Empirical Study Vs Case Study

Lesson 2: Empirical studies

Quantitative and qualitative approaches are employed to collect data across a variety of study types, including empirical studies.  Empirical studies are the collection and analysis of primary data based on direct observation or experiences in the ‘field’. There are a variety of study types that can be employed when conducting an empirical study, including:

Descriptive or observational studies, that…

  1. Provides data on what is going on
  2. Emphasises features of a new condition/phenomenon, or
  3. Describes the current status of existing condition/phenomenon
  4. Can highlight associations between variables, but cannot establish causality
  5. Can suggest hypotheses which can be tested in analytical studies
  6. Examples: case report, case series, cross-sectional study (prevalence study)

Empirical studies that describe what is happening based on direct observation, focus group discussions, and in-depth interviews are defined as qualitative studies.  These include case reports and research studies with a limited population that is not aiming to establish statistical associations between variables.  Qualitative empirical studies can provide rich, deep contextual data to help us understand a phenomenon, but cannot be generalized to establish prevalence or incidence of a phenomenon; nor can they be generalized to highlight statistical associations between variables.

Empirical studies that aim to highlight statistical associations between variables or to establish the prevalence or incidence of a phenomenon should utilize quantitative methods like cross sectional surveys with an appropriately large sample size.  This kind of survey can describe the who, what, and where of a phenomenon (and are thus descriptive) but cannot answer the why question.  In order to answer the question of why (causation,) an analytical or experimental study is needed.

Other types of empirical studies are explanatory, analytical and experimental studies. Learn more about these kind of studies in the following.

1. What are Empirical Research Articles?

Empirical Research is defined as research based on observed and measured phenomena.  It is research that derives knowledge from actual experience rather than from theory or belief.

Requests for "Empirical" articles are usually from instructors in Education or Psychology; most other disciplines will ask for Scholarly, Peer Reviewed or Primary literature.

See if the article mentions 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 often contain these sections:

  • Introduction
  • Literature review
  • Methodology
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • 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.

2. You could use the following search devices when using our Databases to find empirical research articles:

A. PsycINFO and PsychARTICLES. After entering search terms in boxes at top of screen, scroll down to Methodology and select: Empirical Study. Note there are subsets of Empirical Study below this entry that you could use.


B. ERIC. Type in your search terms and then scroll down the screen and change these values as shown on the right:

Other Publication Types to try are:

  • Numerical/Quantitative Data
  • Reports-Research


C. Other databases, such as  Academic Search Premier or Education Research Complete: enter your search terms and then paste this string of terms into another search box:

study OR methodology OR subjects OR data OR results OR findings OR discussion

and change the pulldown to "Abstract".

Below is an example search for child abuse using  Academic Search Premier:

Click here to perform this search.  Below is an example search for child abuse and alcoholism in Education Research Complete:

Click  here to perfrom this search. Look over the articles you get from these searches carefully. The final determination of whether or not a particular article is empirical is a judgement that you must make. Also, some of the search devices mentioned here may not retrieve all of the Empirical articles for a given topic.

This FAQ answer is based on: Empirical Journal Articles: How to Find Articles that Report Empirical Studies
(Cal State Fullerton) original version | new version and What is an Empirical Article? (Univ of LaVerne) 

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