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Introduction to Empirical Research

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Qualitative and Quantitative Research: What is "Empirical Research"?

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  • What is "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
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Empirical Research: What is Empirical Research?

  • What is Empirical Research?
  • Finding Empirical Research in Library Databases
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Introduction

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 (Introduction – Method – Results – and – Discussion), 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

meaning of empirical framework in research

Empirical research  is published in books and in  scholarly, peer-reviewed journals .

Make sure to select the  peer-review box  within each database!

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Empirical Research: What is empirical research?

What is empirical research.

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  • What does empirical research look like?
  • How is empirical research conducted?
  • What is Empirical Research?
  • How do I Find Empirical Research in Databases?
  • How is Empirical Research Conducted?

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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

What about when research is not empirical?

Many humanities scholars do not use empirical methods. if you are looking for empirical articles in one of these subject areas, try including keywords like:.

  • quantitative
  • qualitative

Also, look for opportunities to narrow your search to scholarly, academic, or peer-reviewed journals articles in the database.

Adapted from " Research Methods: Finding Empirical Articles " by Jill Anderson at Georgia State University Library.

See the complete A-Z databases list for more resources

The primary content of this guide was originally created by  Ellysa  Cahoy at Penn State Libraries .

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Empirical Research: Definition, Methods, Types and Examples

What is Empirical Research

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Empirical research: Definition

Empirical research: origin, quantitative research methods, qualitative research methods, steps for conducting empirical research, empirical research methodology cycle, advantages of empirical research, disadvantages of empirical research, why is there a need for empirical research.

Empirical research is defined as any research where conclusions of the study is strictly drawn from concretely empirical evidence, and therefore “verifiable” evidence.

This empirical evidence can be gathered using quantitative market research and  qualitative market research  methods.

For example: A research is being conducted to find out if listening to happy music in the workplace while working may promote creativity? An experiment is conducted by using a music website survey on a set of audience who are exposed to happy music and another set who are not listening to music at all, and the subjects are then observed. The results derived from such a research will give empirical evidence if it does promote creativity or not.

LEARN ABOUT: Behavioral Research

You must have heard the quote” I will not believe it unless I see it”. This came from the ancient empiricists, a fundamental understanding that powered the emergence of medieval science during the renaissance period and laid the foundation of modern science, as we know it today. The word itself has its roots in greek. It is derived from the greek word empeirikos which means “experienced”.

In today’s world, the word empirical refers to collection of data using evidence that is collected through observation or experience or by using calibrated scientific instruments. All of the above origins have one thing in common which is dependence of observation and experiments to collect data and test them to come up with conclusions.

LEARN ABOUT: Causal Research

Types and methodologies of empirical research

Empirical research can be conducted and analysed using qualitative or quantitative methods.

  • Quantitative research : Quantitative research methods are used to gather information through numerical data. It is used to quantify opinions, behaviors or other defined variables . These are predetermined and are in a more structured format. Some of the commonly used methods are survey, longitudinal studies, polls, etc
  • Qualitative research:   Qualitative research methods are used to gather non numerical data.  It is used to find meanings, opinions, or the underlying reasons from its subjects. These methods are unstructured or semi structured. The sample size for such a research is usually small and it is a conversational type of method to provide more insight or in-depth information about the problem Some of the most popular forms of methods are focus groups, experiments, interviews, etc.

Data collected from these will need to be analysed. Empirical evidence can also be analysed either quantitatively and qualitatively. Using this, the researcher can answer empirical questions which have to be clearly defined and answerable with the findings he has got. The type of research design used will vary depending on the field in which it is going to be used. Many of them might choose to do a collective research involving quantitative and qualitative method to better answer questions which cannot be studied in a laboratory setting.

LEARN ABOUT: Qualitative Research Questions and Questionnaires

Quantitative research methods aid in analyzing the empirical evidence gathered. By using these a researcher can find out if his hypothesis is supported or not.

  • Survey research: Survey research generally involves a large audience to collect a large amount of data. This is a quantitative method having a predetermined set of closed questions which are pretty easy to answer. Because of the simplicity of such a method, high responses are achieved. It is one of the most commonly used methods for all kinds of research in today’s world.

Previously, surveys were taken face to face only with maybe a recorder. However, with advancement in technology and for ease, new mediums such as emails , or social media have emerged.

For example: Depletion of energy resources is a growing concern and hence there is a need for awareness about renewable energy. According to recent studies, fossil fuels still account for around 80% of energy consumption in the United States. Even though there is a rise in the use of green energy every year, there are certain parameters because of which the general population is still not opting for green energy. In order to understand why, a survey can be conducted to gather opinions of the general population about green energy and the factors that influence their choice of switching to renewable energy. Such a survey can help institutions or governing bodies to promote appropriate awareness and incentive schemes to push the use of greener energy.

Learn more: Renewable Energy Survey Template Descriptive Research vs Correlational Research

  • Experimental research: In experimental research , an experiment is set up and a hypothesis is tested by creating a situation in which one of the variable is manipulated. This is also used to check cause and effect. It is tested to see what happens to the independent variable if the other one is removed or altered. The process for such a method is usually proposing a hypothesis, experimenting on it, analyzing the findings and reporting the findings to understand if it supports the theory or not.

For example: A particular product company is trying to find what is the reason for them to not be able to capture the market. So the organisation makes changes in each one of the processes like manufacturing, marketing, sales and operations. Through the experiment they understand that sales training directly impacts the market coverage for their product. If the person is trained well, then the product will have better coverage.

  • Correlational research: Correlational research is used to find relation between two set of variables . Regression analysis is generally used to predict outcomes of such a method. It can be positive, negative or neutral correlation.

LEARN ABOUT: Level of Analysis

For example: Higher educated individuals will get higher paying jobs. This means higher education enables the individual to high paying job and less education will lead to lower paying jobs.

  • Longitudinal study: Longitudinal study is used to understand the traits or behavior of a subject under observation after repeatedly testing the subject over a period of time. Data collected from such a method can be qualitative or quantitative in nature.

For example: A research to find out benefits of exercise. The target is asked to exercise everyday for a particular period of time and the results show higher endurance, stamina, and muscle growth. This supports the fact that exercise benefits an individual body.

  • Cross sectional: Cross sectional study is an observational type of method, in which a set of audience is observed at a given point in time. In this type, the set of people are chosen in a fashion which depicts similarity in all the variables except the one which is being researched. This type does not enable the researcher to establish a cause and effect relationship as it is not observed for a continuous time period. It is majorly used by healthcare sector or the retail industry.

For example: A medical study to find the prevalence of under-nutrition disorders in kids of a given population. This will involve looking at a wide range of parameters like age, ethnicity, location, incomes  and social backgrounds. If a significant number of kids coming from poor families show under-nutrition disorders, the researcher can further investigate into it. Usually a cross sectional study is followed by a longitudinal study to find out the exact reason.

  • Causal-Comparative research : This method is based on comparison. It is mainly used to find out cause-effect relationship between two variables or even multiple variables.

For example: A researcher measured the productivity of employees in a company which gave breaks to the employees during work and compared that to the employees of the company which did not give breaks at all.

LEARN ABOUT: Action Research

Some research questions need to be analysed qualitatively, as quantitative methods are not applicable there. In many cases, in-depth information is needed or a researcher may need to observe a target audience behavior, hence the results needed are in a descriptive analysis form. Qualitative research results will be descriptive rather than predictive. It enables the researcher to build or support theories for future potential quantitative research. In such a situation qualitative research methods are used to derive a conclusion to support the theory or hypothesis being studied.

LEARN ABOUT: Qualitative Interview

  • Case study: Case study method is used to find more information through carefully analyzing existing cases. It is very often used for business research or to gather empirical evidence for investigation purpose. It is a method to investigate a problem within its real life context through existing cases. The researcher has to carefully analyse making sure the parameter and variables in the existing case are the same as to the case that is being investigated. Using the findings from the case study, conclusions can be drawn regarding the topic that is being studied.

For example: A report mentioning the solution provided by a company to its client. The challenges they faced during initiation and deployment, the findings of the case and solutions they offered for the problems. Such case studies are used by most companies as it forms an empirical evidence for the company to promote in order to get more business.

