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Empirical Research


Empirical research uses data derived from actual observation or experimentation.

Three major types of journal articles are reports of empirical studies, review articles, and theoretical articles.

  • Reports of empirical studies are articles summarizing original research.
  • Review articles are further examinations of research that has already been published.
  • Theoretical articles are written to advance theory and they may include both empirical research and review of research in order to elaborate the theoretical position.

Components of Empirical Research

There are several different sections of reports of empirical studies relating to the different steps of the scientific method.

  • Abstract - A report of an empirical study includes an abstract that provides a very brief summary of the research.
  • Introduction - The introduction sets the research in a context, which provides a review of related research and develops the hypotheses for the research.
  • Method - The method section is a description of how the research was conducted, including who the participants were, the design of the study, what the participants did, and what measures were used.
  • Results - The results section describes the outcomes of the measures of the study.
  • Discussion - The discussion section contains the interpretations and implications of the study.
  • General Discussion - There may be more than one study in the report; in this case, there are usually separate Method and Results sections for each study followed by a general discussion that ties all the research together.
  • References - A references section contains information about the articles and books cited in the report.

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Recognizing Empirical Research

If an article is empirical, it will include terms such as:

  • measurement
  • psychological aspects
  • reports
  • research statistics
  • usage

Length of Article
Empirical research articles are usually substantial (more than 1 or 2 pages) and include a bibliography or cited references section (usually at the end of the article).

Type of Publication
Empirical research articles are published in scholarly or academic journals. These publications are also sometimes referred to as "peer-reviewed," or "refereed" publications. Examples of such publications include: American Journal of Sociology, Sociological Quarterly, and Sociological Methods and Research.

HINT: When searching any of the databases list above, try a search that combines the keyword "empirical" with keywords that represent your topic. Example: social work and empirical. Also try the keywords "research," "experiment," or "study" combined with your topic to retrieve empirical research from a database.

HINT: Some databases will allow you to limit your search to a particular type of publication or content. Use this feature to limit your search to only empirical or research-based articles.


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