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Formal Research vs. Informal Research: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on December 29, 2023
Formal research is a structured, systematic investigation for new information, while informal research involves casual, unsystematic information gathering.

Key Differences

Formal research is characterized by its systematic approach, relying on structured methodologies such as experiments, surveys, and statistical analysis. Informal research, in contrast, is more casual and spontaneous, often involving anecdotal evidence or personal observations. Both forms of research serve different purposes, with formal research aimed at generating new, verifiable knowledge and informal research often used for preliminary understanding or personal insight.
In formal research, the emphasis is on objectivity, accuracy, and reproducibility, ensuring that results can be verified by others in the field. Informal research, however, is subjective, relying on individual interpretations and experiences. While formal research contributes to the broader academic and professional knowledge base, informal research typically aids individual understanding and decision-making.
Documentation is a key differentiator; formal research requires thorough documentation of methods, data, and conclusions, often resulting in peer-reviewed publications. Informal research may not follow any documentation standards, with findings often shared through informal channels like blogs or conversations. Both types of research, however, can influence perspectives and decisions, albeit in different contexts.
The resources and time investment in formal research are typically substantial, involving rigorous planning and execution. Informal research, on the other hand, is less resource-intensive, often conducted quickly and with minimal planning. Each type of research has its place, with formal research being essential for scientific and academic advancements and informal research being beneficial for quick, on-the-spot information gathering.
Ethical considerations play a significant role in formal research, which often requires institutional review and adherence to ethical standards. Informal research, being less structured, may not involve such stringent ethical scrutiny. Despite their differences, both formal and informal research are important in their own right, contributing uniquely to knowledge and understanding.

Comparison Chart


Highly structured with defined methodologies
Lacks a defined structure, more fluid


To produce new, verifiable knowledge
To gain preliminary insights or personal understanding


Requires thorough documentation and often peer review
Documentation not typically formalized or required

Resource Intensity

Generally resource-intensive, requiring time and planning
Less resource-intensive, can be conducted quickly

Ethical Oversight

Often subject to institutional and ethical review
Less likely to involve formal ethical oversight

Data Collection

Utilizes systematic methods like surveys and experiments
Relies on anecdotal evidence and personal observations


Aims for reproducible and verifiable results
Results are often subjective and not easily reproducible


Results published in academic or professional outlets
Findings often shared informally or not at all


Broad and comprehensive in scope
Typically narrow, focused on specific or immediate needs


Intended for academic, scientific, or professional communities
Often intended for personal use or a non-specialized audience

Formal Research and Informal Research Definitions

Formal Research

Formal research refers to a methodical and organized quest for new information in a particular field.
The university's formal research program has made significant contributions to biotechnology.

Informal Research

Informal research is an intuitive and non-systematic approach to understanding a topic.
The blogger used informal research to gather opinions on the latest fashion trends.

Formal Research

Formal research is the careful, deliberate study of a topic following a predefined plan.
His formal research into ancient civilizations involved extensive fieldwork and analysis.

Informal Research

Informal research is the act of acquiring knowledge without a planned approach or formal framework.
He conducted informal research by asking friends for recommendations on a new car.

Formal Research

Formal research is a structured approach to explore a hypothesis or answer specific questions.
Her formal research on climate change provided valuable insights into rising sea levels.

Informal Research

Informal research involves gathering information casually without a structured methodology.
She did some informal research online to find the best laptop models.

Formal Research

Formal research involves systematic investigation using disciplined methods to discover new knowledge.
The team conducted formal research to test the effectiveness of the new drug.

Informal Research

Informal research is the unstructured, spontaneous collection of information for personal use.
Through informal research, he learned a lot about local history during his travels.

Formal Research

Formal research is a planned, objective process of investigation and analysis.
The formal research published in the journal offered groundbreaking perspectives on renewable energy.

Informal Research

Informal research refers to the process of exploring a subject without formal procedures.
Her informal research on cooking techniques led to some innovative recipes.


Is formal research always better than informal?

Not necessarily; the appropriateness depends on the context and purpose of the research.

What is formal research?

Formal research is a systematic, structured approach to investigation in order to generate new, verifiable knowledge.

What is informal research?

Informal research involves casual, unstructured information gathering, often for personal insight or preliminary understanding.

Can informal research be used in academic settings?

Informally gathered information can inform academic work but typically lacks the rigor required for formal academic research.

Can informal research lead to formal research?

Yes, informal research can provide preliminary insights that lead to more structured, formal investigations.

Do both types of research require ethical considerations?

Yes, but formal research often has stricter ethical guidelines and review processes.

How does informal research benefit everyday decision-making?

Informal research, like reading reviews or asking for opinions, can help in making informed personal decisions.

How does formal research differ from informal in methodology?

Formal research uses systematic, reproducible methods, while informal research is spontaneous without set methodologies.

What role does data play in formal research?

Data is central to formal research, requiring careful collection, analysis, and interpretation.

Do professionals use informal research?

Yes, professionals often use informal research for initial exploration or to gather background information.

Is informal research less valuable than formal research?

No, each has its value depending on the context and purpose of the research.

Are formal research findings always published?

Not always, but formal research often aims for publication in academic or professional outlets.

What is an example of formal research in a business setting?

A market analysis conducted using statistical methods to determine consumer preferences is an example of formal research.

Is informal research more accessible to the general public?

Yes, due to its less structured nature and use of readily available sources.

Is formal research time-consuming?

Generally, yes, due to its structured nature and requirement for thorough analysis.

Are formal research methods taught in universities?

Yes, formal research methodologies are a key part of higher education, especially in research-oriented courses.

Can informal research be biased?

Yes, since it relies on personal experiences and perceptions, it can be more prone to bias.

Can informal research lead to unexpected discoveries?

Yes, its spontaneous nature can sometimes lead to serendipitous findings.

How is information from informal research usually disseminated?

It's often shared through informal channels like blogs, social media, or personal conversations.

Can formal research change industry practices?

Yes, formal research can lead to significant changes in industry standards and practices.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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