  • Observational method:   Observational method is a process to observe and gather data from its target. Since it is a qualitative method it is time consuming and very personal. It can be said that observational research method is a part of ethnographic research which is also used to gather empirical evidence. This is usually a qualitative form of research, however in some cases it can be quantitative as well depending on what is being studied.

For example: setting up a research to observe a particular animal in the rain-forests of amazon. Such a research usually take a lot of time as observation has to be done for a set amount of time to study patterns or behavior of the subject. Another example used widely nowadays is to observe people shopping in a mall to figure out buying behavior of consumers.

  • One-on-one interview: Such a method is purely qualitative and one of the most widely used. The reason being it enables a researcher get precise meaningful data if the right questions are asked. It is a conversational method where in-depth data can be gathered depending on where the conversation leads.

For example: A one-on-one interview with the finance minister to gather data on financial policies of the country and its implications on the public.

  • Focus groups: Focus groups are used when a researcher wants to find answers to why, what and how questions. A small group is generally chosen for such a method and it is not necessary to interact with the group in person. A moderator is generally needed in case the group is being addressed in person. This is widely used by product companies to collect data about their brands and the product.

For example: A mobile phone manufacturer wanting to have a feedback on the dimensions of one of their models which is yet to be launched. Such studies help the company meet the demand of the customer and position their model appropriately in the market.

  • Text analysis: Text analysis method is a little new compared to the other types. Such a method is used to analyse social life by going through images or words used by the individual. In today’s world, with social media playing a major part of everyone’s life, such a method enables the research to follow the pattern that relates to his study.

For example: A lot of companies ask for feedback from the customer in detail mentioning how satisfied are they with their customer support team. Such data enables the researcher to take appropriate decisions to make their support team better.

Sometimes a combination of the methods is also needed for some questions that cannot be answered using only one type of method especially when a researcher needs to gain a complete understanding of complex subject matter.

We recently published a blog that talks about examples of qualitative data in education ; why don’t you check it out for more ideas?

Since empirical research is based on observation and capturing experiences, it is important to plan the steps to conduct the experiment and how to analyse it. This will enable the researcher to resolve problems or obstacles which can occur during the experiment.

Step #1: Define the purpose of the research

This is the step where the researcher has to answer questions like what exactly do I want to find out? What is the problem statement? Are there any issues in terms of the availability of knowledge, data, time or resources. Will this research be more beneficial than what it will cost.

Before going ahead, a researcher has to clearly define his purpose for the research and set up a plan to carry out further tasks.

Step #2 : Supporting theories and relevant literature

The researcher needs to find out if there are theories which can be linked to his research problem . He has to figure out if any theory can help him support his findings. All kind of relevant literature will help the researcher to find if there are others who have researched this before, or what are the problems faced during this research. The researcher will also have to set up assumptions and also find out if there is any history regarding his research problem

Step #3: Creation of Hypothesis and measurement

Before beginning the actual research he needs to provide himself a working hypothesis or guess what will be the probable result. Researcher has to set up variables, decide the environment for the research and find out how can he relate between the variables.

Researcher will also need to define the units of measurements, tolerable degree for errors, and find out if the measurement chosen will be acceptable by others.

Step #4: Methodology, research design and data collection

In this step, the researcher has to define a strategy for conducting his research. He has to set up experiments to collect data which will enable him to propose the hypothesis. The researcher will decide whether he will need experimental or non experimental method for conducting the research. The type of research design will vary depending on the field in which the research is being conducted. Last but not the least, the researcher will have to find out parameters that will affect the validity of the research design. Data collection will need to be done by choosing appropriate samples depending on the research question. To carry out the research, he can use one of the many sampling techniques. Once data collection is complete, researcher will have empirical data which needs to be analysed.

LEARN ABOUT: Best Data Collection Tools

Step #5: Data Analysis and result

Data analysis can be done in two ways, qualitatively and quantitatively. Researcher will need to find out what qualitative method or quantitative method will be needed or will he need a combination of both. Depending on the unit of analysis of his data, he will know if his hypothesis is supported or rejected. Analyzing this data is the most important part to support his hypothesis.

Step #6: Conclusion

A report will need to be made with the findings of the research. The researcher can give the theories and literature that support his research. He can make suggestions or recommendations for further research on his topic.

Empirical research methodology cycle

A.D. de Groot, a famous dutch psychologist and a chess expert conducted some of the most notable experiments using chess in the 1940’s. During his study, he came up with a cycle which is consistent and now widely used to conduct empirical research. It consists of 5 phases with each phase being as important as the next one. The empirical cycle captures the process of coming up with hypothesis about how certain subjects work or behave and then testing these hypothesis against empirical data in a systematic and rigorous approach. It can be said that it characterizes the deductive approach to science. Following is the empirical cycle.

  • Observation: At this phase an idea is sparked for proposing a hypothesis. During this phase empirical data is gathered using observation. For example: a particular species of flower bloom in a different color only during a specific season.
  • Induction: Inductive reasoning is then carried out to form a general conclusion from the data gathered through observation. For example: As stated above it is observed that the species of flower blooms in a different color during a specific season. A researcher may ask a question “does the temperature in the season cause the color change in the flower?” He can assume that is the case, however it is a mere conjecture and hence an experiment needs to be set up to support this hypothesis. So he tags a few set of flowers kept at a different temperature and observes if they still change the color?
  • Deduction: This phase helps the researcher to deduce a conclusion out of his experiment. This has to be based on logic and rationality to come up with specific unbiased results.For example: In the experiment, if the tagged flowers in a different temperature environment do not change the color then it can be concluded that temperature plays a role in changing the color of the bloom.
  • Testing: This phase involves the researcher to return to empirical methods to put his hypothesis to the test. The researcher now needs to make sense of his data and hence needs to use statistical analysis plans to determine the temperature and bloom color relationship. If the researcher finds out that most flowers bloom a different color when exposed to the certain temperature and the others do not when the temperature is different, he has found support to his hypothesis. Please note this not proof but just a support to his hypothesis.
  • Evaluation: This phase is generally forgotten by most but is an important one to keep gaining knowledge. During this phase the researcher puts forth the data he has collected, the support argument and his conclusion. The researcher also states the limitations for the experiment and his hypothesis and suggests tips for others to pick it up and continue a more in-depth research for others in the future. LEARN MORE: Population vs Sample

LEARN MORE: Population vs Sample

There is a reason why empirical research is one of the most widely used method. There are a few advantages associated with it. Following are a few of them.

  • It is used to authenticate traditional research through various experiments and observations.
  • This research methodology makes the research being conducted more competent and authentic.
  • It enables a researcher understand the dynamic changes that can happen and change his strategy accordingly.
  • The level of control in such a research is high so the researcher can control multiple variables.
  • It plays a vital role in increasing internal validity .

Even though empirical research makes the research more competent and authentic, it does have a few disadvantages. Following are a few of them.

  • Such a research needs patience as it can be very time consuming. The researcher has to collect data from multiple sources and the parameters involved are quite a few, which will lead to a time consuming research.
  • Most of the time, a researcher will need to conduct research at different locations or in different environments, this can lead to an expensive affair.
  • There are a few rules in which experiments can be performed and hence permissions are needed. Many a times, it is very difficult to get certain permissions to carry out different methods of this research.
  • Collection of data can be a problem sometimes, as it has to be collected from a variety of sources through different methods.

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Empirical research is important in today’s world because most people believe in something only that they can see, hear or experience. It is used to validate multiple hypothesis and increase human knowledge and continue doing it to keep advancing in various fields.

For example: Pharmaceutical companies use empirical research to try out a specific drug on controlled groups or random groups to study the effect and cause. This way, they prove certain theories they had proposed for the specific drug. Such research is very important as sometimes it can lead to finding a cure for a disease that has existed for many years. It is useful in science and many other fields like history, social sciences, business, etc.

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With the advancement in today’s world, empirical research has become critical and a norm in many fields to support their hypothesis and gain more knowledge. The methods mentioned above are very useful for carrying out such research. However, a number of new methods will keep coming up as the nature of new investigative questions keeps getting unique or changing.

