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HD FS 312W: Empirical Inquiry in Human Development

Dr. Laura Evans

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

 

Useful Library Databases

When searching Google Scholar from home, manage scholar settings so that you are recognized as a Penn State student:

  1. click on the link to SETTINGS in the upper right of the Google Scholar search page (gear icon)
  2. click on LIBRARY LINKS in the left margin
  3. enter Pennsylvania State University and click on the search icon
  4. when "Pennsylvania State University" appears, place a check in the box preceding it and click on SAVE

After searching in Google Scholar, use the Get it! @ Penn State link to access full text journal articles.