COMM 227

Interpersonal Communication

What is an Empirical Study?

Your assignment may ask you to identify and select articles reporting empirical research studies.  So, what does this mean?

"Empirical" research is a kind of primary (original) research that gathers or creates information through direct experience based on experiment or observation.  This is different from research that might derive conclusions solely by theory, logic or reasoning.  It is also not the same as research that reviews, summarizes, critiques or re-thinks existing information, which we generally call "secondary."

How do you know if a study is empirical?  Look for tell-tale signs in the title and abstract, especially for the method of research.  For example, the abstract might mention research design, methods or measurements.

Common phrases that usually signal empirical research:  "In this study, we..." "this research addresses..." "research was conducted..."

Common methods words to describe empirical research:  survey, interview, observe, measure, test.  

Test yourself - which of these are empirical? 

Hint:  you don't need to click through to the article - use the 'preview' link to read the abstract

Scholarly or Peer-Reviewed Articles

Comparing Quantitative and Qualitative Methods

This guide provides an overview of quantitative and qualitative social science research methods.  The table below provides an outline of some of the attributes of each.

For more information, see these definitions from The Sage encyclopedia of social science research methods (Emich login required):

Quantitative and qualitative methods are the two main categories of empirical research.  




  • experimental
  • statistical
  • positivist
  • naturalistic
  • ethnographic
  • phenomenological
  • anthropological
  • interpretive
  • constructivist
Focus or Goals
  • describe with statistics
  • test theories
  • show relationships
  • predict
  • obtain a single true reality
  • develop understanding and meaning
  • describe naturally occuring behavior
  • describe multiple realities
  • structured
  • predetermined
  • specific
  • contrived
  • emergent
  • evolving
  • flexible
  • natural
  • holistic
  • experiments
  • questionnaires
  • surveys
  • structured observations or interviews
  • observations
  • open-ended interviews
  • field research
  • case studies
Data Analysis
  • deductive
  • statistical
  • interpretive
  • inductive
  • ongoing
  • searching for themes
  • text analysis

Adapted from: McMillan, J. H. (2012). Educational research: Fundamentals for the consumer (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Social Sciences Librarian

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Suzanne Gray
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