There are two main approaches in educational research. The first is a basic approach. This approach is also referred to as an academic research approach. The second approach is applied research or a contract research approach. Both of these approaches have different purposes which influence the nature of the respective research.

Basic approach
Basic, or academic research focuses on the search for truth or the development of educational theory. Researchers with this background "design studies that can test, refine, modify, or develop theories". Generally, these researchers are affiliated with an academic institution and are performing this research as part of their graduate or doctoral work.

Applied approach
The pursuit of information that can be directly applied to practice is aptly known as applied or contractual research. Researchers in this field are trying to find solutions to existing educational problems. The approach is much more utilitarian as it strives to find information that will directly influence practice. Applied researchers are commissioned by a sponsor and are responsible for addressing the needs presented by this employer. The goal of this research is "to determine the applicability of educational theory and principles by testing hypotheses within specific settings".

Comparison of basic and applied research
The following are several defining characteristics that were written by Gary Anderson to compare basic (academic) and applied (contract) research.

Basic (Academic) Research Applied (Contract) Research
1 Is sponsored by an agency committed to the general advancement of knowledge. Is sponsored by an agency with a vested interest in the results.
2 Results are the property of society and the research community. Results become the property of the sponsor.
3 Studies rely on the established reputations of the researchers and are totally under their control. Studies follow explicit terms of reference developed by the sponsor to serve the sponsor's needs.
4 Budget allocations are generally based on global proposals and accounting is left to the researchers. Budget accountability is directly related to the sponsor and relates to agreed terms of reference, time frames and methodologies.
5 The conduct of research is based on 'good faith' between funder and researcher. The work is contractual between sponsor and researcher.
6 The research produces findings and conclusions, but rarely recommendations except those related to further research needs. The research includes applied recommendations for action.
7 Academic research tends to extend an identifiable scholarly discipline. By its nature, contract research tends to be interdisciplinary.
8 Academic research is typically focused on a single set of testable hypotheses. Contract research frequently analyzes the consequences of alternative policy options.
9 Decision-rules relate to theoretically-based tests of statistical significance. Decision-rules relate to predetermined conventions and agreements between the sponsor and the researcher.
10 Research reports are targeted to other specialized researchers in the same field. Research reports are intended to be read and understood by lay persons.

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