Empirical research applies observation and experience as the main modes of gathering data.
Data collected is referred to as empirical evidence (which is then subjected to qualitative and quantitative analysis in order to answer empirical questions).
A research paper is a primary source...that is, it reports the methods and results of an original study performed by the authors. The kind of study may vary (it could have been an experiment, survey, interview, etc.), but in all cases, raw data have been collected and analyzed by the authors, and conclusions drawn from the results of that analysis.
Research papers follow a particular format. Look for:
- A brief introduction will often include a review of the existing literature on the topic studied, and explain the rationale of the author's study. This is important because it demonstrates that the authors are aware of exisiting studies, and are planning to contribute to this existing body of research in a meaningful way (that is, they're not just doing what others have already done).
- A methods section, where authors desribe how they collected and analyzed data. Statistical analyses are included. This section is quite detailed, as it's important that other researchers be able to verify and/or replicate these methods.
- A results section describes the outcomes of the data analysis. Charts and graphs illustrating the results are typically included.
- In the discussion, authors will explain their interpretation of their results and theorize on their importance to existing and future research.
- References or works cited are always included. These are the articles and books that the authors drew upon to plan their study and to support their discussion.
- Not to be confused with: a review article is a secondary source...it is written about other articles, and does not report original research of its own. Review articles are very important, as they draw upon the articles that they review to suggest new research directions, to strengthen support for existing theories and/or identify patterns among exising research studies. For student researchers, review articles provide a great overview of the exisiting literature on a topic. If you find a literature review that fits your topic, take a look at its references/works cited list for leads on other relevant articles and books!