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EDG 510: Research Foundation

What is empirical research?

Empirical research articles are scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles that are based on data collected during the authors' real-life experiments or observations rather than from theory or belief.. They are primary research documents that contain either qualitative or quantitative research methods:

  • Qualitative research focuses on collecting in-depth information from small sample sizes in order to describe a trend. Data is typically collected through one-on-one interviews with participants.
  • Quantitative research uses large, representative sample sizes to collect a variety of statistics that can then be generalized. Data is typically collected through a questionnaire, attitude scale, or achievement test.

Most, but not all, empirical research articles include the following components:

  1. Abstract/Introduction
    • This section provides an overview of the research conducted. It may also cover the previous research and body of knowledge on the topic
  2. Method
    • This section explains how the study was conducted. It usually describes the population, research process, analytical tools, and so on. It is sometimes referred to as "research design."

  3. Results
    • This section explains what was learned through the study. It usually appears as statistical data or as substantial quotations from research participants. It is sometimes referred to as "findings."

  4. Discussion/Conclusion
    • This section explains why the study is important. It usually describes how the research results influence professional practices or future studies.

  5. References
    • This section provides a list of other resources used in the creation of the article.

Research Study Types

Some databases do not have handy drop-downs to limit to empirical sources. Instead, use the phrase "empirical study" or one of these thesaurus phrases to find relevant sources:

Action Research

Case Study

Content Analysis

Data Analysis


Evaluation Methods


Focus Groups

Field Studies


Longitudinal Studies

Mail Surveys

Mixed Methods Research

Naturalistic Observation

Online Surveys

Participant Observation

Participatory Research

Qualitative Research



Statistical Analysis

Statistical Studies

Statistical Surveys

Telephone Surveys

Use Studies


Additional empirical research study types are available in subject-specialized indexes.

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