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Reference Guide: Searching for Empirical Articles

Putting multipurpose pages here, such as accessing articles, submitting ILL, impact factors, etc.

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.

Empirical research search terms

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

Specific database examples

CINAHL Plus with Full Text does not have a simple method to locate empirical research. One technique is to search for "evidence-based practice" items. This method tends to find meta-analyses and systematic reviews that combine the results of numerous studies: 
  • Use the "Advanced Search"
  • Type your keywords into the search boxes
  • Below the search windows, check off "Evidence-Based Practice" in the "Special Interests" menu
  • Choose other limits, such as published date, if needed
  • Click on the "Search" button

Another alternative is to use terminology recommended by the CINAHL Headings list. Some useful keywords are:
  • Empirical Research
  • Experimental Studies
  • Nonexperimental Studies
  • Qualitative Studies
  • Quantitative Studies

There are 2 ways to find empirical articles in PubMed:

One technique is to limit your search results after you perform a search:

  • Type in your keywords and click on the "Search" button
  • To the left of your results, under "Article Types," click on "Customize"
  • Choose the types of studies that interest you, and click on the "Show" button

Another alternative is to construct a more sophisticated search:

  • From PubMed's main screen, click on "Advanced" link underneath the search box
  • On the Advance Search Builder screen type your keywords into the search boxes
  • Change one of the empty boxes from "All Fields" to "Publication Type"
  • To the right of Publication Type, click on "Show Index List" and choose a methodology that interests you. You can choose more than one by holding down the "Ctrl" or "⌘" on your keyboard as you click on each methodology
  • Click on the "Search" button

To find empirical articles in PsycINFO:

  • Use the "Advanced Search"
  • Type your keywords into the search boxes
  • Scroll down the page to "Methodology," and choose "Empirical Study." There are more specific methodologies below.
  • Choose other limits, such as publication date, if needed
  • Click on the "Search" button

To find empirical articles in ScienceDirect:

  • Click on "Advanced Search" to the right of the search windows
  • On next page, click on "Show all fields"
  • Under "Article Types," select "Research Articles," or any other type of article which might be helpful.
  • Slick Search
Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts (LLBA) does not have a simple method to locate empirical research. Using "empirical" as a keyword will find some studies, but miss most. Consider using terminology that describes the methods used in empirical research.
Some useful keywords are:
  • Case Studies
  • Fieldwork
  • Interviews
  • Qualitative Analysis
  • Quantitative Analysis
  • Statistical Analysis
  • Surveys
ERIC (ProQuest version) does not have a simple method to locate empirical research. Using "empirical" as a keyword will find some studies, but miss others. One technique is to search for "Research Reports."
Some useful keywords are:
  • Action Research
  • Case Studies
  • Ethnography
  • Evaluation Methods
  • Evaluation Research
  • Experiments
  • Focus Groups
  • Field Studies
  • Interviews
  • Mail Surveys
  • Mixed Methods Research
  • Naturalistic Observation
  • Online Surveys
  • Participant Observation
  • Participatory Research
  • Qualitative Research
  • Questionnaires
  • Research
  • Statistical Analysis
  • Statistical Studies
  • Telephone Surveys

Empirical Articles - Sample Research Tips -- CAS & PSYC 101 / PSYC 341 IN-PERSON & ONLINE -- ACCESSIBLE VERSION

This guide helps to identify the major parts of an empirical article and covers sample strategies for locating them through databases such as APA PsycInfo and ERIC. There are also general tips applicable to other databases.