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PsycINFO database guide

Empirical Research
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Empirical Research

Finding Empirical Research for Psychology

For any kind of classroom assignments, but especially graduate or doctoral level research, it is
important to search subject indexes like PsycINFO and PubMed to locate enough logical and
empirical resources that would help you establish the merit and importance of your own research.
The goal is to locate empirical research that provides systematic observation about your topic. You
want primary resources that provide detailed reports on the methodology used and the findings. You
are most likely to locate scholarly resources in refereed (peer-reviewed) journals, dissertations,
government reports, books, and conference papers in the professional literature. You should avoid
secondary resources such as newspaper or magazine articles, web sites, or digests that simply
summarize research in the literature review unless there is a compelling reason to include a

It is very important to remember that each database has its own vocabulary, therefore different
subject headings or descriptors. Use the Thesaurus or Subject index for that particular database to
guide you to relevant terms.

So what exactly is Empirical Research?

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

Key characteristics to look for:

Statement about the methodology being used

Research questions to be answered

Definition of the group or phenomena being studied

Process used to study this group or phenomena, including any controls or instruments such
as tests or surveys

Question to ask while reading: Could I recreate this study and test these results?

The abstract of the article should provide a description of the methodology

How do you find empirical research on your topic?

Empirical research is published in books and scholarly, peer-reviewed journals. Gleeson Library has
several psychology and sociology databases you can use to locate peer-reviewed articles from
scholarly journals.
Other types of research articles

There are two other major types of journal articles that discuss research: review articles and
theoretical articles.

Review articles are further examinations of research that has already been published.

o A research review can describe a phenomenon, review an existing theory or present

a new one. One example is a critical evaluation of how one theory accounts for some
data as compared to some other theory. Whatever the kind of review, the goal is to
organize, integrate, and evaluate previous research in order to clarify a particular
problem or issue. In PsycINFO, both Literature Review and Systematic Review are in
this category.

Theoretical articles are written to advance theory and they may include both discussions of
empirical research and reviews of research in order to elaborate the theoretical position.

Components of Empirical Research

You should become familiar with the format of an article reporting on original research so that you
can recognize an empirical study even if you come across it in your reading (i.e. without using a
library database to assist you in limiting to this type of journal article).

There are several different sections of reports of empirical studies relating to the different steps of
the scientific method:

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

General Discussion There may be more than one study in the report; in this case, there are
usually separate Method 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.

The following is an example of an empirical study:

Moretti, F., De Ronchi, D., Bernabei, V., Marchetti, L., Ferrari, B., Forlani, C., & ... Atti, A. R.

o (2011). Pet therapy in elderly patients with mental illness. Psychogeriatrics, 11(2),

o doi:10.1111/j.1479-8301.2010.00329.x

Click through this LINK to see the record in PsycINFO and access the pdf full text article.

Data Gathering Methodologies

Quantitative research gathers data in numerical form which can be put into categories, in
rank order, or measured in units of measurement. This type of data can be used to construct
graphs and tables of raw data.

Experiments typically yield quantitative data, as they are concerned with measuring things.
However, other research methods, such as observations and questionnaires can produce
both quantitative and qualitative information.

For example, a rating scale (e.g. select a number from 1 to 10) or closed questions on a
questionnaire (e.g. yes, no answers) would generate quantitative data as these produce
either numerical data or data that can be put into categories.

In contrast, open-ended questions asking for narrative answers would generate qualitative
information as they are a descriptive response.

Qualitative research gathers information that is not in numerical form. For example, diary
accounts, open-ended

questionnaires, unstructured interviews and unstructured observations. Qualitative data is

typically descriptive data and as such is harder to analyze than quantitative data.

Qualitative research is useful for studies at the individual level, and to find out, in depth, the
ways in which people think, feel or respond (e.g. case studies).

Analysis of qualitative data can be difficult and requires accurate description of participant
responses -- for example, sorting responses to open questions and interviews into broad
themes. Quotations from diaries or interviews might be used to illustrate points of analysis.

Expert knowledge of an area is necessary to try to interpret qualitative data and great care
must be taken when doing so, for example, if looking for symptoms of mental illness.

A good example of a qualitative research method would be unstructured and group

interviews which generate qualitative data through the use of open questions. This allows the
respondent to talk in some depth, choosing their own words. This helps the researcher
develop a real sense of a persons understanding of a situation. However, it can be time
consuming to conduct the unstructured interview and analyse the qualitative data.

Qualitative (database scope note/definition):

PsycINFO: A type of research methodology that produces descriptive data, with little
emphasis given to numerical quantification. Used only when the methodology or research
itself is the focus of discussion.

SocINDEX: Works on research methods that seek insights through loosely structured data,
written or spoken, rather than specific or numerical measurements, resulting in analysis that
is interpretative, subjective, impressionistic and diagnostic. Works on specific strategies used
in service of qualitative research are entered under such narrower terms as "Conversation
analysis" or "Interviews." [see: Quantitative research for works on research methods that
examine phenomenon through the numerical representation of observations and statistical

Quantitative (database scope note/definition):

PsycINFO: Form of research methodology in which experimental variables and relationships

are assigned numerical value. Used only when the methodology or research itself is the
focus of discussion.

