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Social Work 3500: Methods of SW Research: Finding Empirical Articles

A survey of research methods applicable to social services.

What are Empirical Articles?

For this assignment you will need to find an empirical research article.

What is an empirical research article?
An empirical article reports on research conducted by the authors. The research can be based on observations or experiments.  

What types of research make an article empirical?
An empirical article may report a study that used quantitative research methods, which generate numerical data and seek to establish causal relationships between two or more variables. They may also report on a study that uses qualitative research methods, which objectively and critically analyze behaviors, beliefs, feelings, or values with few or no numerical data available for analysis

How can I tell if an article is empirical?

  • Check the publication in which the article appears. Is it scholarly? Most empirical articles will be in scholarly journals.
  • Read the article's abstract. Does it include details of a study, observation, or analysis of a number of participants or subjects?
  • Look at the article itself. Is it more than five pages long? Most empirical articles will be fairly lengthy.
  • Look at the article itself. If it contains a subsection marked "Methodology" and another called "Results," it is probably empirical.
  • If you're still unsure, consult your professor or a librarian.

Example of an empirical article

Dennis, C., & Vigod, S. (2013). The relationship between postpartum depression, domestic violence, childhood violence, and substance use: Epidemiologic study of a large community sample. Violence Against Women, 19(4), 503-517. doi:10.1177/1077801213487057

How can I search these articles?
There is no quick way to limit your searches only to articles that review empirical studies (or to empirical studies themselves). You will have to do keyword searches, then review article abstracts in order to determine the nature of each. To run keyword searches, use the databases listed under "Where Can I Find Empirical Articles?".

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Search Tricks

Most articles that you find in the scholarly databases will be empirical, but not all are. Here are a few things you can do to limit your searches to empirical articles.

  • Choose the Scholarly Articles ONLY link, if there is one available.
  • Look at the title of each article for words like "study," "empirical," or "research."
  • When you find an article that looks promising, check the abstract for indication that the article reports on an original research study conducted by the authors.
  • When you find an article that looks promising, check the full text for internal sub-headings like "Methodology" or "Methods," "Design," and "Results." You are also likely to see charts and graphs.

Also, don't forget your basic search techniques.

  • Use AND, OR, and NOT to ensure that all the search terms you enter appear in your results. Example: Homeless AND study AND women
  • Use the asterisk to truncate words that have a lot of possible endings. Example: teen* will search for teen, teens, teenager, teenagers, and teenaged.
  • Use quotation marks to search for words as a phrase. Example: "Native American" or "PATRIOT Act"

Where Can I Find Empirical Articles?

Before you begin searching databases, you may want to get an overview of the topic, especially if you are unfamiliar with the topic.  You can search reference books or Medline Plus.

The library subscribes to many collections of articles. These collections are often referrred to as databases. You can use them to search for scholarly, empirical articles which the library has purchased for your use. You can often limit your searches to scholarly content only through the Advanced Search feature of each database.

Finding Articles with a Citation

Sanchez-Burks, J., Lee, F., Choi, I., Nisbett, R., Zhao, S., & Koo, S.  (2003).  Conversing across cultures:  East-west communication styles in work and nonwork contexts.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85 (2), 363-372.

Langer, E. J., & Rodin, J.  (l976). The effects of choice and enhanced personal responsibility for the aged:  A field experiment in an institutional setting.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, l4, l9l-l98.

Adler, N. E., & Stewart, J. (2010).  Health disparities across the lifespan:  Meaning, methods, and mechanisms.  Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 1186, 5-23.