I've been using these expressions interchangeably without knowing their possible differences. Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines "real-life" as an adjective as follows:

Real-life: actually happening in life, not invented in a book:

Examples: 1) a real-life drama 2) real-life problems

However, it does not define "real-world" as an adjective. It simply defines the real world as "the way life really is, not how people would like it to be or imagine it".

Oxford dictionary defines "real-world" as a noun as follows:

Real-world: The existing state of things, as opposed to one that is imaginary, simulated, or theoretical.

Examples: 1) We live in the real world of limited financial resources. 2) the real-world problems that teenagers face

I could not find "real-world applications" or "real-life applications" in my dictionaries. Google suggests about 566,000 and 479,000 results for these expressions, respectively. If these expressions have the same meaning, then which one is better to use? Which one is more formal?

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    Though commonly used interchangeably, they are not the same. Find out why. And let us know! Good Luck. – Kris Aug 11 '17 at 5:42
  • @Kris English is my second language, and I couldn't find an answer to the question from the Web. I want to use it in a paper, but I don't know which one is better to use. I also would like to know which one is suitable for a presentation talk. – Opt Aug 11 '17 at 11:53
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    Thanks for elaborating on your question. I've voted to reopen it. – Lawrence Aug 14 '17 at 10:38

I'm a behavioral scientist. Both of these terms come up in science and statistics. To my ear, "real life" means something like "everyday life for ordinary people" whereas the "real world" is a broader notion that includes any application of an idea outside pursuing ideas for their own sake. So, if somebody asks for a real-world example of use of the statistical device called a tolerance interval, you might tell a story about a reliability engineer trying to determine whether an assembly line is performing adequately. This wouldn't be much of a "real-life example" because most people don't do reliability engineering, nor anything much like it. A real-life example in statistics would be reasoning about whether it rained yesterday using the observation that your lawn is wet. Rain and wet lawns are mundane in a way that legal regulations about the durability of a surge protector aren't.

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