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Empirical Research: Defining, Identifying, & Finding

Identifying empirical research.

  • Defining Empirical Research

Finding the Characteristics of Empirical Research in an Article

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Once you know the characteristics of empirical research , the next question is how to find those characteristics when reading a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal article. Knowing the basic structure of an article will help you identify those characteristics quickly. 

The IMRaD Layout

Many scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles, especially empirical articles, are structured according to the IMRaD layout. IMRaD stands for "Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion." These are the major sections of the article, and each part has an important role: 

  • Introduction: explains the research project and why it is needed. 
  • Methods: details how the research was conducted. 
  • Results: provides the data from the research.
  • Discussion: explains the importance of the results. 

While an IMRaD article will have these sections, it may use different names for these sections or split them into subsections. 

While just because an article is structured in an IMRaD layout is not enough to say it is empirical, specific characteristics of empirical research are more likely to be in certain sections , so knowing them will help you find the characteristics more quickly. Click the link for each section to learn what empirical research characteristics are in that section and common alternative names for those sections: 

Use this video for a quick overview of the sections of an academic article: 

Journal articles will also have an abstract which summarizes the article. That summary often includes simplified information from different IMRaD sections, which can give you a good sense of whether the research is empirical. Most library databases and other academic search tools will show you the abstract in your search results, making it the first place you can look for evidence that an article is empirical. 

There are two types of abstracts: structured and unstructured. 

Structured Abstracts

Structured abstracts   are organized and labeled in a way that replicates the IMRaD format. If you know what characteristics of empirical research are located in a particular IMRaD section, you can skim that section of the structured abstract to look for them. 

Example of a structured abstract.  Long description available through "Image description" link.

[ Image description ] 

Unstructured Abstracts

Unstructured abstracts   do not label the parts of the summary and are generally a single block paragraph. You will not be able to skim through an unstructured abstract for empirical research characteristics as easily, but some of those characteristics will still be there. Often the unstructured abstract will include some version of the research question and simplified descriptions of the design, methodology, and sample. 

Example of an unstructured abstract. Long description available through "Image description" link.

[ Image description ]

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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

Adapted from PennState University Libraries, Empirical Research in the Social Sciences and Education

Empirical research is published in books and in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals. Keep in mind that most library databases do not offer straightforward ways to identifying empirical research.

Finding Empirical Research in PsycINFO

  • PsycInfo Use the "Advanced Search" Type your keywords into the search boxes Scroll down the page to "Methodology," and choose "Empirical Study" Choose other limits, such as publication date, if needed Click on the "Search" button

Finding Empirical Research in PubMed

  • PubMED One technique is to limit your search results after you perform a search: Type in your keywords and click on the "Search" button To the left of your results, under "Article Types," check off the types of studies that interest you Another alternative is to construct a more sophisticated search: From PubMed's main screen, click on "Advanced" link underneath the search box On the Advanced Search Builder screen type your keywords into the search boxes Change one of the empty boxes from "All Fields" to "Publication Type" To the right of Publication Type, click on "Show Index List" and choose a methodology that interests you. You can choose more than one by holding down the "Ctrl" or "⌘" on your keyboard as you click on each methodology Click on the "Search" button

Finding Empirical Research in Library OneSearch & Google Scholar

These tools do not have a method for locating empirical research. Using "empirical" as a keyword will find some studies, but miss many others. Consider using one of the more specialized databases above.

  • Library OneSearch
  • Google Scholar

This refers to the process where authors who are doing research submit a paper they have written to a journal. The journal editor then sends the article to the author's peers (researchers and scholars) who are in the same discipline for review. The reviewers determine if the article should be published based on the quality of the research, including the validity of the data, the conclusions the authors' draw and the originality of the research. This process is important because it validates the research and gives it a sort of "seal of approval" from others in the research community.

Identifying a Journal is Peer-Reviewed

One of the best places to find out if a journal is peer-reviewed is to go to the journal website.

Most publishers have a website for a journal that tells you about the journal, how authors can submit an article, and what the process is for getting published.

If you find the journal website, look for the link that says information for authors, instructions for authors, submitting an article or something similar.

Finding Peer-Reviewed Articles

Start in a library database. Look for a peer-review or scholarly filter.

  • PsycInfo Most comprehensive database of psychology. Filters allow you to limit by methodology. Articles without full-text can be requested via Interlibrary loan.
  • Library OneSearch Search almost all the library resources. Look for a peer-review filter on the left.
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  • Last Updated: Oct 31, 2023 4:54 PM
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Penn State University Libraries

Psych 301: basic research methods in psychology.

  • Empirical & Correlational Research
  • APA Style & Annotated Bibliographies
  • Finding Articles

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Introduction: What is 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 used in the present study
  • 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

Finding Empirical Research in PsycINFO (ProQuest version, for Psychology topics)

  • PsycINFO (via ProQuest) This link opens in a new window more... less... PsycINFO provides access to international literature in psychology and related disciplines. Unrivaled in its depth of psychological coverage and respected worldwide for its high quality, the database is enriched with literature from an array of disciplines related to psychology such as psychiatry, education, business, medicine, nursing, pharmacology, law, linguistics, and social work. Nearly all records contain nonevaluative summaries, and all records from 1967 to the present are indexed using the Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms.

To find empirical articles in PsycINFO (ProQuest version):

  • Use the "Advanced Search"
  • Type your keywords into the search boxes
  • Scroll down the page to "Methodology," and choose "Empirical Study"
  • Choose other limits, such as publication date, if needed
  • Click on the "Search" button

Empirical vs. Nonempirical Research

This video compares purely empirical research with purely theoretical research to help you better understand the concepts.

Correlational Research

This video defines correlational research, identifies key characteristics of correlational design, and includes criteria for evaluating this kind of study.

Finding a Correlational Study

You will have to skim or read an article to determine whether or not it is a correlational study. Some authors will describe the study using that terminology. A strategy you might want to try is to use the CTRL-F keyboard shortcut to search webpages, most PDFs, and other documents.

If you press CTRL-F on your keyboard, a window will open. Try searching through the article to identify the following words that authors likely would use to describe a correlation between two or more variables.

  • associat [would find "association" and "associated" in the text]
  • relationship
  • correlat [would find "correlation" and "correlated" in the text]
  • predict [would find "prediction" and "predictor" in the text]

You can try a similar strategy in a database like PsycINFO. When searching for keywords, add an asterisk * to the end of one of the incomplete words listed above.

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Defining Empirical Research— Types, Methods, and Examples

  • Author Survey Point Team
  • Published January 10, 2023

Defining Empirical Research— Types, Methods, and Examples

Empirical research is a research methodology that uses experiences and verifiable evidence to reach conclusions. Derived from the Greek word ‘ empeirikos ,’ which means experience, empirical research is based on believing only what can be seen, experienced, or verified. This makes empirical research stand out as scientific and trustworthy.

Empirical research can be qualitative or quantitative in nature to answer a variety of questions confidently. For example, one can use snowball sampling to gather contact details of homeless people in a city and then observe how they survive or behave over a period of time to form conclusions on the basis of those observations.

The observations and experiences upon which empirical research is based allow for the subject and the study conclusions to be independently validated. The results of empirical studies are helpful for testing theories and dispelling misconceptions. 

Table of Contents

Types of Empirical Research

There are broadly two types of Empirical Research – Quantitative and Qualitative . In a generic sense, both these empirical research methodologies refer to a collective pool of data using calibrated scientific instruments. Let’s talk about these two below:

1. Quantitative Empirical Research

Information is gathered through numerical data in quantitative empirical research. Opinions, preferences, behaviors, tendencies, and other variables are quantified to collect information in the form of numbers. These numbers are further studied to reach conclusions. 

For instance, you can gauge customer satisfaction by asking for ratings from 1 to 10, with 1 representing the least satisfied and 10 representing the most satisfied.

Numbers can be collected to summarize people’s preferences and allow them to be quantified.

