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RES 7106 Disciplined Inquiry I: Research Methods

Empirical Research

Empirical research is based on observed and measured phenomena and derives knowledge from actual experience rather than from theory or belief. 

How do you know if a study is empirical? Read the subheadings within the article, book, or report and look for a description of the research "methodology." Ask yourself: Could I recreate this study and test these results?

Key characteristics to look for:

  • Specific research questions to be answered
  • Definition of the population, behavior, or phenomena being studied
  • Description of the process used to study this population or phenomena, including selection criteria, controls, and testing instruments (such as surveys)

Another hint: some scholarly journals use a specific layout, called the "IMRaD" format, to communicate empirical research findings. Such articles typically have 4 components:

  • Introduction: sometimes called "literature review" -- what is currently known about the topic -- usually includes a theoretical framework and/or discussion of previous studies
  • Methodology: sometimes called "research design" -- how to recreate the study -- usually describes the population, research process, and analytical tools
  • Results: sometimes called "findings" -- what was learned through the study -- usually appears as statistical data or as substantial quotations from research participants
  • Discussion: sometimes called "conclusion" or "implications" -- why the study is important -- usually describes how the research results influence professional practices or future studies

Qualitative vs Quantitative research

Qualitative Research Quantitative Research
Understanding and interpreting social interactions and behavior Testing theories, describing with statistics, and making predictions
Specially chosen small groups Randomly selected large groups
Words Numbers
Subjective Objective
Observations and interviews Experiments and surveys
Open-ended questions Controlled responses
Narrative report Statistical results

Quantitative Research

Quantitative research - also known as positivistic research - is a systematic process used to answer questions about measurable concepts.

To find articles that are more likely to describe quantitative research, look at the study types, study methods, or data analysis methods. The following image provides examples of the types of terms you can look for.  Review your course text or notes for other terms specific to your field of study.

The following is an example of the terms you can put in your search to limit to Quantitative Articles:

(Quantitative OR Positivistic OR Experimental OR Clinical Trial OR Randomized Control Trial OR Validity OR Intervention OR T-test OR ANOVA)

Categories of Research Methods

Qualitative Methods - Involve a researcher describing kinds of characteristics of people and events. Qualitative researchers study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or interpret phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them. Examples of qualitative research include:

  • Interviews
  • Focus group
  • Case Studies
  • Ethnographic Research
  • Narrative Inquiry

Quantitative Methods - Focus attention on measurements and amounts (more and less, larger and smaller, often and seldom, similar and different) of the characteristics displayed by the people and events that the researcher studies. Examples of qualitative research include:

  • Questionnaire
  • Surveys
  • Discourse analysis
  • Laboratory experiments
  • Mathematical modeling

Mixed Methods - Involve collecting, analyzing and mixing both qualitative and quantitative data in a single study or a series of studies.

Locating Data Sets and Survey Instruments

Using ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Database

This database contains some documents that include complete data sets, which are often located in an appendix. It includes a wide variety of research in almost any field.


  • To begin, click on the Dissertations & Thesis database link above
  • Select Full text below the search box.
  • To locate documents that may contain complete data sets, type in data set AND the type of research you are looking for.
    • For example: data set AND quantitative
  • Click on Preview-PDF to see a brief excerpt.
  • Scroll through the Table of Contents and the List of Illustrations for mention of data or a data set.
  • To locate studies that use a particular type of test, type in data and the name of the test
    • For example: data and (anova OR t-test)
  • You may add your general topic to any of these searches, but you may find few, if any, results.
    • For example: aviation and communication and quantitative
    • For example:"air traffic control" and t-test
  • For surveys, type Survey or Survey Instrument into the search box and select Abstract from the drop down box on your right. In addition, select the Full-Text limiter.