CRM 610

Theories of Criminal Behavior

Recommended Databases for Criminology

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

Finding related articles

Whether for a literature review or a research paper, the analysis is much easier if it is based on a cluster of related articles and not a random assortment.  Finding articles that are related rarely happens just by doing a single search, but it is not hard. Here are some approaches:

  1. Start with a textbook, reference book, dissertation or review article and collect the citations of the authors who are mentioned or cited as part of the debate.  Make sure to collect works from all points of view.
  2. Use citation tracking to see how scholars mention each others' work, whether as examples, evidence or in order to debate.  See below for more on citation tracking.

Citation Tracking

Citation tracking is an excellent technique for discovering how scholars converse and debate issues in their publications. Scholars cite each others' work each time they build on existing research, compare, contrast, evaluate or otherwise relate to the ongoing academic conversation.

To track back in time, choose a book or article that seems important, and start looking up the listed references.  Identify a reference that seems central or significant, look it up, then work back to the resources listed in its reference list or footnotes, and so on.

We can get help in this technique from many databases.  For example, in Esearch, look for a link to "references" in the record of some articles. In ProQuest databases, look for the "references cited" or "related articles" links on the right column.

To track forward in time, we need tools that will show us what articles have cited the work we have in hand. Quite a few databases, as well as Esearch, provide such tools, including Web of Science, Google Scholar, and Proquest.  Keep your eye out for the tell-tale "cited by" link.

EMU short video tutorial:  Finding Articles by Tracking Citations

RECOMMENDATION for papers with more than five sources:  keep track of the references you gather using a bibliographic tool such as EndNote or Zotero.

InterLibrary Loan - Articles

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