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Similarities and Differences of Fundamental and Applied Research

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Data Analysis
Wordcount: 2412 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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DOC 600: Introduction to Doctoral Studies and Research Methods in Business

 On the surface, twins appear very much the same yet we all agree that each one is different. The same can be said for applied research in business. There are many similarities between theoretical and applied research yet there are some clear distinctions that set the two apart. Understanding the similarities and dissimilarities should enable doctoral students to make more informed decisions when choosing a specific doctoral program to follow. These comparisons should lead to a better understanding of how the characteristics of applied research may be used in a Doctor of Business Administration (D.B.A.) program. The basis for each type of research and why it is conducted is the underlying thread woven into each one’s function and application. It is best to analyze each type independently before deciding which is better.

Theoretical Research

 Theoretical research is based on studies inside of the academic environment. It is an exploration of ideas that either has not been proven, is in the process of being proven, or has been proven but need to be investigated further. This type of fundamental research explores areas where some knowledge has already been captured, however, areas still exist where knowledge is needed to be developed and discovered. It creates information and adds to the collective body of academic knowledge as original and new work.

Applied Research

 Applied research is practical work conducted outside of the academic environment that addresses managerial problems with potential solutions. It is often based on work needed in the business world that needs additional refinement. Applied research is a new tool of choice for working professionals seeking to conduct such work. The D.B.A. is a recent addition to doctoral degree programs and is designed to teach the application of applied research to practical solutions. “The newer D.B.A. was developed in 1953 at Harvard Business School as a more scholarly successor to its Doctor of Commercial Science degree” (L MacLennan, et al, 2016). It explores and improves existing knowledge with the intent of finding solutions. The creation and addition of knowledge to collections of information is a shared outcome of both types of research.


 Each type of research requires complex analysis and thought. There is very little difference in the process used to analyze information or how rational logic is applied when conducting research. The methodologies are very much the same. In a study conducted in 2016, very little difference was discovered in the work that goes into a Ph.D. versus a D.B.A. (Piña, et al, 2016). The study claimed both degrees were very similar. Both types of research add new information to bodies of knowledge. Additionally, both are inextricably linked to the highest level of terminal credentials one can attain. They are only separated by their intended purpose of the knowledge gained thru their application.


 Perhaps the most important element shared by both types of research is critical thinking. Critical thinking done for the purpose of research is the deliberate act of questioning fact and fiction to postulate a well-formed argument, using logic and reasoning that supports a deeper understanding of knowledge. Research using critical thinking is not simply answering a question with a yes or no. It is answering the question with a deeper question of what is being asked and why. It is dissecting a question and determining whether or not there other conclusions that may or may not provide a more accurate response. This idea is further characterized with the thought, “The critical thinker has to know how to evaluate statements and to be prepared to match judgment and action to a principle, to demand justification and to question ungrounded claims” (Forte and Horvath, 2011). This is called research.

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 There is a large perception that a Ph.D. and D.B.A. are not on an equal playing field as terminal degrees. Regardless which degree is chosen, they both share in the merits of a doctoral degree. The Ph.D. is considered by many as the “Gold Standard” of doctoral degrees, even though the D.B.A. meets all of the same types of rigorous requirements and they each carry the prominence and title of “Dr” (Grove, 2016). Schildkraut and Stafford (2015) explain to us that those who choose the Ph.D. path are required to evaluate and analyze existing information. When gaps are discovered in the information, research is conducted to fill in those gaps. They infer that those who choose to pursue the D.B.A. are challenged with identifying a problem in the workplace and conducting research to generate solutions to fix managerial or organizational problems. Both types of degree conduct research. It is the research approach that is different.


 The differences between applied and fundamental research can be summed up as, “developing ‘researching professionals’ rather than ‘professional researchers’” (Fenge, 2009). Similarly, Lewis paints a clear distinction of the two by stating, “A Ph.D. is a research degree for candidates who would like to pursue a career in academia and conduct research that contributes to business knowledge or theory. A D.B.A. is a professional doctorate with a focus on theoretical knowledge and its use in business practice.” (Lewis, 2013).

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 Fundamental research is typically done in the academic world such as universities and colleges. Researchers are typically scholars with limited exposure to the industry who often lack practical experience. This category of intellectuals usually has aspirations of teaching, becoming professors, or are already adjunct professors hoping to establish tenure on campus. A Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is the tool most often selected to become a professional academic (Fenge, 2009). It is presumed there are no boundaries on the time needed to complete theoretical research. The information and knowledge are continuously on-going and provide utility for a wide and sweeping array of audiences.

 In contrast, applied research is typically done in the private sector or professional business world. Researchers are typically full-time workers tied to the same industry being researched and they typically have a depth of practical experience within their field. A first-hand example of the benefits for using applied research is summed up in the statement, “…as a full time professional, this could more easily be accommodated alongside my working life. I also believed that it would be more meaningful to me as something that could be integrated into my everyday practice.” (Fenge, 2009). This group of individuals is often compelled to solve an exclusive managerial or organizational problem. This application often has time constraints driven out of financial or managerial necessity. Research problems for this type tend to be discrete to a specific problem or contained within a narrow industry sector using a much smaller and deliberate focus.

