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What is an Empirical Article?

As a student at the University of La Verne, faculty may instruct you to read and analyze empirical articles when writing a research paper, a senior or master's project, or a doctoral dissertation. How can you recognize an empirical article in an academic discipline? An empirical research article is an article which reports research based on actual observations or experiments. The research may use quantitative research methods, which generate numerical data and seek to establish causal relationships between two or more variables.(1) Empirical research articles may use qualitative research methods, which objectively and critically analyze behaviors, beliefs, feelings, or values with few or no numerical data available for analysis.(2)

How can I determine if I have found an empirical article?

When looking at an article or the abstract of an article, here are some guidelines to use to decide if an article is an empirical article.

  • Is the article published in an academic, scholarly, or professional journal? Popular magazines such as Business Week or Newsweek do not publish empirical research articles; academic journals such as Business Communication Quarterly or Journal of Psychology may publish empirical articles. Some professional journals, such as JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association publish empirical research. Other professional journals, such as Coach & Athletic Director publish articles of professional interest, but they do not publish research articles.
  • Does the abstract of the article mention a study, an observation, an analysis or a number of participants or subjects? Was data collected, a survey or questionnaire administered, an assessment or measurement used, an interview conducted? All of these terms indicate possible methodologies used in empirical research.
  • Empirical articles normally contain these sections:
    1. Introduction
    2. Literature review
    3. Methodology
    4. Results
    5. Discussion
    6. Conclusion
    7. References
    The sections may be combined, and may have different headings or no headings at all; however, the information that would fall within these sections should be present in an empirical article.
  • How long is the article? An empirical article is usually substantial; it is normally three or more pages long.

When in doubt if an article is an empirical research article, share the article citation and abstract with your professor or a librarian so that we can help you become better at recognizing the differences between empirical research and other types of scholarly articles.

How can I search for empirical research articles using the electronic databases available through Wilson Library?

  • A quick and somewhat superficial way to look for empirical research is to type your search terms into the database's search boxes, then type STUDY OR STUDIES in the final search box to look for studies on your topic area. Be certain to use the ability to limit your search to scholarly/professional journals if that is available on the database. Evaluate the results of your search using the guidelines above to determine if any of the articles are empirical research articles.
  • In EbscoHost databases, such as Education Research Complete, on the Advanced Search page you should see a PUBLICATION TYPE field; highlight the appropriate entry. Empirical research may not be the term used; look for a term that may be a synonym for empirical research. ERIC uses REPORTS-RESEARCH. Also find the field for INTENDED AUDIENCE and highlight RESEARCHER. PsycArticles and Psycinfo include a field for METHODOLOGY where you can highlight EMPIRICAL STUDY. National Criminal Justice Reference Service Abstracts has a field for DOCUMENT TYPE; highlight STUDIES/RESEARCH REPORTS. Then evaluate the articles you find using the guidelines above to determine if an article is empirical.
  • In ProQuest databases, such as ProQuest Psychology Journals, on the Advanced Search page look under MORE SEARCH OPTIONS and click on the pull down menu for DOCUMENT TYPE and highlight an appropriate type, such as RESEARCH REPORT or EVIDENCE BASED. Also look for the PUBLICATION TYPE field and highlight RESEARCH/REPORTS or SCHOLARLY JOURNALS. Evaluate the search results using the guidelines to determine if an article is empirical.
  • Pub Med Central, Sage Premier, Science Direct, Wiley Interscience, and Wiley Interscience Humanities and Social Sciences consist of scholarly and professional journals which publish primarily empirical articles. After conducting a subject search in these databases, evaluate the items you find by using the guidelines above for deciding if an article is empirical.

For more assistance, make a research appointment with the subject librarians at Wilson Library or contact the 24/7 Chat with a Librarian service.


  1. "Quantitative research" A Dictionary of Nursing. Oxford University Press, 2008. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of La Verne. 25 August 2009
  2. "Qualitative analysis" A Dictionary of Public Health. Ed. John M. Last, Oxford University Press, 2007. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of La Verne. 25 August 2009