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Pollak Library

Psychology: Research Articles

Subject Guide for Psychology

What is Empirical Research?

Empirical research is conducted based on observed and measured phenomena and derives knowledge from actual experience, rather than from theory or belief. Empirical research articles are examples of primary research.

How do you know if a study is empirical?

Read the subheadings within the article, book, or report and look for a description of the research methodology. Ask yourself: Could I recreate this study and test these results?

Key characteristics to look for:

  • Specific research questions to be answered
  • Definition of the population, behavior, or phenomena being studied
  • Description of the process used to study this population or phenomena, including selection criteria, controls, and testing instruments (such as surveys)
  • The article abstract mentions a study, observation, analysis, # of participants/subjects.
  • The article includes chartsgraphs, or statistical analysis.
  • The article is substantial in size, likely to be more than 5 pages long.
  • The article contains the following sections (the exact terms may vary): abstract, introduction, methodology, results, discussion, references.
  • Empirical research is often (but not always) published in peer-reviewed academic journals.

Finding Empirical Research in the Databases

Most databases will not have a simple way to only look at empirical research. In the window below are some suggestions for specific databases, but here are some good rules of thumb to follow:

Search subject-specific databases - Multipurpose databases can definitely contain empirical research, but it's almost always easier to use the databases devoted to your topic, which should have more topical results and will respond better to your keywords.

Select "Peer-reviewed Journals" - Not all empirical research is published in academic journals. Grey literature is a great place to search, particularly in the health sciences. However, grey literature can be difficult to identify, so it is recommended to search the databases until you are more comfortable identifying empirical literature.

Check the abstract / methods - Most articles will not have the phrase "empirical research" in their title, or even in the whole article. A better place to get an idea of what the article contains is by looking at the abstract and the methods section. In the abstract, there will usually be a description of what was done in the article. If there isn't, look in the methods. Ideally, you can get an idea of whether original research is being conducted or if it's reviewing it from other sources.

Consider your keywords - Think about what types of methods are used in empirical research and incorporate those into your keywords. or example, searching for "sleep loss" will certainly bring back many articles about that subject, but "sleep loss and study" might yield some results describing studies being conducted on sleep loss.

The box to the right features some typical methods of conducting empirical research that you might consider including in your search terms.

Sections of an Empirical Article







APA PsycInfo Tip

Use the APA PsycInfo's Methodology limiter to retrieve only empirical research article results.

methodology limiter

Empirical research search terms

  • study
  • research
  • analysis
  • observation
  • survey
  • questionnaire
  • interview
  • experiment
  • findings
  • participants