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What counts as Research?

Definition of research

For the purposes of various statutory returns research is defined by the conventions set out in the Frascati Manual. The Frascati Manual is the internationally recognised methodology for collecting and using R&D statistics and we will use the conventions outlined in the Manual to decide whether something could be classified as research.


Research and experimental development (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.

The activity must be:

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

All five criteria are to be met, at least in principle, every time an R&D activity is undertaken whether on a continuous or occasional basis.

Types of research

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 foundations 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.


Activities that should usually be excluded from being classified as research include: scientific and technical information services; testing and standardisation; feasibility studies; specialised health care; policy-related studies; programmatic evaluations; purely R&D financing activities; and indirect supporting activities.


This is a recording from a Research Grants Masterclass recorded on 15th June 2017, where a panel of researchers discussed building research teams, working with partners and building international collaborations. Please note, the recording of this session was on the agreement that the media is not shared outside the institution. The video has been uploaded as ‘Unlisted’ to YouTube meaning that access to the link is required for viewing therefore we ask that you do not share it with anyone externally.