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Psychology: Finding Empirical Studies

Learn how to identify and find empirical studies using library databases

Meet the Librarian

Iris Carroll's picture
Iris Carroll
Office Location
East Campus, L & LC

(209) 575-6082

Research Help Desk Hours:

  • Mondays: 1-3

  • Tuesdays: 1-3

  • Wednesdays: 9-1 WC

  • Thursdays: 9-10, 1-2

What is Empirical Research?

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

Research articles are not good places to find:

  • basic summaries
  • general introductions to a topic

There are several different types of research articles:

Review articles 

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 are written to advance theory and they may include both discussions of empirical research and reviews of research in order to elaborate the theoretical position.

Empirical studies

Empirical study articles are written to publish findings of original research that adheres to the scientific method.

What Exactly Is Empirical Research?

Empirical research is based on observed and measured phenomena and derives knowledge from actual experience rather than from theory or belief.

Key characteristics to look for:

  • Statement about the methodology being used
  • Research questions to be answered
  • Definition of the group or phenomena being studied
  • Process used to study this group or phenomena, including any controls or instruments such as tests or surveys
  • Question to ask while reading: Could I recreate this study and test these results?
  • The abstract of the article should provide a description of the methodology

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.

Finding Empirical Research


Searching for Academic Articles in Gale Databases

Use EBSCOhost Databases to Find Academic Journal Articles

How Do You Find Empirical Research?

Empirical research is published in books and scholarly, peer-reviewed journals.

The MJC Library subscribes to several databases providing access to peer-reviewed journals. Not only do these databases provide access to this type of material, but they allow you to limit your searches to retrieve only peer-reviewed content.

What if MJC Doesn't Have What I Need?

  1. First, check WorldCat to see if another library has the material you need. You can simply search WorldCat using the title. If you find the material in WorldCat you click the Request Item button to have that item sent to you here at MJC.
  2. If you do not find the material you want in WorldCat, fill out the appropriate form below to request your material:

Request an Article:

Request a Book:

For  more information, check out our interlibrary loan service page.

Using a DOI to Locate an Article

A DOI can be used to cite and link to electronic articles. A DOI is guaranteed never to change, so you can use it as a permanent link to any electronic article.

To find an article using a DOI

When you see a DOI reference in an article on the Internet, most of the time you can just click on the DOI in order to access the article (provided you have the needed access rights to the site where the article is located).

In case you see a DOI in a print document or when the online DOI is not clickable, and you want to access the article, please do the following:

  1. Copy the DOI of the document you want to open (e.g.: doi:10.2991/jnmp.2006.13.4.1).
  2. Go to :
  3. Enter the entire DOI in the text box provided, and then click Go.
  4. The document that matches the DOI citation will display in your browser window.

You can Google a DOI to find an article, although you may still have to sift through search results. To go straight to the source, you can also use a DOI resolver like the one linked to above from the International DOI Foundation.