image

  • an investigation into the best methods of working for remote workers

  • an investigation to find the most effective way to recruit graduates

  • a study into marketing strategies to appeal to the newly retired

  • an investigation to reduce overheads

Related: Research skills: definition and examples

When do people use applied research?

People use this type of research in a variety of fields when they want to find solutions to specific problems in their respective areas. Many research projects begin in response to a sudden need or issue that affects a community or a specific group of people. For example, if there's an outbreak of disease, medical researchers may carry out research to find a cure.

Conducting research and applying the findings is also useful when there's no immediate need for a solution. Organisations can conduct contractual research to improve their existing solutions or solve problems. For example, a manufacturing business may use it to discover a more efficient method of production.

Related: What is empirical research? (Plus types and methods)

Types of applied research

The three types of this research include:

Evaluation research

Evaluation research assesses an existing solution with the aim of improving it. This type of contractual research is common in the business world. For example, a company that wants to assess its onboarding process can collect data from newly hired employees and use it to improve the process.

Research and development

The aim of research and development is to develop or improve on an existing solution for a specific problem. Unsurprisingly, contractual research is extremely common in activities undertaken during research and development. Research and development for physical products can involve creating prototypes, testing products and collecting feedback to guide improvements.

Action research

People conduct action research to find a solution to a current problem that they can put into practice immediately. Conducting this type of research is often in response to an emergency or a sudden need for a solution, and it's usually the people who the problem directly affects that perform it. For example, a company might conduct research to investigate a drop in sales and use the findings to change its strategy.

Related: What is quantitative research? (With definition and uses)

Relevance to business

Businesses in a wide range of industries integrate the findings of research into their work. Doing this enables them to reach solutions more quickly and efficiently. Applied research is often useful when businesses are seeking solutions to specific problems they're facing as it helps them develop solutions to their customers' needs. In some cases, this type of research is a legal requirement. Different sectors use this research in different ways. Examples include:

Engineering

Contractual research is central to engineering. Engineers use the principles of science and mathematics to develop and improve engineering solutions. For example, companies can conduct research and apply the findings to develop sustainable buildings and infrastructure.

Medicine and pharmaceuticals

Researchers within the medical field frequently conduct this type of research as it's highly applicable to the development of new drugs and treatments. It can also lead to advancements in medical devices and equipment. Hospital administration teams can use contractual research to discover ways to increase efficiency and improve the quality of care.

Education

Undertaking and analysing research can guide educational institutions in their decision-making processes and raise the effectiveness of their educational programmes. It can influence areas such as teaching methodology, curriculum, policy and student engagement. Educational institutions can also use it to assist in solving their logistical challenges.

Agriculture

People and organisations in the agricultural industry conduct research to solve a variety of problems. Research findings can help farmers adapt to changes in the environment, discover ways to increase crop yields and improve livestock production. Applying research findings can also help direct the management of agricultural businesses and support the development of new processes and policies.

Business

Businesses generally apply research to:

  • improve their products and services

  • develop new products and services

  • reduce waste

  • increase efficiency

  • improve customer satisfaction

  • find new markets for their products and services

Related: What is software development? A comprehensive guide

Ways of conducting contractual research

There are a number of ways to conduct applied research, and it can take place in the field and in laboratories. Researchers often determine which method to use based on the specific problem they're researching and the outcome they desire. Some common ways to conduct this type of research include:

  • Interviews: Interviews are an effective method of gathering qualitative data. You can conduct an interview in person, over the phone or online.

  • Surveys: Surveys can collect qualitative data but are most often used to gather quantitative data. You can carry out a survey in person, by mail, online or by phone.

  • Observation: Observations involve researchers studying people or things in a natural or controlled setting. This type of research is useful in educational settings or for studying the behaviours of children.

  • Experiments: Experiments are a type of research that allows researchers to test a hypothesis. The purpose of a lot of experimental research is to establish cause and effect.

  • Focus groups: A focus group involves bringing together a small group of people to discuss a topic. Focus groups are often useful for generating new ideas and obtaining feedback on a product or service.

  • Secondary data: This refers to data that already exists. Businesses can source data from a variety of existing sources, including their own databases and public records.

Related: What are the different types of research methodology?

What are the benefits of contractual research?

Depending on its application, this type of research can provide a range of benefits. These include:

A positive impact on society

The purpose of research is often to improve societies' and people's quality of life. Research in the medical field can lead to new treatments capable of curing diseases and alleviating pain and suffering. It can also help to produce safe food, improve education, reduce crime and aid in overcoming other societal problems.

Related: A guide to interview methods in research (with examples)

Helping businesses gain a competitive advantage

Contractual research can help businesses find solutions they can use to gain a competitive advantage. For example, if a business develops a new product that's superior to its competitors' products, it can increase its market share and sales. Another way it can give businesses a competitive advance is by helping them to find more effective methods of recruiting, which can result in them employing the best candidates.

Helping businesses increase their profitability

Applying research findings to business can help an organisation improve its bottom line. Research that results in new products and services can directly affect a business's profits by increasing sales. Businesses can also benefit from research that results in ways to produce their current products more efficiently as it can lead to lower costs and higher profits.

Helping to protect the environment

Many research projects aim to find ways to help the environment. For example, applied research into renewable energy sources may create a way to produce cleaner and more sustainable energy sources. Research without an environmental focus can also result in environmental benefits. For example, developing a more efficient method of manufacturing may result in less waste or pollution.

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