This topic--research design--I don't made appearance in my MSW classes. Did it in yours? It doesn't seem terribly likely to show up on the licensing exam. But it's in the ASWB exam content outline, so, just in case, let's review. The topic: Basic and applied research design and methods.

Learn the Terms. Basic and applied research are two broad categories of research design and methods used in various fields. Each serves different purposes and has distinct characteristics. Here are the essential principles and features of both:

Basic Research


  • Exploration and Understanding: Basic research, also known as fundamental or pure research, aims to expand knowledge and understanding of a particular phenomenon, without immediate practical application.


  • Theoretical Focus: Basic research often focuses on testing theories, exploring concepts, and generating new ideas.
  • Generalizable Findings: Results of basic research are typically generalizable and contribute to the theoretical foundations of a field.
  • Long-Term Impact: While not directly addressing practical problems, basic research lays the groundwork for future applied research and innovations.


  • Experimental and Observational: Basic research commonly involves experimental designs, observations, and statistical analyses to test hypotheses.
  • Controlled Conditions: Researchers often work in controlled laboratory conditions to isolate variables and study their effects.
  • Longitudinal Studies: Some basic research may involve long-term studies to observe changes over time.

Applied Research


  • Solving Practical Problems: Applied research aims to address specific, practical issues or problems and has immediate relevance to real-world situations.


  • Practical Applications: Applied research is designed to produce practical solutions, interventions, or strategies.
  • Action-Oriented: The focus is on implementing findings to bring about positive changes or improvements.
  • Client or Stakeholder Involvement: Applied research often involves collaboration with clients, stakeholders, or communities affected by the issue under investigation.


  • Field Studies: Applied research commonly uses field studies, surveys, case studies, and other methods that are directly relevant to real-world settings.
  • Interventions: Researchers may implement interventions or strategies to address specific problems and evaluate their effectiveness.
  • Participatory Action Research (PAR): Applied research may include participatory approaches, involving stakeholders in the research process.

Overlapping Aspects

  • Iterative Process: Both basic and applied research can be part of an iterative process where findings from basic research inform applied research and vice versa.
  • Ethical Considerations: Both types of research must adhere to ethical standards, ensuring the well-being and rights of participants.
  • Interdisciplinary Collaboration: Researchers from various disciplines may collaborate in both basic and applied research to bring diverse perspectives to the study.

In practice, the distinction between basic and applied research is not always clear-cut, and there is often a continuum between the two. Many researchers engage in a combination of basic and applied research to contribute both to theoretical knowledge and practical solutions in their respective fields.

On the Social Work Exam

Questions covering this topic (if you happen to encounter any) might look like this:

  • A social work researcher is conducting a study to test a newly developed theory related to the factors influencing long-term outcomes of individuals who have experienced childhood trauma. What type of research is the social worker engaged in?
  • A social work researcher is collaborating with a community organization to assess the effectiveness of a new intervention program aimed at reducing substance abuse among at-risk youth. What type of research is the social worker conducting?
  • A social work researcher conducts a study exploring the theoretical underpinnings of resilience in individuals who have experienced domestic violence. Following this, the researcher collaborates with a local shelter to implement and evaluate a resilience-building program for survivors. What does this illustrate?

Get questions (and answers! and rationales!) covering the wide range of topics covered on the ASWB exam with SWTP's full-length practice tests. 

Let's Do It.

January 26, 2024
Categories :