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Social Work 3500: Methods of Social Work Research

A survey of research methods applicable to social services.

What is Empirical Research

screenshot from an empirical article

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.

Sections in Empirical Research

Abstract: A report of an empirical study includes an abstract that provides a very brief summary of the research.

Introduction: The introduction sets the research in a context, which provides a review of related research and develops the hypotheses for the research.

Method: The method section is a description of how the research was conducted, including who the participants were, the design of the study, what the participants did, and what measures were used.

Results: The results section describes the outcomes of the measures of the study.

Discussion: The discussion section contains the interpretations and implications of the study.

General Discussion: There may be more than one study in the report; in this case, there are usually separate Methods and Results sections for each study followed by a general discussion that ties all the research together.

References: A references section contains information about the articles and books cited in the report.   

Length of Article: Empirical research articles are usually substantial (more than 1 or 2 pages) and include a bibliography or cited references section (usually at the end of the article).

Type of Publication: Empirical research articles are published in scholarly or academic journals . These publications are sometimes referred to as “peer-reviewed,” “academic” or “refereed” publications. Examples of such publications include: Social Work Research,  Mental Health Practice, and Journal of Substance Abuse.