Library Guide to Empirical Research


Three major types of journal articles include: reports of empirical studies, review articles, and theoretical articles.

  • Reports of empirical studies are articles summarizing original research.
  • Review articles are further examinations of research that has already been published.
  • Theoretical articles are written to advance theory and they may include both empirical research and review of research in order to elaborate the theoretical position.

Components of Empirical Research

There are several different sections of reports of empirical studies relating to the different steps of the scientific method.

  • Abstract - The abstract 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 describes 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.

Recognizing Empirical Research


If an article is empirical, it will include terms such as:

  • measurement
  • psychological aspects
  • reports
  • research statistics
  • usage

Length of Article

Empirical research articles are usually substantial (more than 1 or 2 pages) and include a bibliography or cited references section (usually at the end of the article).

Type of Publication

Empirical research articles are published in scholarly or academic journals. These publications are also sometimes referred to as “peer-reviewed,” or “refereed” publications. Examples of such publications include: American Journal of Sociology, Sociological Quarterly, and Sociological Methods and Research. For tips on how to recognize scholarly resources, see the Scholarly and Non-Scholarly Publications LibGuide.

Resources for Finding Empirical Research

Now that you understand how to recognize empirical research, you are ready to start searching for this kind of information. Most of the library's databases include empirical research as well as other kinds of articles. Try one of our big general databases like Academic Search Complete or find a subject-specific database on our databases page.

HINT: When searching any databases, try a search that combines the keyword "empirical" with keywords that represent your topic. Example: social work and empirical. Also try the keywords "research," "experiment," or "study" combined with your topic to retrieve empirical research from a database.

HINT: Some databases will allow you to limit your search to a particular type of publication or content. Use this feature to limit your search to only empirical or research-based articles.

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