Action Research vs. Research

What's the Difference?

Action research and traditional research both involve systematic investigation and data collection to address a specific problem or question. However, the key difference lies in their approach and purpose. Action research is more focused on practical application and problem-solving within a specific context, often involving collaboration with stakeholders to implement and evaluate solutions in real-time. On the other hand, traditional research tends to be more theoretical and generalizable, aiming to contribute to the broader body of knowledge in a particular field. Both approaches have their strengths and limitations, and the choice between them depends on the goals and objectives of the research project.


AttributeAction ResearchResearch
GoalProblem-solving and improvement of practiceGenerating new knowledge
ApproachCollaborative and participatoryCan be collaborative or individual
FocusSpecific issue or problem in a real-world contextVaries depending on the research question
TimeframeUsually shorter-termCan be short or long-term
MethodsQualitative and quantitative data collection and analysisVaries depending on the research design

Further Detail


Action research is a type of research that is conducted by practitioners in order to solve real-world problems within their own context. It involves a systematic process of inquiry that is collaborative, reflective, and iterative. On the other hand, research is a broader term that refers to the systematic investigation of a topic in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions. It can be conducted in various fields and disciplines, using different methodologies and approaches.


The main purpose of action research is to improve practice and bring about positive change in a specific context. It is often used by educators, social workers, and healthcare professionals to address issues within their own organizations or communities. In contrast, the purpose of research is to generate new knowledge, test hypotheses, and contribute to the existing body of literature in a particular field. It is often conducted by academics, scientists, and researchers who are looking to advance their understanding of a topic.


Action research typically involves a cyclical process of planning, acting, observing, and reflecting. It is characterized by a participatory and collaborative approach, where stakeholders are actively involved in the research process. Researchers often work closely with practitioners to co-create knowledge and develop solutions to practical problems. On the other hand, traditional research follows a more linear and structured approach, where researchers collect data, analyze findings, and draw conclusions based on established methodologies and theories. It is often more detached and objective compared to action research.


Action research tends to focus on specific issues or problems within a particular context. It is often driven by the need to address practical challenges and improve outcomes in real-world settings. Researchers in action research are more concerned with the immediate impact of their work and the relevance of their findings to the stakeholders involved. In contrast, traditional research may have a broader focus, seeking to explore general trends, theories, or phenomena that have implications beyond a specific context. Researchers in traditional research are often more interested in theoretical frameworks and generalizability of their findings.


The outcomes of action research are often tangible and practical, such as the implementation of new practices, policies, or interventions that lead to positive change in a specific context. Action researchers aim to improve the lives of individuals or communities by addressing real-world problems and challenges. In contrast, the outcomes of traditional research are typically more theoretical and academic, such as the publication of research papers, the development of new theories, or the advancement of knowledge in a particular field. Traditional researchers aim to contribute to the scholarly discourse and expand the understanding of a topic.


One of the main challenges of action research is the potential bias or subjectivity that may arise from the close collaboration between researchers and practitioners. Researchers in action research must navigate the complexities of working within a specific context while maintaining objectivity and rigor in their research process. They must also balance the needs and perspectives of different stakeholders involved in the research. On the other hand, traditional research may face challenges related to generalizability, validity, and reliability of findings. Researchers in traditional research must ensure that their methods are robust and their conclusions are based on sound evidence.


In conclusion, action research and traditional research are two distinct approaches to conducting research, each with its own strengths and limitations. Action research is characterized by its focus on practical problem-solving, collaborative approach, and tangible outcomes. It is often used by practitioners to address real-world issues within their own context. On the other hand, traditional research is characterized by its theoretical focus, structured approach, and academic outcomes. It is often used by researchers to generate new knowledge and contribute to the scholarly discourse. Both approaches have their place in the research landscape and can complement each other in advancing our understanding of the world.

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