Hello and welcome to the FAQ for this guide. Below are some frequently asked questions and brief answers for them. If you want to learn more about these processes, or would like some assistance, please don't hesitate to reach out and I'll be happy to assist you!
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There are times where you may be interested in seeking out empirical research, which is based on observed and measured phenomena and derives knowledge from actual experience rather than from theory or belief. 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?
Types of Empirical Research
"Empirical Research" is a pretty broad term, and covers a wide variety of research types. This can include quantitative research (surveys, experiments, longitudinal studies, etc.), qualitative research (interviews, observations, case studies, focus groups, etc.), or mixed-method studies.
Finding Empirical Research in the Databases
Unfortunately, the broadness of empirical research can also make it difficult to locate. Thankfully, many of our databases allow you to narrow down your results to highlight research studies. Use these to your advantage!
This video will help to search for and identify empirical articles in library databases.
CINAHL Plus with Full Text:
To look for research studies in CINAHL, look for this check box on the beginning search page:
Checking this box will ensure that you only get research articles back in your results! Be aware that these may include literature reviews or systematic reviews, so you will still want to view the Abstract and Methods sections (see Look at the Article below).
APA PsychInfo/APA PsychArticles
In these databases, there is a "Methodology" box which allows you to specifically name what type of research (empirical, longitudinal, qualitative, quantitative, mixed, etc) you are looking for. Select any that you are interested in and then click "Search." De-select any methodologies you aren't interested in.
NOTE: The methodologies do include things like Literature Reviews and Meta analyses (see image), so be sure to de-select those if you aren't interested in them. You can do that by holding down the ctrl (PC) or command (Mac) key. Remember that many empirical research articles might also have a literature review in them!
In PubMed, you have the option to select which types of research you are looking for from the results page. Just use the "Article Type" limiters to the left side of the page to select which types of research you are looking for. If you do not see the type of research you're looking for, click the "additional filters" box at the bottom of that column and check which types you are seeking, then click "Save." The new options will now appear alongside your results.
Look at the article
Unfortunately, not every database has this option. When using something like OneSearch or Google Scholar, this can be made very difficult to tell the differences between a research article and another article without reading the whole thing.
Fortunately, there are always signs to look for when trying to identify the research section. The two most obvious places to look are the abstract and the Methods section. These sections will mention details of research being conducted. If it is for a literature review, they will also describe that. If you see a description of conducting searches in various databases, that describes a literature review. However, some research articles will also conduct a literature review in addition to their original research, so if you're not sure, just keep reading.
Use the literature reviews to your advantage
Finally, remember that most literature reviews look at individual research articles and then summarize the overall literature. If you aren't able to locate any research articles on your topic, or if you discover a literature review that really addresses your topic, look to see which individual studies are included in the review! Some of these might fit well in your research.
Students often encounter issues trying to locate studies that were conducted within the United States. This can be frustrating when you only seem to get back research conducted in other parts of the world. While there is no perfect way to narrow your results down to only domestic studies, there are a few tricks which can be helpful.
Try to use the databases - While not every database has this feature, several of them offer ways to narrow down your results by geography or geographic subset. This is especially true in the EBSCO databases (which include CINAHL Plus, APA PsychInfo, APA PsychArticles, etc.). When using these, consider the following options:
Geographic Subset - This option (available at the bottom of the main search page in CINAHL Plus), will search for studies tied to the region selected. NOTE: This method is NOT perfect. It might locate foreign studies published in US publications, or foreign studies conducted by US researchers. However, it will help in removing many undesired results. You can also do this from the results page by scrolling down and selecting the bottom menu on the left of the results, "Geography."
Check the Item Record - If you've located an article and still aren't sure where the research has taken place, take a look at the item's record in the database. The item's record us usually what you end up on when you click on a search result, and it contains a lot of information about the article. Below we see a screenshot of an item record in CINAHL Plus. Note the following areas:
Authors / Affiliation - In the case of this article, all of the associated researchers work in the Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Source - You may be able to learn from the name of the journal. While this particular one doesn't give us any regional details, but's also worst noting that it isn't the British Journal of Midwifery or the International Women's Health Journal.
Language - While many articles from all over the world are written in English, this can sometimes be a helpful indicator (especially if it is published in more than one language, i.e. French and English might denote a Canadian journal.
Abstract - Finally, the abstract often will contain information on a study. If we're lucky, it might name exactly where it has taken place. Sometimes, however, regional spellings might inform you of a study's setting. for instance, you might see reference to a "health centre" or "doctor's practice," or even a description of "labour pains." All of these use European spelling variants of words which should alert you that it is very unlikely a domestic study.
Try not to use "United States" as a search term - This approach is often used by students in hopes of locating only items which were conducted in the United States. However, there are a few problems with this approach. For one thing, there might be a perfect article for your topic based on research right in Tucson Arizona. Only they don't use the phrase "United States" once through the entire article, and so you wouldn't get that result back in your search. You might also find results of a study in Morocco that compares the infection rates there to those of the United States. This result would come back in your results, only because they use this country as a comparison model.