Empirical Research


Empirical research is any research that is based on experimentation or observation or quantitative measurement. It can be research in health, natural, and social sciences. The idea is as old as ancient Greece, when empiricists rejected the prevaling thought that theory and abstract reasoning were all that were necessary. Tied into the idea of "empirical research" is the scientific method of working of testing a hypothesis through observation and experiment.

Finding Empirical Studies

You will find empirical studies in scholarly journals, not popular magazines. Most of the Ithaca College Library's periodical databases can be used to search for empirical studies, but not all. Some such as Academic Search Premier  will index both popular magazines and scholarly journals. Such databases will have limiters to restrict your search to peer-reviewed articles, but they won't let you restrict your search specifically to empirical studies. Many subject specific databases, such as MEDLINE (EBSCO)  or Biological Abstracts , will only index scientific and peer-reviewed articles. PsycINFO will include among its records not only journal articles, but book chapters, dissertations, and other specialized materials. One special feature of PsycINFO is that it lets you limit your search by methodology, and EMPIRICAL STUDY is one of the choices.

Identifying Empirical Studies

Just because an article is found in a peer-reviewed, scientific, or scholarly journal, that does not mean it is an empirical study. Journals will also include review articles, theoretical articles, and, upon occasion, editorials.

To identify an article as an empirical study, start with a few quick clues. Is it a lengthy article? Does it include an abstract? Are there bibliographic references? If not, move on to something else.

The next thing to do is read the Abstract. In the abstract, the authors will identify their purpose. Look for phrases such as "in this study, "were administered," "investigated, "explored factors," "was examined, "assessed, "questionnaire," or "using a procedure."

These are other standard components that will be included in an article that is an empirical study:
  • Method - This section of the article will describe how the research was conducted. Information likely to be included will be the design of the study and measures used. In the social sciences also included will be a description of the participants (Rats, elite athletes, elementary school girls, psychology majors, to name but a few examples).
  • Results - In a description of the outcomes of the measures of the study, usually tables, graphs, and statistical analysis will be included.
  • Discussion - The authors will use this section to interpret their results and explain the implications of the study.