What is Research and Development? - Definition, Methods & Examples

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  • 0:01 Definition: Research &…
  • 1:00 Pure Research
  • 1:40 Applied Research
  • 2:27 Development Activities
  • 2:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Rodney Michael

Rodney has taught university accounting classes and has a doctorate in accounting.

Expert Contributor
Steven Scalia

Steven completed a Graduate Degree is Chartered Accountancy at Concordia University. He has performed as Teacher's Assistant and Assistant Lecturer in University.

In this lesson, we will explore the concept of research and development. You will also learn about its different forms and how it affects our daily lives.

Definition: Research & Development

Let's begin with a question that has an obvious answer. What's the difference between a wall phone (circa 1907) and an iPhone 5? A couple of things come to mind: email, digital photos, Internet, Wi-Fi, GPS, texting, and mobile conversations. But, the real question is: How did we get from the wall phone to the iPhone 5? The answer is, of course, research and development (R&D).

Let's take a closer look at the concept. Research and development refers to a wide range of business, governmental, and academic activities designed to gather new knowledge. Sometimes, the new knowledge leads to new products or processes, and sometimes it doesn't. The purpose of R&D is to expand the frontiers of human understanding and to improve our society as a whole. In other words, to supply the innovations that took us from the wall phone to the iPhone 5. R&D activities can be subdivided into three categories: pure research, applied research, and development activities.

Pure Research

Pure (or basic) research is directed at understanding what something is or how it works. There is no immediate expectation of a short-term payoff. Basically, pure research is an attempt to satisfy our curiosity about something unknown. Hopefully, there will be marketable products further down the line, but there is no guarantee. For example, a federal agency recently announced a $70 million dollar research program to develop brain implants to help people with brain injuries and disorders. The initial research is to be directed at learning how the medical issues are reflected in brain activity. If that can be determined, then perhaps advanced medical technology can be invented. But first, they have to find out more about how the brain works.

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Additional Activities

Research And Development - A Practical Exercise:

The following exercise is designed for students to apply their knowledge of Research and Development (as well as their subcategories) in a real-life setting.


Below is a list of Research and Development activities undertaken by firms around the world. Your assignment is to determine which category of Research, and Development (i.e. Pure Research, Applied Research, or Development Activities) best describes the activities. A small hint: it may be that the activity described is none of the three categories! See below.

1Researchers are learning about how the ozone layer works in order to determine how it can lessen human damage to it.
2Researchers are working on producing a computer chip that is faster than the previous year's model.
3You buy a patent to produce a drug from a pharmaceutical company.
4Researchers are learning how the COVID-19 virus spreads in order to think of ways to slow its spread.
5Researchers are applying vaccine knowledge to the COVID-19 virus in order to formulate a tailored vaccine.
6Researchers are applying encryption techniques in order to provide safe communication services over the internet.
7You decide to eat potato chips with anchovies in order to study the likability the combination of the tastes.


1Pure Research
2Development Activities
3N/A (Not considered research and development)
4Pure Research
5Applied Research
6Applied Research
7Pure Research

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