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Empirical Research

Learn what empirical research is and how to find research articles in academic journals

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Iris Carroll
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Types of Research Articles

When scientists and other scholars want to make the results of their work public, they usually begin by publishing them in a scholarly journal with a title like Behavioral Neuroscience, or Developmental Psychology.

They are the best way to find:

  • The most recent, “cutting edge” research
  • Authoritative information about older research

They are not good places to find:

  • Basic summaries
  • General introductions to a topic
There are several different types of research articles you may see:
 
Empirical Studies

Empirical study articles are reports of original research. They can also include secondary analyses that test hypotheses by presenting novel analyses of data not considered or addressed in previous reports. Empirical studies are generally published in academic, peer-reviewed journals and generally consist of distinct sections that reflect the stages in the research process.
 

Literature Reviews

Not to be confused with a “peer reviewed journal,” review articles are an attempt by one or more writers to sum up the current state of the research on a particular topic. Ideally, the writer searches for everything relevant to the topic, and then sorts it all out into a coherent view of the “state of the art” as it now stands. Review Articles will teach you about::

  • the main people working in a field
  • recent major advances and discoveries
  • significant gaps in the research
  • current debates
  • ideas of where research might go next

Review articles are virtual gold mines if you want to find out what the key articles are for a given topic. If you read and thoroughly digest a good review article, you should be able to “talk the talk” about a given topic. Unlike research articles, review articles are good places to get a basic idea about a topic.
 

Theoretical Articles

Theoretical articles draw on existing research to advance advance theory.

 


How Do I Recognize an Empirical Study?

There are several different sections of reports and/or articles of empirical studies relating to the different steps of the scientific method. When you see articles that include these components you're looking at empirical studies. The components to look for are:
 

  • 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.