Definitions of Research

HEFCE/Research England/REF

Research is defined as a process of investigation leading to new insights, effectively shared.,2021/downloads/REF%202017_04%20Decisions%20-%20updated%2011.04.2018.pdf – Page 3, para 1.1

It includes work of direct relevance to the needs of commerce, industry, and to the public and voluntary sectors; scholarship* ; the invention and generation of ideas, images, performances, artefacts including design, where these lead to new or substantially improved insights; and the use of existing knowledge in experimental development to produce new or substantially improved materials, devices, products and processes, including design and construction. It excludes routine testing and routine analysis of materials, components and processes such as for the maintenance of national standards, as distinct from the development of new analytical techniques. It also excludes the development of teaching materials that do not embody original research.

It includes research that is published, disseminated or made publicly available in the form of assessable research outputs, and confidential reports. – Annex C, Page 48, para 3.

Frascati Manual

1.32  R&D comprise creative and systematic work undertaken in order to increase the stock of knowledge – including knowledge of humankind, culture and society – and to devise new applications of available knowledge.

1.33  A set of common features identifies R&D activities that aim to achieve either specific or general objectives, even if these are carried out by different performers.

For an activity to be an R&D activity, it must satisfy five core criteria.

The activity must be:

  • novel
  • creative
  • uncertain
  • systematic
  • transferable and/or reproducible.

1.34 The definition of R&D just given is consistent with the definition of r&d used in the previous edition of the Frascati Manual (OECD, 2002) and covers the same range of activities.

1.35 The term R&D covers three types of activity: basic research, applied research and experimental development. Basic research is experimental or theoretical work undertaken primarily to acquire new knowledge of the underlying foundation of phenomena and observable facts, without any particular application or use in view. Applied research is original investigation undertaken in order to acquire new knowledge. It is, however, directed primarily towards a specific, practical aim or objective. Experimental development is systematic work, drawing on knowledge gained from research and practical experience and producing additional knowledge, which is directed to producing new products or processes or to improving existing products or processes. This manual follows the SNA convention in which “product” refers to a good or a service.

Further, throughout the manual, “process” refers to the transformation of inputs to outputs and to their delivery or to organisational structures or practices.

Frascati Manual – guidelines for collecting and reporting data on research and experimental development,

 (, p. 28)


For all schemes except Research Networking and Follow-on Funding for Impact and Engagement (FoF), the AHRC’s definition of research is as follows: research activities should primarily be concerned with research processes, rather than outputs. This definition is built around three key features and your proposal must fully address all of these in order to be considered eligible for support:

  1. It must define a series of research questions, issues or problems that will be addressed in the course of the research. It must also define its aims and objectives in terms of seeking to enhance knowledge and understanding relating to the questions, issues or problems to be addressed
  2. It must specify a research context for the questions, issues or problems to be addressed. You must specify why it is important that these particular questions, issues or problems should be addressed; what other research is being or has been conducted in this area; and what particular contribution this project will make to the advancement of creativity, insights, knowledge and understanding in this area
  3. It must specify the research methods for addressing and answering the research questions, issues or problems. You must state how, in the course of the research project, you will seek to answer the questions, address the issues or solve the problems. You should also explain the rationale for your chosen research methods and why you think they provide the most appropriate means by which to address the research questions, issues or problems.

Our primary concern is to ensure that the research we fund addresses clearly-articulated research questions, issues or problems, set in a clear context of other research in that area, and using appropriate research methods and/or approaches.

The precise nature of the research questions, issues or problems, approaches to the research and outputs of the work may vary considerably, embracing basic, strategic and applied research. The research questions, issues, problems, methods and/or approaches may range from intellectual questions that require critical, historical or theoretical investigation, to practical issues or problems that require other approaches such as testing, prototyping, experimental development and evaluation. The outputs of the research may include, for example, monographs, editions or articles; electronic data, including sound or images; performances, films or broadcasts; or exhibitions. Teaching materials may also be an appropriate outcome from a research project provided that it fulfils the definition above.

The research should be conceived as broadly as possible and so consideration should also be given to the outcomes of, and audiences for, the research. The outcomes of the research may only benefit other researchers and influence future research, but consideration must be given to potential opportunities for the transfer of knowledge into new contexts where the research could have an impact.

Creative output can be produced, or practice undertaken, as an integral part of a research process as defined above. The Council would expect, however, this practice to be accompanied by some form of documentation of the research process, as well as some form of textual analysis or explanation to support its position and as a record of your critical reflection. Equally, creativity or practice may involve no such process at all, in which case it would be ineligible for funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Bruce Brown, Main Panel D Chair, REF 2014

  • The discovery of new knowledge and/or insights.
  • The testing of existing knowledge and/or insights in order to determine their limitations.
  • The recovery of lost knowledge.
  • The conservation of research knowledge through scholarship.
  • The sharing of research knowledge with others who may benefit.

Fort Hayes State University 

Research- a systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalized knowledge. To be considered research, the activity must be characterized by systematic investigation AND the primary goal is to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.

The Belmont Report

‘the term “research” designates an activity designed to test a hypothesis

[and] permit conclusions to be drawn…’

The Department of Education and Training, Australia

Research is defined as the creation of new knowledge and/or the use of existing knowledge in a new and creative way so as to generate new concepts, methodologies and understandings. This could include synthesis and analysis of previous research to the extent that it leads to new and creative outcomes.

Further definition


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