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SW 496: Social Work Honors: What are Empirical Articles?

Empirical Articles and How to Read Them


EmpThe State of Disability Policy Research in Public Administration: A Recap -  PA TIMES Online | PA TIMES Onlineirical research requires observation or actual experience that is able to be measured; the resulting empirical evidence documents the observations and can be analyzed quantitatively or qualitatively.

How To Read a Paper

Searching tips

Characteristics to look for in empirically based research:

  • Identifies a problem, population, or research question under study

  • Methodology is stated

  • Defines the group or issue being studied

  • May be quantitative or qualitative  [always check with your professor to see if there is a preference between the two types for your research articles]

  • May include tests or surveys (embedded, as an appendix, or referred to by Proper Name)

  • May be reproducible; to be replicated or adapted to a new study

Some databases have a filter or advanced search limiter to focus results on empirical research. See the database descriptions on the Where to Search tab.

If a filter/limiter is not available, enter keywords to match on appropriate content and/or to look for these terms in the summary abstract or article itself:

  • design
  • hypothesis
  • quantitative
  • statistic* ( the asterisk is used as a "wildcard" ending to your search term which allows the database to match on statistic, statistics or statistical)
  • [inclusion of] charts, statistical tables or graphs


Source: UWMilwaukee, Social Welfare Research Resources libguide 

Qualitative versus Quantitative

Qualitative versus Quantitative
Research Type Definitition Title Words Methods Data Role of the Researcher
Quantitative Research based on traditional scientific methods, which generates numerical data and usually seeks to establish causal relationships between two or more variables, using statistical methods to test the strength and significance of the relationships. Case Control Study, Clinical Trial, Cohort Study, Randomized Controlled Trial, Statistical, Structured-Questionnaire Starts with a testable hypothesis that determines methodology, Collects and analyzes data, Uses mathematical and statistical methods to analyze data.  Measurable, numbers, statistics Objective:  Separate, Observes but does not participate.
Qualitative Research that seeks to provide understanding of human experience, perceptions, motivations, intentions, and behaviours based on description and observation and utilizing a naturalistic interpretative approach to a subject and its contextual setting. Ethnographic study, Field notes, Field Research, Focus group, Observation, Open ended, Phenomenological Focus Groups, Interviews, Recording behavior, Unstructured observation Idea, interpretive, Narrative Description and analysis, Text-based, Word analysis Subjective:  involved, participant observer

Qualitative Vs Quantitative from Maricopa Community Colleges
Helpful Definitions from Simmons College Libraries


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