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
Reprinted from Penn State Univ. Libraries