SOCL Graduate Proseminar

Scholarly or Peer-Reviewed Articles

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

Social Science Review Articles

Review articles are generally a kind of secondary source.  That is, they are not presenting empirical findings from a single research project.  They are, however, original, in the sense that the author is using skill, knowledge and creativity to compile and write something new about the material (books, articles) under review.

There are several kinds of review articles.  Book Reviews are a special case, because sometimes they are written by experts but sometimes they are written by journalists or just fans of the book. Typically, a book review describes the main contents of the book, how it relates to existing ideas or works, and gives a judgment as to its value to various readers.  Some book reviews are just a paragraph, but the reviews in scholarly journals can be several pages.  In Esearch, you can limit search results to book reviews only, or screen book reviews out of the results, by clicking into the left-hand column under Content Type

Stand-alone Review Articles or Literature Reviews are common in the social sciences. The authors of these articles are experts, usually scholars. The review articles will address a current topic, lay out the main theories or ideas, recent developments in research, and suggest where further research is needed. Typical review articles are published in series such as:

In the health fields, Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses are articles that go a step further. Not only do they summarize and research on a topic, but they carefully analyze the research and may attempt to draw conclusions based on the compiled studies.  For more on these kinds of reviews, see:

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