2. Qualitative Empirical Research

For businesses to reach nuanced conclusions, more than just numerical data is needed to formulate informed opinions. To get in-depth information, the data collected has to be descriptive. Descriptive data helps the researcher do qualitative research on a subject and form hypotheses and theories accordingly. In qualitative empirical research, this process is called qualitative analysis.

Generally, these studies use a smaller sample size and are a little unorganized. There is a growing trend for qualitative research in focus groups, interviews, and experiments.

Research Methods Using Empirical Evidence

Data gathered through research needs to be analyzed. By analyzing empirical data with certain methods, questions that cannot be answered in a laboratory can be answered with conclusions that lab experiments cannot reach.

Quantitative Research Methods

We will take up and discuss the sub categories of quantitative method one by one:

1. Survey research

It uses surveys to gather numerical data for research. One of the most common survey research methods is sending a closed set of questions via email or other media to customers. These questions are easy as per their difficulty level and are efficient enough to yield higher responses.

2. Experimental research

Experimental research is done by gathering numerical data by conducting an experiment. An experiment to determine someone’s tendency to choose a specific response in a particular situation can help us better understand human behavior and choices.

3. Correlational research

Correlational research is done to find the correlation between attributes such as IQ levels and success. By establishing a correlation between one attribute and another, it can be used to predict outcomes. 

Moreover, it can be quantified, so the degree of correlation can be determined.

4. Longitudinal study

The longitudinal study is done by observing and repeatedly testing a subject over a long time. It aims to understand the long-term impact of various activities or choices on the subject.

5. Cross-sectional

Cross-sectional research studies a set of people with similarities in all variables, excluding the studied one. It helps the researcher establish a cause-and-effect relationship by using data from continuous observation of the subjects. Often followed by longitudinal research.

6. Casual comparison

By comparing two or more variables, casual comparison determines whether there is a cause-and-effect relationship between them. 

Qualitative Research Methods

1. case study.

Case studies involve investigating and analyzing real-world examples, such as companies or other entities. It is put to use when an actual issue needs to be researched. It has extensive application in the commercial investigation. 

Studying the experiences of other businesses and organizations that have dealt with similar issues in the past might shed light on the issues at hand for any given organization or group. Business schools also use case studies to make learning more interactive and fun for students.

2. Observational method

The observational method involves observing the subject and gathering qualitative data. A subject is observed for a considerable period of time, and qualitative observations are then studied to form conclusions.

Gathered data can also be quantitative, depending on the research topic. But since this type of research takes a long time, it is primarily qualitative data collected by observing subjects.

3. One-on-one interview

As the name suggests, one-on-one interviews involve making qualitative observations about the subject by directly interviewing them. It is conversational and helps get in-depth data about the subject’s personality, views, etc., which cannot be analyzed or estimated otherwise.

4. Focus groups

Focus groups are small groups of people contributing to open discussions on a particular topic. This method is used by product companies who want to know how well their products may perform in the market.

5. Text analysis

Almost any form of social media content, including textual and visual, can be analyzed to arrive at conclusions. This method is relatively new, but the qualitative research done using text analysis is very useful and has a far-reaching impact.

Examples of Empirical Research

  • Scientists looked at the long-term effects of video games on children by dividing a sample of kids into two groups, one of which played video games while the other did not. They then compared the two sets of kids’ development in various ways, including their eyesight, behavior, outlook, and personalities.
  • Consumers’ willingness to purchase a product at a given moment can be measured by having them rate their interest in doing so on a Likert scale from 1 to 10.
  • Wild animal populations were studied to understand seasonal habitat use patterns, activity, and reproduction patterns. You can do this through long-term observation or by studying previously collected data on animal behavior in a certain location.
  • The research analyzed people’s motivations based on their online presence and published content. Using the frequency of words used by the person on a particular platform throughout their online presence can provide this information.

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Empirical Research

Introduction, what is empirical research, attribution.

  • Finding Empirical Research in Library Databases
  • Designing Empirical Research
  • Case Sudies

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

Portions of this guide were built using suggestions from other libraries, including Penn State and Utah State University libraries.

  • Next: Finding Empirical Research in Library Databases >>
  • Last Updated: Jan 10, 2023 8:31 AM
  • URL: https://enmu.libguides.com/EmpiricalResearch

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  • CBE Life Sci Educ
  • v.21(3); Fall 2022

Literature Reviews, Theoretical Frameworks, and Conceptual Frameworks: An Introduction for New Biology Education Researchers

Julie a. luft.

† Department of Mathematics, Social Studies, and Science Education, Mary Frances Early College of Education, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602-7124

Sophia Jeong

‡ Department of Teaching & Learning, College of Education & Human Ecology, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210

Robert Idsardi

§ Department of Biology, Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA 99004

Grant Gardner

∥ Department of Biology, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN 37132

Associated Data

To frame their work, biology education researchers need to consider the role of literature reviews, theoretical frameworks, and conceptual frameworks as critical elements of the research and writing process. However, these elements can be confusing for scholars new to education research. This Research Methods article is designed to provide an overview of each of these elements and delineate the purpose of each in the educational research process. We describe what biology education researchers should consider as they conduct literature reviews, identify theoretical frameworks, and construct conceptual frameworks. Clarifying these different components of educational research studies can be helpful to new biology education researchers and the biology education research community at large in situating their work in the broader scholarly literature.

INTRODUCTION

Discipline-based education research (DBER) involves the purposeful and situated study of teaching and learning in specific disciplinary areas ( Singer et al. , 2012 ). Studies in DBER are guided by research questions that reflect disciplines’ priorities and worldviews. Researchers can use quantitative data, qualitative data, or both to answer these research questions through a variety of methodological traditions. Across all methodologies, there are different methods associated with planning and conducting educational research studies that include the use of surveys, interviews, observations, artifacts, or instruments. Ensuring the coherence of these elements to the discipline’s perspective also involves situating the work in the broader scholarly literature. The tools for doing this include literature reviews, theoretical frameworks, and conceptual frameworks. However, the purpose and function of each of these elements is often confusing to new education researchers. The goal of this article is to introduce new biology education researchers to these three important elements important in DBER scholarship and the broader educational literature.

The first element we discuss is a review of research (literature reviews), which highlights the need for a specific research question, study problem, or topic of investigation. Literature reviews situate the relevance of the study within a topic and a field. The process may seem familiar to science researchers entering DBER fields, but new researchers may still struggle in conducting the review. Booth et al. (2016b) highlight some of the challenges novice education researchers face when conducting a review of literature. They point out that novice researchers struggle in deciding how to focus the review, determining the scope of articles needed in the review, and knowing how to be critical of the articles in the review. Overcoming these challenges (and others) can help novice researchers construct a sound literature review that can inform the design of the study and help ensure the work makes a contribution to the field.

The second and third highlighted elements are theoretical and conceptual frameworks. These guide biology education research (BER) studies, and may be less familiar to science researchers. These elements are important in shaping the construction of new knowledge. Theoretical frameworks offer a way to explain and interpret the studied phenomenon, while conceptual frameworks clarify assumptions about the studied phenomenon. Despite the importance of these constructs in educational research, biology educational researchers have noted the limited use of theoretical or conceptual frameworks in published work ( DeHaan, 2011 ; Dirks, 2011 ; Lo et al. , 2019 ). In reviewing articles published in CBE—Life Sciences Education ( LSE ) between 2015 and 2019, we found that fewer than 25% of the research articles had a theoretical or conceptual framework (see the Supplemental Information), and at times there was an inconsistent use of theoretical and conceptual frameworks. Clearly, these frameworks are challenging for published biology education researchers, which suggests the importance of providing some initial guidance to new biology education researchers.

Fortunately, educational researchers have increased their explicit use of these frameworks over time, and this is influencing educational research in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. For instance, a quick search for theoretical or conceptual frameworks in the abstracts of articles in Educational Research Complete (a common database for educational research) in STEM fields demonstrates a dramatic change over the last 20 years: from only 778 articles published between 2000 and 2010 to 5703 articles published between 2010 and 2020, a more than sevenfold increase. Greater recognition of the importance of these frameworks is contributing to DBER authors being more explicit about such frameworks in their studies.

