Throughout history, science has achieved impressive things that have improved our understanding of the universe and the standard of living and well-being we can achieve.

However, the milestones achieved have not come out of nowhere. They have required years of research in many different fields, and there are many ways of doing research, which can be organized according to different criteria. In this article you can find 15 types of research and their basic characteristics .


Research means carrying out different actions or strategies in order to discover something. Thus, these actions are aimed at obtaining and applying new knowledge , explaining a certain reality or obtaining ways to solve questions and situations of interest. Research is the basis of scientific knowledge, although not all research is scientific in itself.

For knowledge to be scientific it is necessary that the research carried out is done systematically, with clear objectives and that it starts from aspects that can be checked and replicated. The results obtained must be analysed in an objective manner and taking into account the different variables that may be affecting the phenomenon under study.

As we have said, research can be carried out from many different perspectives, with different objectives or taking into account different types of data, procedures or methods for obtaining them. Here are some of these types of research.

Types of research according to objective

We can find two types of research depending on the purpose for which they are carried out.

1. Pure or theoretical research

The main objective of this type of research is to obtain knowledge of a different nature, without taking into account the applicability of the knowledge obtained . Thanks to the body of knowledge extracted from it, other types of research may or may not be established.

In pure mathematics, for example, it is normal not to worry about how easily the conclusions obtained can be applied.

2. Applied research

This is a type of research focused on finding mechanisms or strategies that allow a specific objective to be achieved , such as curing a disease or achieving an element or good that can be useful. Therefore, the type of field to which it is applied is very specific and well defined, as it does not try to explain a wide variety of situations, but rather tries to address a specific problem.

Depending on the level of detail in the object of study

Research can be carried out in different ways, going more or less deeply into how things are or why they are. In this sense we find the following types of research.

3. Exploratory research

This type of research focuses on analysing and investigating specific aspects of reality that have not yet been analysed in depth. Basically it is an exploration or first approach that allows later investigations to be directed towards an analysis of the subject matter.

Due to its characteristics, this type of research does not start from very detailed theories, but tries to find significant patterns in the data that must be analyzed in order to, from these results, create the first complete explanations about what happens.

4. Descriptive

The objective of this type of research is only to establish the most complete description possible of a phenomenon , situation or specific element, without looking for either causes or consequences. It measures the characteristics and observes the configuration and processes that make up the phenomena, without stopping to assess them.

Thus, on many occasions this type of research does not even ask about the causality of the phenomena (i.e. “why what is observed occurs”). It is simply a matter of obtaining an enlightening picture of the state of affairs.

5. Explanation

This is one of the most common types of research on which science focuses. It is the type of research used to try to determine the causes and consequences of a particular phenomenon. It seeks not only the what but the why of things, and how they have come about.

Different methods can be used for this, such as the observational, correlational or experimental method. The aim is to create explanatory models in which cause-effect sequences can be observed, although these do not necessarily have to be linear (they are usually very complex mechanisms of causality, with many variables involved).

Depending on the type of data used

Another way to classify the different types of research is according to the type of data they collect. In this sense we can find the following types.

6. Qualitative

Qualitative research is understood to be that which is based on the obtaining of data which are in principle non-quantifiable , based on observation. Although it offers a lot of information, the data obtained are subjective and not very controllable and do not allow a clear explanation of the phenomena. It focuses on descriptive aspects.

However, the data obtained from such research can be operationalized a posteriori in order to be analyzed, making the explanation about the studied phenomenon more complete.

7. Quantitative

Quantitative research is based on the study and analysis of reality through different procedures based on measurement . It allows a higher level of control and inference than other types of research, being possible to carry out experiments and obtain contrasted explanations based on hypotheses. The results of these investigations are based on statistics and can be generalized.

According to the degree of manipulation of the variables

We can find different types of investigations depending on whether the data obtained is based on a greater or lesser level of manipulation of variables.

8. Experimental research

This type of research is based on the manipulation of variables in highly controlled conditions , replicating a specific phenomenon and observing the degree to which the variable or variables involved and manipulated produce a given effect. The data are obtained from randomised samples, so that it is assumed that the sample from which they are obtained is representative of reality. It allows different hypotheses to be established and contrasted through a scientific method.

9. Quasi-experimental

Quasi-experimental research is similar to experimental research in that it attempts to manipulate one or several specific variables, with the difference that it does not have total control over all the variables, such as aspects linked to the type of sample presented to the experiment .

10. Not experimental

This type of research is mainly based on observation . In it, the different variables that form part of a certain situation or event are not controlled.

According to the type of inference

Another type of classification can be extracted from the method used to infer how reality works.

11. Deductive method

This type of research is based on the study of reality and the search for verification or falsification of some basic premises to be checked. Based on the general law, it is considered that it will occur in a particular situation.

12. Inductive method

The investigation carried out by the inductive method is based on the drawing of conclusions from the observation of facts. Observation and analysis allow more or less true conclusions to be drawn, but do not allow generalisations to be made or predictions to be made.

13. Of hypothetical-deductive method

It is this type of research that is considered truly scientific. It is based on the generation of hypotheses from facts observed by means of induction, hypotheses that generate theories that in turn will have to be proven and falsified by means of experimentation .

According to the time period in which it is performed

Depending on the type of monitoring of the variables that is carried out, we can find two types of research.

14. Longitudinal

Longitudinal research is a type of research that is characterised by following the same subjects or processes over a specific period of time . It allows us to see the evolution of the characteristics and variables observed.

15. Transverse

These types of research focus on the comparison of certain characteristics or situations in different subjects at a specific time, with all subjects sharing the same temporality.

Bibliographic references:

  • Hernández, R., Fernández, C., and Baptista, M.P. (2010) Research Methodology (5th Ed.). Mexico: McGraw Hill Education.
  • Pagano, R. R. (2000). Statistics for the behavioral sciences. Madrid: International Thompson.
  • Sánchez Carrión, J.J. (1995). Manual de análisis de datos. Madrid: Alianza.