1570s, "act of searching closely," from French recerche (1530s, Modern French recherche), back-formation from Old French recercher (see research (v.)). Meaning "scientific inquiry" is first attested 1630s. Phrase research and development is recorded from 1923.
1590s, from French recercher, from Old French recercher "seek out, search closely," from re-, intensive prefix (see re-), + cercher "to seek for," from Latin circare "go about, wander, traverse," in Late Latin "to wander hither and thither," from circus "circle" (see circus). Related: Researched; researching.