Collectively, literature reviews, theoretical frameworks, and conceptual frameworks work to guide methodological decisions and the elucidation of important findings. Each offers a different perspective on the problem of study and is an essential element in all forms of educational research. As new researchers seek to learn about these elements, they will find different resources, a variety of perspectives, and many suggestions about the construction and use of these elements. The wide range of available information can overwhelm the new researcher who just wants to learn the distinction between these elements or how to craft them adequately.

Our goal in writing this paper is not to offer specific advice about how to write these sections in scholarly work. Instead, we wanted to introduce these elements to those who are new to BER and who are interested in better distinguishing one from the other. In this paper, we share the purpose of each element in BER scholarship, along with important points on its construction. We also provide references for additional resources that may be beneficial to better understanding each element. Table 1 summarizes the key distinctions among these elements.

Comparison of literature reviews, theoretical frameworks, and conceptual reviews

This article is written for the new biology education researcher who is just learning about these different elements or for scientists looking to become more involved in BER. It is a result of our own work as science education and biology education researchers, whether as graduate students and postdoctoral scholars or newly hired and established faculty members. This is the article we wish had been available as we started to learn about these elements or discussed them with new educational researchers in biology.

LITERATURE REVIEWS

Purpose of a literature review.

A literature review is foundational to any research study in education or science. In education, a well-conceptualized and well-executed review provides a summary of the research that has already been done on a specific topic and identifies questions that remain to be answered, thus illustrating the current research project’s potential contribution to the field and the reasoning behind the methodological approach selected for the study ( Maxwell, 2012 ). BER is an evolving disciplinary area that is redefining areas of conceptual emphasis as well as orientations toward teaching and learning (e.g., Labov et al. , 2010 ; American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2011 ; Nehm, 2019 ). As a result, building comprehensive, critical, purposeful, and concise literature reviews can be a challenge for new biology education researchers.

Building Literature Reviews

There are different ways to approach and construct a literature review. Booth et al. (2016a) provide an overview that includes, for example, scoping reviews, which are focused only on notable studies and use a basic method of analysis, and integrative reviews, which are the result of exhaustive literature searches across different genres. Underlying each of these different review processes are attention to the s earch process, a ppraisa l of articles, s ynthesis of the literature, and a nalysis: SALSA ( Booth et al. , 2016a ). This useful acronym can help the researcher focus on the process while building a specific type of review.

However, new educational researchers often have questions about literature reviews that are foundational to SALSA or other approaches. Common questions concern determining which literature pertains to the topic of study or the role of the literature review in the design of the study. This section addresses such questions broadly while providing general guidance for writing a narrative literature review that evaluates the most pertinent studies.

The literature review process should begin before the research is conducted. As Boote and Beile (2005 , p. 3) suggested, researchers should be “scholars before researchers.” They point out that having a good working knowledge of the proposed topic helps illuminate avenues of study. Some subject areas have a deep body of work to read and reflect upon, providing a strong foundation for developing the research question(s). For instance, the teaching and learning of evolution is an area of long-standing interest in the BER community, generating many studies (e.g., Perry et al. , 2008 ; Barnes and Brownell, 2016 ) and reviews of research (e.g., Sickel and Friedrichsen, 2013 ; Ziadie and Andrews, 2018 ). Emerging areas of BER include the affective domain, issues of transfer, and metacognition ( Singer et al. , 2012 ). Many studies in these areas are transdisciplinary and not always specific to biology education (e.g., Rodrigo-Peiris et al. , 2018 ; Kolpikova et al. , 2019 ). These newer areas may require reading outside BER; fortunately, summaries of some of these topics can be found in the Current Insights section of the LSE website.

In focusing on a specific problem within a broader research strand, a new researcher will likely need to examine research outside BER. Depending upon the area of study, the expanded reading list might involve a mix of BER, DBER, and educational research studies. Determining the scope of the reading is not always straightforward. A simple way to focus one’s reading is to create a “summary phrase” or “research nugget,” which is a very brief descriptive statement about the study. It should focus on the essence of the study, for example, “first-year nonmajor students’ understanding of evolution,” “metacognitive prompts to enhance learning during biochemistry,” or “instructors’ inquiry-based instructional practices after professional development programming.” This type of phrase should help a new researcher identify two or more areas to review that pertain to the study. Focusing on recent research in the last 5 years is a good first step. Additional studies can be identified by reading relevant works referenced in those articles. It is also important to read seminal studies that are more than 5 years old. Reading a range of studies should give the researcher the necessary command of the subject in order to suggest a research question.

Given that the research question(s) arise from the literature review, the review should also substantiate the selected methodological approach. The review and research question(s) guide the researcher in determining how to collect and analyze data. Often the methodological approach used in a study is selected to contribute knowledge that expands upon what has been published previously about the topic (see Institute of Education Sciences and National Science Foundation, 2013 ). An emerging topic of study may need an exploratory approach that allows for a description of the phenomenon and development of a potential theory. This could, but not necessarily, require a methodological approach that uses interviews, observations, surveys, or other instruments. An extensively studied topic may call for the additional understanding of specific factors or variables; this type of study would be well suited to a verification or a causal research design. These could entail a methodological approach that uses valid and reliable instruments, observations, or interviews to determine an effect in the studied event. In either of these examples, the researcher(s) may use a qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods methodological approach.

Even with a good research question, there is still more reading to be done. The complexity and focus of the research question dictates the depth and breadth of the literature to be examined. Questions that connect multiple topics can require broad literature reviews. For instance, a study that explores the impact of a biology faculty learning community on the inquiry instruction of faculty could have the following review areas: learning communities among biology faculty, inquiry instruction among biology faculty, and inquiry instruction among biology faculty as a result of professional learning. Biology education researchers need to consider whether their literature review requires studies from different disciplines within or outside DBER. For the example given, it would be fruitful to look at research focused on learning communities with faculty in STEM fields or in general education fields that result in instructional change. It is important not to be too narrow or too broad when reading. When the conclusions of articles start to sound similar or no new insights are gained, the researcher likely has a good foundation for a literature review. This level of reading should allow the researcher to demonstrate a mastery in understanding the researched topic, explain the suitability of the proposed research approach, and point to the need for the refined research question(s).

The literature review should include the researcher’s evaluation and critique of the selected studies. A researcher may have a large collection of studies, but not all of the studies will follow standards important in the reporting of empirical work in the social sciences. The American Educational Research Association ( Duran et al. , 2006 ), for example, offers a general discussion about standards for such work: an adequate review of research informing the study, the existence of sound and appropriate data collection and analysis methods, and appropriate conclusions that do not overstep or underexplore the analyzed data. The Institute of Education Sciences and National Science Foundation (2013) also offer Common Guidelines for Education Research and Development that can be used to evaluate collected studies.

Because not all journals adhere to such standards, it is important that a researcher review each study to determine the quality of published research, per the guidelines suggested earlier. In some instances, the research may be fatally flawed. Examples of such flaws include data that do not pertain to the question, a lack of discussion about the data collection, poorly constructed instruments, or an inadequate analysis. These types of errors result in studies that are incomplete, error-laden, or inaccurate and should be excluded from the review. Most studies have limitations, and the author(s) often make them explicit. For instance, there may be an instructor effect, recognized bias in the analysis, or issues with the sample population. Limitations are usually addressed by the research team in some way to ensure a sound and acceptable research process. Occasionally, the limitations associated with the study can be significant and not addressed adequately, which leaves a consequential decision in the hands of the researcher. Providing critiques of studies in the literature review process gives the reader confidence that the researcher has carefully examined relevant work in preparation for the study and, ultimately, the manuscript.

A solid literature review clearly anchors the proposed study in the field and connects the research question(s), the methodological approach, and the discussion. Reviewing extant research leads to research questions that will contribute to what is known in the field. By summarizing what is known, the literature review points to what needs to be known, which in turn guides decisions about methodology. Finally, notable findings of the new study are discussed in reference to those described in the literature review.

