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Educational Leadership & Policy Studies (ELPS)

Empirical Research

What is an Empirical Article?

A research article that reports the results of a study using data derived from actual observation or experimentation rather than 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)

These are the standard parts of an empirical article:

  • Introduction. Sometimes called "literature review" -- what is currently known about the topic -- usually includes a theoretical framework and/or discussion of previous studies
  • Theories/Models
  • Research question/Assertion
  • Method/Methodology. Sometimes called "research design" -- how to recreate the study -- usually describes the population, research process, and analytical tools
  • Results/Findings. 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

Most databases will let you limit your search to articles that are:

  • scholarly
  • academic
  • peer-reviewed
  • refereed

Many, but not all, of these will be empirical studies.

To further focus your search, try adding one of the following terms to your search (try different combinations):

  • study
  • methodology (or method)
  • empirical
  • research
  • findings
  • results
  • participants
  • qualitative or quantitative

Finding Empirical Research in ERIC

ERIC does not have a simple method to locate empirical research. Using "empirical" as a keyword will find some studies, but miss others. One technique is to search for "Research Reports". Use the Advanced Search. Type keywords into search boxes. Under More Search Options, see Document Type and choose Reports: Research

Publications type list from ERIC database

An alternative is to use terminology recommended by the ERIC thesaurus. Some useful keywords are:

  • Action Research
  • Case Studies
  • Ethnography
  • Evaluation Methods
  • Evaluation Research
  • Experiments
  • Focus Groups
  • Field Studies
  • Interviews
  • Mail Surveys
  • Mixed Methods Research
  • Naturalistic Observation
  • Participant Observation
  • Participatory Research
  • Qualitative Research
  • Questionnaires
  • Research
  • Statistical Analysis
  • Statistical Studies
  • Telephone Surveys

Brainstorm Search Terms

  1. Once you have chosen a topic, write it down in the form of a question or brief statement:
    • What is the relationship between SAT scores and college success?
  2. Pull out the keywords and phrases that are most specific to your topic:
    • "SAT scores" and "college success"
  3. Take those keywords and phrases and brainstorm related terms, concepts or synonyms
    • SAT scores > "scholastic aptitude test" or "college admission test"
    • college > "university" or "higher education"
    • success > achievement
  4. Formulate a search strategy using boolean search, wildcards, phrases, etc.
    • (SAT OR "scholastic aptitude test") AND (college OR universit*) AND (succe* OR achieve*)

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators are words (or, and, not) used to connect search terms to expand or narrow a search within a database to locate relevant information.

It is helpful to diagram the effects of these operators:

women or females

women or females

Or retrieves records that contain any of the search terms. It expands the search. Therefore, use "or" in between terms that have the same meaning (synonyms) or equal value to the search.

OR Gives You More

women and media

women and media

And retrieves records that contain all of the search terms. It narrows or limits the search. Therefore, use "and" in between terms that are required to make the search specific.

AND Does Not Expand

image not weight

Not eliminates records that contain a search term. It narrows or limits the search. Therefore, use "not" in front of a term to ensure that the search will not include that term. Warning: Some databases use "and not" instead of "not." Check the database help screen.

 

Truncation

Most databases allow for a symbol to be used at the end of a word to retrieve variant endings of that word. This is known as truncation.

Using truncation will broaden your search. For example,

bank* will retrieve: bank or banks or banking or banker or bankruptcy, etc.

Databases and Internet search engines use different symbols to truncate. In general, most of the Library's databases use the asterisk (*) ; however, the exclamation point (!) is used in LexisNexis. Check the database help screen to find the correct truncation symbol.

Be careful using truncation. Truncating after too few letters will retrieve terms that are not relevant. For example:

cat* will also retrieve cataclysm, catacomb, catalepsy, catalog, etc.

It's best to use the boolean operator "or" in these instances (cat or cats).

Search Tips

Keywords vs Subject Searching

 

Keywords

  • Your topic itself may prove to be the words that make up your search term(s). 
  • Keywords searches look for that search term(s) in the title, subject, author, summary or abstract fields.
  • Keywords will also be searched for repetition in the document.  Keywords found frequently or throughout an article may push that article higher in the search results.
  • Keywords matches do not distinguish between context and purpose.  It may match the correct word but not in the context you want.

Subject Searching 

  • A subject search will locate materials by using a controlled vocabulary or standard list of subject terms. 
  • The number of results may vary widely.  Some searches will retrieve hundreds of results but if you choose a nonexistent subject term you may get nothing.  
  • If you do not know the appropriate subject heading for your topic, conduct a keyword search first and look at the subject heading(s) for relevant items.  

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