"The PhD degree...implies that an individual has demonstrated an ability to pursue a research problem to a meaningful conclusion and has made a significant contribution to the advancement of basic or applied knowledge"
Committee on education of the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, (1999)
Therefore, the most important part that would differentiate between research and PhD research is the "significant contribution to the advancement of basic or applied knowledge".
What is knowledge?:
As defined by Chacko, (1999), knowledge refers to the "aggregate of encounters with physical and/or mental experiences, assembled and/or abstracted for prospective application and adaptation"
Significant contribution to original knowledge expected from PhD can be:
A universally valid statement of conditions, consequences and/or relationships (e.g., Law of Gravity)
A system of thought guided by empirical data and built up logically from a small number of fundamental asumptions (axioms), receiving peer acceptance based on replication of results-conceptually, computationally, and/or conformally (experimentally/empirically)
3) Interactive Model(s)
The conceptual, computational, experimental, and/or empirical replication in such a way that a change of results and a change of resources, values developed are sufficient for decision making purpose.
Basic Knowledge vs. Applied Knowledge
"A working house of thought (e.g., theorem, theory, law, interactive model) which explains phenomena so succintly and persuasively that it contributes materially to the understanding of underlying interrelationships".
"The demonstration, in part or full, of Basic Knowledge, eventually converting it into new/improved process(es) to generate products and services".