 Educators agreed that the outcomes of research for each type of degree are the primary distinguishing differences. Research for a Ph.D. is normally published; publishing research for a D.B.A. is usually secondary to the actual study of the problem and the development of recommended solutions (Schildkraut and Stafford, 2015). Each type of degree is based upon levels experience. It has become widely accepted that those seeking a professional D.B.A. have work experience and desire to expound upon their experience with research to solve organizational problems. It is in this application of research methodology that the D.B.A. is set apart. Understanding research characteristics and recognizing the benefits of how to apply them to achieve performance results is an underlying motivation for business professionals to conduct applied research.

Characteristics Specific to Applied Research for a D.B.A

 A professional doctorate such as a D.B.A. can provide tools and skills that can improve a specific problem in the workplace (Banerjee and Morley, 2013). Unlike a traditional Ph.D., the research of a D.B.A. is typically centered in a professional area of expertise as opposed to a university or other academic setting (Costley and Lester, 2012). According to Jones (2018), employers are looking for specific skills and qualifications that a traditional Ph.D. doesn’t always provide and are more relevant to the needs of business and the growth of the economy. To meet the challenges of a changing climate in the workforce, many types of degree programs being offered at higher education institutions are adapting to the emerging needs of the business environment. Tennant urges us to understand that a D.B.A. moves us beyond the application of knowledge in practice and moves us towards the generation of knowledge from within the practice itself (Tennant, 2004).
 When pursuing a D.B.A., one should apply critical thinking designed to understand the nature of the problem, the desired end state or solution, and how the research will apply to the outcome. One should also consider what is already known and how previous experiences can be used to develop knowledge. Costly and Lester (2012) explain, “The essential principles of the work-based doctorate are that it uses the candidate’s experience and context as a starting point”. Other researchers have supported this understanding by stating, “The knowledge developed is used to solve practical problems in the workplace. The extent to which managers actually use this knowledge depends on how this knowledge is disseminated, whether the findings are expressed in a manner accessible to practitioners, and the managerial capacity and skills required to implement the research” (Banerjee and Morley, 2013).

 Although the Ph.D. has a legacy of prestige and carries significant weight in defining one’s expertise in academia, a D.B.A. carries an equal distinction of expertise commensurate with being at the pinnacle of applying research knowledge in the industry and solving emerging problems in the workplace. “The doctoral study’s components demonstrate your competence in research, subject matter expertise, and your command of critical thinking and academic writing” (“What is a professional doctorate”, n.d.).


  The intent of this paper was to explore some of the similarities and differences of fundamental and applied research. Contradistinctions were given to provide a better understanding of the types of research that go into a Ph.D. and a professional D.B.A. This demonstrated the motivation for research as the primary distinguishing difference. In the context of a D.B.A. program, this paper closed with some of the more prominent characteristics that are accepted among professionals using applied research to solve practical problems in the workplace.


  • Banerjee, S., & Morley, C. (2013). Professional doctorates in management: Toward a practice-based approach to doctoral education. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 12(2), 173-193. 
  • Costley, C., & Lester, S. (2012). Work-based doctorates: Professional extension at the highest levels. Studies in Higher Education (Dorchester-on-Thames), 37(3), 257.
  • Fenge, L. (2009). Professional doctorates-A better route for researching professionals? Social Work Education, 28(2), 165-176
  • Horvath, C. P., & Forte, J. M. (2011). Critical thinking. Nova Science Publishers, Incorporated
  • Jones, M. (2018). Contemporary trends in professional doctorates. Studies in Higher Education, 43(5), 814.
  • L MacLennan, H., A Pina, A., A Moran, K., & F Hafford, P. (2016). Doctor of business administration (D.B.A.): A viable credential for faculty in programmatically degree accredited business programs? International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 11, 217-226. 
  • Lewis, S. (2013). DBA degree vs. Ph.D.: What’s the difference? St. Leo University Online. Retrieved January 26, 2019, from http://blog.online.saintleo.edu/blog/bid/330348/DBA-Degree-Vs-PhD-What-s-The-Difference
  • Piña, A. A., MacLennan, H. L, Moran, K. A., & Hafford, P. F. (2016). The D.B.A. vs. Ph.D. in U.S. business and management programs: Different by degrees? Journal of Excellence in               Business Education 4(1), 6-19.
  • Grove, J. (2016). Professional doctorate v Ph.D. – which is better? Times Higher Education, (2243). Retrieved January 26, 2019, from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.trident.edu/docview/1767060005?pq-origsite=summon
  • Schildkraut, J., & Stafford, M. C. (2015). Researching professionals or professional researchers? A comparison of professional doctorate and Ph.D. programs in criminology & criminal justice. American Journal of Criminal Justice: AJCJ, 40(1), 183-198. 
  • Tennant, M. (2004) Doctoring the knowledge worker, Studies in Continuing Education, 26(3): 431–41.
  • What Is a Professional Doctorate? Doctoral Study for Professional Doctorate Programs. (n.d.). Retrieved January 27, 2019, from https://www.waldenu.edu/online-doctoral-programs/resource/what-is-a-professional-doctorate


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