Within published BER studies, literature reviews can be placed in different locations in an article. When included in the introductory section of the study, the first few paragraphs of the manuscript set the stage, with the literature review following the opening paragraphs. Cooper et al. (2019) illustrate this approach in their study of course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs). An introduction discussing the potential of CURES is followed by an analysis of the existing literature relevant to the design of CUREs that allows for novel student discoveries. Within this review, the authors point out contradictory findings among research on novel student discoveries. This clarifies the need for their study, which is described and highlighted through specific research aims.

A literature reviews can also make up a separate section in a paper. For example, the introduction to Todd et al. (2019) illustrates the need for their research topic by highlighting the potential of learning progressions (LPs) and suggesting that LPs may help mitigate learning loss in genetics. At the end of the introduction, the authors state their specific research questions. The review of literature following this opening section comprises two subsections. One focuses on learning loss in general and examines a variety of studies and meta-analyses from the disciplines of medical education, mathematics, and reading. The second section focuses specifically on LPs in genetics and highlights student learning in the midst of LPs. These separate reviews provide insights into the stated research question.

Suggestions and Advice

A well-conceptualized, comprehensive, and critical literature review reveals the understanding of the topic that the researcher brings to the study. Literature reviews should not be so big that there is no clear area of focus; nor should they be so narrow that no real research question arises. The task for a researcher is to craft an efficient literature review that offers a critical analysis of published work, articulates the need for the study, guides the methodological approach to the topic of study, and provides an adequate foundation for the discussion of the findings.

In our own writing of literature reviews, there are often many drafts. An early draft may seem well suited to the study because the need for and approach to the study are well described. However, as the results of the study are analyzed and findings begin to emerge, the existing literature review may be inadequate and need revision. The need for an expanded discussion about the research area can result in the inclusion of new studies that support the explanation of a potential finding. The literature review may also prove to be too broad. Refocusing on a specific area allows for more contemplation of a finding.

It should be noted that there are different types of literature reviews, and many books and articles have been written about the different ways to embark on these types of reviews. Among these different resources, the following may be helpful in considering how to refine the review process for scholarly journals:

  • Booth, A., Sutton, A., & Papaioannou, D. (2016a). Systemic approaches to a successful literature review (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage. This book addresses different types of literature reviews and offers important suggestions pertaining to defining the scope of the literature review and assessing extant studies.
  • Booth, W. C., Colomb, G. G., Williams, J. M., Bizup, J., & Fitzgerald, W. T. (2016b). The craft of research (4th ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. This book can help the novice consider how to make the case for an area of study. While this book is not specifically about literature reviews, it offers suggestions about making the case for your study.
  • Galvan, J. L., & Galvan, M. C. (2017). Writing literature reviews: A guide for students of the social and behavioral sciences (7th ed.). Routledge. This book offers guidance on writing different types of literature reviews. For the novice researcher, there are useful suggestions for creating coherent literature reviews.

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORKS

Purpose of theoretical frameworks.

As new education researchers may be less familiar with theoretical frameworks than with literature reviews, this discussion begins with an analogy. Envision a biologist, chemist, and physicist examining together the dramatic effect of a fog tsunami over the ocean. A biologist gazing at this phenomenon may be concerned with the effect of fog on various species. A chemist may be interested in the chemical composition of the fog as water vapor condenses around bits of salt. A physicist may be focused on the refraction of light to make fog appear to be “sitting” above the ocean. While observing the same “objective event,” the scientists are operating under different theoretical frameworks that provide a particular perspective or “lens” for the interpretation of the phenomenon. Each of these scientists brings specialized knowledge, experiences, and values to this phenomenon, and these influence the interpretation of the phenomenon. The scientists’ theoretical frameworks influence how they design and carry out their studies and interpret their data.

Within an educational study, a theoretical framework helps to explain a phenomenon through a particular lens and challenges and extends existing knowledge within the limitations of that lens. Theoretical frameworks are explicitly stated by an educational researcher in the paper’s framework, theory, or relevant literature section. The framework shapes the types of questions asked, guides the method by which data are collected and analyzed, and informs the discussion of the results of the study. It also reveals the researcher’s subjectivities, for example, values, social experience, and viewpoint ( Allen, 2017 ). It is essential that a novice researcher learn to explicitly state a theoretical framework, because all research questions are being asked from the researcher’s implicit or explicit assumptions of a phenomenon of interest ( Schwandt, 2000 ).

Selecting Theoretical Frameworks

Theoretical frameworks are one of the most contemplated elements in our work in educational research. In this section, we share three important considerations for new scholars selecting a theoretical framework.

The first step in identifying a theoretical framework involves reflecting on the phenomenon within the study and the assumptions aligned with the phenomenon. The phenomenon involves the studied event. There are many possibilities, for example, student learning, instructional approach, or group organization. A researcher holds assumptions about how the phenomenon will be effected, influenced, changed, or portrayed. It is ultimately the researcher’s assumption(s) about the phenomenon that aligns with a theoretical framework. An example can help illustrate how a researcher’s reflection on the phenomenon and acknowledgment of assumptions can result in the identification of a theoretical framework.

In our example, a biology education researcher may be interested in exploring how students’ learning of difficult biological concepts can be supported by the interactions of group members. The phenomenon of interest is the interactions among the peers, and the researcher assumes that more knowledgeable students are important in supporting the learning of the group. As a result, the researcher may draw on Vygotsky’s (1978) sociocultural theory of learning and development that is focused on the phenomenon of student learning in a social setting. This theory posits the critical nature of interactions among students and between students and teachers in the process of building knowledge. A researcher drawing upon this framework holds the assumption that learning is a dynamic social process involving questions and explanations among students in the classroom and that more knowledgeable peers play an important part in the process of building conceptual knowledge.

It is important to state at this point that there are many different theoretical frameworks. Some frameworks focus on learning and knowing, while other theoretical frameworks focus on equity, empowerment, or discourse. Some frameworks are well articulated, and others are still being refined. For a new researcher, it can be challenging to find a theoretical framework. Two of the best ways to look for theoretical frameworks is through published works that highlight different frameworks.

When a theoretical framework is selected, it should clearly connect to all parts of the study. The framework should augment the study by adding a perspective that provides greater insights into the phenomenon. It should clearly align with the studies described in the literature review. For instance, a framework focused on learning would correspond to research that reported different learning outcomes for similar studies. The methods for data collection and analysis should also correspond to the framework. For instance, a study about instructional interventions could use a theoretical framework concerned with learning and could collect data about the effect of the intervention on what is learned. When the data are analyzed, the theoretical framework should provide added meaning to the findings, and the findings should align with the theoretical framework.

A study by Jensen and Lawson (2011) provides an example of how a theoretical framework connects different parts of the study. They compared undergraduate biology students in heterogeneous and homogeneous groups over the course of a semester. Jensen and Lawson (2011) assumed that learning involved collaboration and more knowledgeable peers, which made Vygotsky’s (1978) theory a good fit for their study. They predicted that students in heterogeneous groups would experience greater improvement in their reasoning abilities and science achievements with much of the learning guided by the more knowledgeable peers.

In the enactment of the study, they collected data about the instruction in traditional and inquiry-oriented classes, while the students worked in homogeneous or heterogeneous groups. To determine the effect of working in groups, the authors also measured students’ reasoning abilities and achievement. Each data-collection and analysis decision connected to understanding the influence of collaborative work.

Their findings highlighted aspects of Vygotsky’s (1978) theory of learning. One finding, for instance, posited that inquiry instruction, as a whole, resulted in reasoning and achievement gains. This links to Vygotsky (1978) , because inquiry instruction involves interactions among group members. A more nuanced finding was that group composition had a conditional effect. Heterogeneous groups performed better with more traditional and didactic instruction, regardless of the reasoning ability of the group members. Homogeneous groups worked better during interaction-rich activities for students with low reasoning ability. The authors attributed the variation to the different types of helping behaviors of students. High-performing students provided the answers, while students with low reasoning ability had to work collectively through the material. In terms of Vygotsky (1978) , this finding provided new insights into the learning context in which productive interactions can occur for students.

