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A guide to researching psychology related topics.

What is Empirical Research?

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

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)

Another hint: some scholarly journals use a specific layout, called the "IMRaD" format, to communicate empirical research findings. Such articles typically have 4 components:

  • Introduction: sometimes called literature review -- what is currently known about the topic -- usually includes a theoretical framework and/or discussion of previous studies
  • Methodology: sometimes called research design -- how to recreate the study -- usually describes the population, research process, and analytical tools
  • Results: sometimes called findings -- what was learned through the study -- usually appears as statistical data or as substantial quotations from research participants
  • Discussion: sometimes called conclusion or implications -- why the study is important -- usually describes how the research results influence professional practices or future studies

Finding Empirical Research

Empirical research is published in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals and in books.  Some library databases do not have a straightforward way to limit to empirical research. 

PsycINFO includes a Methodology filter to limit results to empirical research studies.

How to do it:

Type your keywords into the search boxes, as below, and click Search:


At the results page, under Refine Results, scroll down to Methodology and click the box next to Empirical Study:


Search results will update after you check the box next to empirical study. You may also want to limit by publication date or source type.

Have a question? Ask a librarian! Email Call or text 386-747-9028.