SocINDEX: Works on research methods that examine phenomenon through the numerical
representation of observations and statistical analysis. [see: Qualitative research for works
on research methods that seek insights through loosely structured data, written or spoken,
rather than specific measurements, resulting in analysis that is interpretative, subjective,
impressionistic and diagnostic.]
Primary and Secondary Data

Primary data is data that one collects through different methods, including direct observation,
surveys, interviews, experiments, and logs. Primary data is more reliable than secondary data
because a person knows the source it is coming from -- the researcher is the primary data collection

Secondary data is data from an external source, that someone else has already collected. Research
using this type of data is usually described as a retrospective review or retrospective study. The data
utilized can be administrative datasets; survey information or demographic information from sources
such as the annual census; a companys health and safety records such as their injury rates; or
other government statistical information such as the number of workers in different sectors across
the country. The main issue with secondary data is, because it was gathered for other purposes, you
may need to tease out the information to find what youre looking for.

Robinson, J., & Tian, Y. (2014). Secondary Data Analysis. In T. L. Thompson (Ed.), Encyclopedia of
Health Communication (Vol. 3, pp. 1220-1222). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Reference. Retrieved

Schutt, Russell K. "Secondary Data Analysis." Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. Ritzer, George
(ed). Blackwell Publishing, 2007. Blackwell Reference Online. 11 August 2015 <http://0-

For further descriptions of primary and secondary data, see:

Institute for Work and Health

National EMSC Data Analysis Resource Center [EMSC = Emergency Medical Services for Children]

An example of a study using secondary data can be found through this record in PsycINFO:

Liljegren, M., Naasan, G., Temlett, J., Perry, D. C., Rankin, K. P., Merrilees, J., & ... Miller, B.

o (2015). Criminal behavior in frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer disease.

o JAMA Neurology, 72(3), 295-300. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2014.3781

Or, read the article here:

example of use of secondary data - Criminal Behavior in Frontotemporal Dementia and Alzheimer



139 KB

Note: primary and secondary data is different than primary and secondary sources. See the
Research Help home page for a discussion of sources.

Empirical research and evidence-based treatment (or practice)

Empirical research in psychology and social psychology aim primarily to measure the efficacy (i.e.,
under carefully controlled conditions) or effectiveness (i.e., under more generalizable conditions) of
therapeutic treatments and/or interventions.

Evidence-based treatment (EBT) or Evidence-based practice in psychology (EBPP) is the integration

of the best available research with clinical expertise in the context of patient characteristics, culture,
and preferences. The purpose of EBPP is to promote effective psychological practice and enhance
public health by applying empirically supported principles of psychological assessment, case
formulation, therapeutic relationship, and intervention. [see: APA Evidence-based Practice in
Psychology and APA Policy statement on evidence-based practice in psychology]

An example of an empirically based psychological intervention is ACT or Acceptance and

Commitment Therapy.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a unique and creative model for both therapy and
coaching, based on the innovative use of mindfulness and values.The aim of ACT is to maximize
human potential for a rich, full and meaningful life; to cultivate health, vitality and well-being through
mindful values-based living. The Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS) website has
more information on the empirical evidence on which it is based.
There is also a record for ACT in the NREPP database. See documents pertaining to Acceptance
and Commitment Therapy that include measures on the Tests and Measures page.

NREPP publishes a report called an intervention summary for every intervention it reviews. Each
intervention summary includes:

General information about the intervention

A description of the research outcomes reviewed

Quality of Research and Readiness for Dissemination ratings

A list of studies and materials reviewed

Contact information to obtain more information about implementation or research


Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) oversees the National Registry of Evidence-based
Programs and Practices (NREPP) This is a searchable online database of mental health and
substance abuse interventions. All interventions in the registry have met NREPPs minimum
requirements for review and have been independently assessed and rated for Quality of Research
and Readiness for Dissemination.

To see the full NREPP database of interventions, go here

A Word about Literature Reviews

Sometimes a class assignment will be to do a literature review. Lit reviews are also part of research
reports, usually in the introduction where a discussion of previous research is included.

When carrying out this assignment, students usually want to know how many articles they need to
review and how many resources should be included in the literature review.
Whether it is part of an essay, thesis or dissertation or you are preparing a literature review as a
separate project, what you should ask yourself is, Why am I including this study or reference?

The resources you select will help build an argument for the methods and interpretations you employ
in your research paper. It is important to remember that you be comprehensive and that the reviews
you use are up to date. The literature review should also demonstrate that you have a thorough
command of your field.

But, remember, showing that you have a command of the literature in your area of interest does not
mean that you need to provide a catalog of every article ever written on your topic. Consider what
aspects of the topic you are specifically focusing on so that you can select the appropriate database,
and can narrow your search down to a manageable 50-100 resources that you will want to start
taking a look at (you wont necessarily be including all 50-100). The literature review is meant to
provide a coherent argument that justifies the value, importance, and need for your study.

Gleeson Library has an extensive help guide on How to Write a Literature Review.


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