Another consideration in the selection and use of a theoretical framework pertains to its orientation to the study. This can result in the theoretical framework prioritizing individuals, institutions, and/or policies ( Anfara and Mertz, 2014 ). Frameworks that connect to individuals, for instance, could contribute to understanding their actions, learning, or knowledge. Institutional frameworks, on the other hand, offer insights into how institutions, organizations, or groups can influence individuals or materials. Policy theories provide ways to understand how national or local policies can dictate an emphasis on outcomes or instructional design. These different types of frameworks highlight different aspects in an educational setting, which influences the design of the study and the collection of data. In addition, these different frameworks offer a way to make sense of the data. Aligning the data collection and analysis with the framework ensures that a study is coherent and can contribute to the field.

New understandings emerge when different theoretical frameworks are used. For instance, Ebert-May et al. (2015) prioritized the individual level within conceptual change theory (see Posner et al. , 1982 ). In this theory, an individual’s knowledge changes when it no longer fits the phenomenon. Ebert-May et al. (2015) designed a professional development program challenging biology postdoctoral scholars’ existing conceptions of teaching. The authors reported that the biology postdoctoral scholars’ teaching practices became more student-centered as they were challenged to explain their instructional decision making. According to the theory, the biology postdoctoral scholars’ dissatisfaction in their descriptions of teaching and learning initiated change in their knowledge and instruction. These results reveal how conceptual change theory can explain the learning of participants and guide the design of professional development programming.

The communities of practice (CoP) theoretical framework ( Lave, 1988 ; Wenger, 1998 ) prioritizes the institutional level , suggesting that learning occurs when individuals learn from and contribute to the communities in which they reside. Grounded in the assumption of community learning, the literature on CoP suggests that, as individuals interact regularly with the other members of their group, they learn about the rules, roles, and goals of the community ( Allee, 2000 ). A study conducted by Gehrke and Kezar (2017) used the CoP framework to understand organizational change by examining the involvement of individual faculty engaged in a cross-institutional CoP focused on changing the instructional practice of faculty at each institution. In the CoP, faculty members were involved in enhancing instructional materials within their department, which aligned with an overarching goal of instituting instruction that embraced active learning. Not surprisingly, Gehrke and Kezar (2017) revealed that faculty who perceived the community culture as important in their work cultivated institutional change. Furthermore, they found that institutional change was sustained when key leaders served as mentors and provided support for faculty, and as faculty themselves developed into leaders. This study reveals the complexity of individual roles in a COP in order to support institutional instructional change.

It is important to explicitly state the theoretical framework used in a study, but elucidating a theoretical framework can be challenging for a new educational researcher. The literature review can help to identify an applicable theoretical framework. Focal areas of the review or central terms often connect to assumptions and assertions associated with the framework that pertain to the phenomenon of interest. Another way to identify a theoretical framework is self-reflection by the researcher on personal beliefs and understandings about the nature of knowledge the researcher brings to the study ( Lysaght, 2011 ). In stating one’s beliefs and understandings related to the study (e.g., students construct their knowledge, instructional materials support learning), an orientation becomes evident that will suggest a particular theoretical framework. Theoretical frameworks are not arbitrary , but purposefully selected.

With experience, a researcher may find expanded roles for theoretical frameworks. Researchers may revise an existing framework that has limited explanatory power, or they may decide there is a need to develop a new theoretical framework. These frameworks can emerge from a current study or the need to explain a phenomenon in a new way. Researchers may also find that multiple theoretical frameworks are necessary to frame and explore a problem, as different frameworks can provide different insights into a problem.

Finally, it is important to recognize that choosing “x” theoretical framework does not necessarily mean a researcher chooses “y” methodology and so on, nor is there a clear-cut, linear process in selecting a theoretical framework for one’s study. In part, the nonlinear process of identifying a theoretical framework is what makes understanding and using theoretical frameworks challenging. For the novice scholar, contemplating and understanding theoretical frameworks is essential. Fortunately, there are articles and books that can help:

  • Creswell, J. W. (2018). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (5th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage. This book provides an overview of theoretical frameworks in general educational research.
  • Ding, L. (2019). Theoretical perspectives of quantitative physics education research. Physical Review Physics Education Research , 15 (2), 020101-1–020101-13. This paper illustrates how a DBER field can use theoretical frameworks.
  • Nehm, R. (2019). Biology education research: Building integrative frameworks for teaching and learning about living systems. Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Science Education Research , 1 , ar15. https://doi.org/10.1186/s43031-019-0017-6 . This paper articulates the need for studies in BER to explicitly state theoretical frameworks and provides examples of potential studies.
  • Patton, M. Q. (2015). Qualitative research & evaluation methods: Integrating theory and practice . Sage. This book also provides an overview of theoretical frameworks, but for both research and evaluation.

CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORKS

Purpose of a conceptual framework.

A conceptual framework is a description of the way a researcher understands the factors and/or variables that are involved in the study and their relationships to one another. The purpose of a conceptual framework is to articulate the concepts under study using relevant literature ( Rocco and Plakhotnik, 2009 ) and to clarify the presumed relationships among those concepts ( Rocco and Plakhotnik, 2009 ; Anfara and Mertz, 2014 ). Conceptual frameworks are different from theoretical frameworks in both their breadth and grounding in established findings. Whereas a theoretical framework articulates the lens through which a researcher views the work, the conceptual framework is often more mechanistic and malleable.

Conceptual frameworks are broader, encompassing both established theories (i.e., theoretical frameworks) and the researchers’ own emergent ideas. Emergent ideas, for example, may be rooted in informal and/or unpublished observations from experience. These emergent ideas would not be considered a “theory” if they are not yet tested, supported by systematically collected evidence, and peer reviewed. However, they do still play an important role in the way researchers approach their studies. The conceptual framework allows authors to clearly describe their emergent ideas so that connections among ideas in the study and the significance of the study are apparent to readers.

Constructing Conceptual Frameworks

Including a conceptual framework in a research study is important, but researchers often opt to include either a conceptual or a theoretical framework. Either may be adequate, but both provide greater insight into the research approach. For instance, a research team plans to test a novel component of an existing theory. In their study, they describe the existing theoretical framework that informs their work and then present their own conceptual framework. Within this conceptual framework, specific topics portray emergent ideas that are related to the theory. Describing both frameworks allows readers to better understand the researchers’ assumptions, orientations, and understanding of concepts being investigated. For example, Connolly et al. (2018) included a conceptual framework that described how they applied a theoretical framework of social cognitive career theory (SCCT) to their study on teaching programs for doctoral students. In their conceptual framework, the authors described SCCT, explained how it applied to the investigation, and drew upon results from previous studies to justify the proposed connections between the theory and their emergent ideas.

In some cases, authors may be able to sufficiently describe their conceptualization of the phenomenon under study in an introduction alone, without a separate conceptual framework section. However, incomplete descriptions of how the researchers conceptualize the components of the study may limit the significance of the study by making the research less intelligible to readers. This is especially problematic when studying topics in which researchers use the same terms for different constructs or different terms for similar and overlapping constructs (e.g., inquiry, teacher beliefs, pedagogical content knowledge, or active learning). Authors must describe their conceptualization of a construct if the research is to be understandable and useful.

There are some key areas to consider regarding the inclusion of a conceptual framework in a study. To begin with, it is important to recognize that conceptual frameworks are constructed by the researchers conducting the study ( Rocco and Plakhotnik, 2009 ; Maxwell, 2012 ). This is different from theoretical frameworks that are often taken from established literature. Researchers should bring together ideas from the literature, but they may be influenced by their own experiences as a student and/or instructor, the shared experiences of others, or thought experiments as they construct a description, model, or representation of their understanding of the phenomenon under study. This is an exercise in intellectual organization and clarity that often considers what is learned, known, and experienced. The conceptual framework makes these constructs explicitly visible to readers, who may have different understandings of the phenomenon based on their prior knowledge and experience. There is no single method to go about this intellectual work.

