EDP 250 Educational Psychology Course Guide

Empirical Research


magnifying glass and pencil on sheet of paper

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).

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).
  • 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.
  • 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!

Here is a video tutorial to show you how to limit your research databases to primary empirical studies. Next are three example articles.

Scholarly Peer Reviewed Articles

"Scholarly" and "peer reviewed" are often used synonymously, but they are not necessarily the same thing.   Peer reviewed articles are always scholarly, but not all scholarly sources are peer reviewed.   It may seem confusing, but it makes more sense if you think of "scholarly" as an umbrella term for several different kinds of authoritative, credible sources.  These include:

  • Peer reviewed journals.  These journals primarily exist to publish the research findings of experts in a field. The articles that you see in these journals have been closely scrutinized by a panel of reviewers (also experts in the same field) before they are published. 
  • Trade or professional journals or magazines.  The articles in these periodicals are also written by and for experts, but there is no peer review.  The articles aren't limited to research...they may be news, best practice tips or opinion pieces. 
  • Government publications.  Many government agencies publish books, reports, data or statistics.  Government researchers, like those who publish in peer reviewed or trade journals, are often experts in their field.
  • Books.   Many researchers publish books or book chapters.  

How can you tell if an article is scholarly?  You will have to do some detective-work, but there are some telltale signs:

  • Author(s): Ideally, you should rely on information that has been published by an expert..someone who has studied the topic long and hard.    Most scholarly publications will list an author's credentials (their degrees -- M.S., Ph.D., Ed.D., etc. -  and the institution that they work for) along with his or her name.
  • Content:  Look for articles that cover a topic in detail (more than just a few pages long, typically).   It will probably include some kind of literature review, and discuss the work of other authors, in addition to any original research findings.  Make sure it cites its sources (a scholarly article will always have a "references," "bibliography" or "works cited" list). 
  • Audience:  Scholarly articles are written for professionals in the field.  You will probably notice a lot of technical language and/or discipline-specific jargon.  The tone will be formal.
  • Publisher.  Visit the journal's website to see what organization publishes it.  Professional associations, universities and government agencies are particularly good signs.  As you become more experienced, you'll also start to recognize major publishing companies in your field of study (Wiley, Elsevier, Sage, etc.).
  • Purpose and scope.  When you're on the journal's website, look for an "about" link to learn who the intended audience is and what kind of articles are accepted.
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