Reeves et al. (2016) is an example of an article that proposed a conceptual framework about graduate teaching assistant professional development evaluation and research. The authors used existing literature to create a novel framework that filled a gap in current research and practice related to the training of graduate teaching assistants. This conceptual framework can guide the systematic collection of data by other researchers because the framework describes the relationships among various factors that influence teaching and learning. The Reeves et al. (2016) conceptual framework may be modified as additional data are collected and analyzed by other researchers. This is not uncommon, as conceptual frameworks can serve as catalysts for concerted research efforts that systematically explore a phenomenon (e.g., Reynolds et al. , 2012 ; Brownell and Kloser, 2015 ).

Sabel et al. (2017) used a conceptual framework in their exploration of how scaffolds, an external factor, interact with internal factors to support student learning. Their conceptual framework integrated principles from two theoretical frameworks, self-regulated learning and metacognition, to illustrate how the research team conceptualized students’ use of scaffolds in their learning ( Figure 1 ). Sabel et al. (2017) created this model using their interpretations of these two frameworks in the context of their teaching.

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Conceptual framework from Sabel et al. (2017) .

A conceptual framework should describe the relationship among components of the investigation ( Anfara and Mertz, 2014 ). These relationships should guide the researcher’s methods of approaching the study ( Miles et al. , 2014 ) and inform both the data to be collected and how those data should be analyzed. Explicitly describing the connections among the ideas allows the researcher to justify the importance of the study and the rigor of the research design. Just as importantly, these frameworks help readers understand why certain components of a system were not explored in the study. This is a challenge in education research, which is rooted in complex environments with many variables that are difficult to control.

For example, Sabel et al. (2017) stated: “Scaffolds, such as enhanced answer keys and reflection questions, can help students and instructors bridge the external and internal factors and support learning” (p. 3). They connected the scaffolds in the study to the three dimensions of metacognition and the eventual transformation of existing ideas into new or revised ideas. Their framework provides a rationale for focusing on how students use two different scaffolds, and not on other factors that may influence a student’s success (self-efficacy, use of active learning, exam format, etc.).

In constructing conceptual frameworks, researchers should address needed areas of study and/or contradictions discovered in literature reviews. By attending to these areas, researchers can strengthen their arguments for the importance of a study. For instance, conceptual frameworks can address how the current study will fill gaps in the research, resolve contradictions in existing literature, or suggest a new area of study. While a literature review describes what is known and not known about the phenomenon, the conceptual framework leverages these gaps in describing the current study ( Maxwell, 2012 ). In the example of Sabel et al. (2017) , the authors indicated there was a gap in the literature regarding how scaffolds engage students in metacognition to promote learning in large classes. Their study helps fill that gap by describing how scaffolds can support students in the three dimensions of metacognition: intelligibility, plausibility, and wide applicability. In another example, Lane (2016) integrated research from science identity, the ethic of care, the sense of belonging, and an expertise model of student success to form a conceptual framework that addressed the critiques of other frameworks. In a more recent example, Sbeglia et al. (2021) illustrated how a conceptual framework influences the methodological choices and inferences in studies by educational researchers.

Sometimes researchers draw upon the conceptual frameworks of other researchers. When a researcher’s conceptual framework closely aligns with an existing framework, the discussion may be brief. For example, Ghee et al. (2016) referred to portions of SCCT as their conceptual framework to explain the significance of their work on students’ self-efficacy and career interests. Because the authors’ conceptualization of this phenomenon aligned with a previously described framework, they briefly mentioned the conceptual framework and provided additional citations that provided more detail for the readers.

Within both the BER and the broader DBER communities, conceptual frameworks have been used to describe different constructs. For example, some researchers have used the term “conceptual framework” to describe students’ conceptual understandings of a biological phenomenon. This is distinct from a researcher’s conceptual framework of the educational phenomenon under investigation, which may also need to be explicitly described in the article. Other studies have presented a research logic model or flowchart of the research design as a conceptual framework. These constructions can be quite valuable in helping readers understand the data-collection and analysis process. However, a model depicting the study design does not serve the same role as a conceptual framework. Researchers need to avoid conflating these constructs by differentiating the researchers’ conceptual framework that guides the study from the research design, when applicable.

Explicitly describing conceptual frameworks is essential in depicting the focus of the study. We have found that being explicit in a conceptual framework means using accepted terminology, referencing prior work, and clearly noting connections between terms. This description can also highlight gaps in the literature or suggest potential contributions to the field of study. A well-elucidated conceptual framework can suggest additional studies that may be warranted. This can also spur other researchers to consider how they would approach the examination of a phenomenon and could result in a revised conceptual framework.

It can be challenging to create conceptual frameworks, but they are important. Below are two resources that could be helpful in constructing and presenting conceptual frameworks in educational research:

  • Maxwell, J. A. (2012). Qualitative research design: An interactive approach (3rd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage. Chapter 3 in this book describes how to construct conceptual frameworks.
  • Ravitch, S. M., & Riggan, M. (2016). Reason & rigor: How conceptual frameworks guide research . Los Angeles, CA: Sage. This book explains how conceptual frameworks guide the research questions, data collection, data analyses, and interpretation of results.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

Literature reviews, theoretical frameworks, and conceptual frameworks are all important in DBER and BER. Robust literature reviews reinforce the importance of a study. Theoretical frameworks connect the study to the base of knowledge in educational theory and specify the researcher’s assumptions. Conceptual frameworks allow researchers to explicitly describe their conceptualization of the relationships among the components of the phenomenon under study. Table 1 provides a general overview of these components in order to assist biology education researchers in thinking about these elements.

It is important to emphasize that these different elements are intertwined. When these elements are aligned and complement one another, the study is coherent, and the study findings contribute to knowledge in the field. When literature reviews, theoretical frameworks, and conceptual frameworks are disconnected from one another, the study suffers. The point of the study is lost, suggested findings are unsupported, or important conclusions are invisible to the researcher. In addition, this misalignment may be costly in terms of time and money.

Conducting a literature review, selecting a theoretical framework, and building a conceptual framework are some of the most difficult elements of a research study. It takes time to understand the relevant research, identify a theoretical framework that provides important insights into the study, and formulate a conceptual framework that organizes the finding. In the research process, there is often a constant back and forth among these elements as the study evolves. With an ongoing refinement of the review of literature, clarification of the theoretical framework, and articulation of a conceptual framework, a sound study can emerge that makes a contribution to the field. This is the goal of BER and education research.

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  • What is Empirical Research Study? [Examples & Method]

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The bulk of human decisions relies on evidence, that is, what can be measured or proven as valid. In choosing between plausible alternatives, individuals are more likely to tilt towards the option that is proven to work, and this is the same approach adopted in empirical research. 

In empirical research, the researcher arrives at outcomes by testing his or her empirical evidence using qualitative or quantitative methods of observation, as determined by the nature of the research. An empirical research study is set apart from other research approaches by its methodology and features hence; it is important for every researcher to know what constitutes this investigation method. 

What is Empirical Research? 

Empirical research is a type of research methodology that makes use of verifiable evidence in order to arrive at research outcomes. In other words, this  type of research relies solely on evidence obtained through observation or scientific data collection methods. 

Empirical research can be carried out using qualitative or quantitative observation methods , depending on the data sample, that is, quantifiable data or non-numerical data . Unlike theoretical research that depends on preconceived notions about the research variables, empirical research carries a scientific investigation to measure the experimental probability of the research variables 

Characteristics of Empirical Research

  • Research Questions

An empirical research begins with a set of research questions that guide the investigation. In many cases, these research questions constitute the research hypothesis which is tested using qualitative and quantitative methods as dictated by the nature of the research.

In an empirical research study, the research questions are built around the core of the research, that is, the central issue which the research seeks to resolve. They also determine the course of the research by highlighting the specific objectives and aims of the systematic investigation. 

  • Definition of the Research Variables

The research variables are clearly defined in terms of their population, types, characteristics, and behaviors. In other words, the data sample is clearly delimited and placed within the context of the research. 

  • Description of the Research Methodology

 An empirical research also clearly outlines the methods adopted in the systematic investigation. Here, the research process is described in detail including the selection criteria for the data sample, qualitative or quantitative research methods plus testing instruments. 

An empirical research is usually divided into 4 parts which are the introduction, methodology, findings, and discussions. The introduction provides a background of the empirical study while the methodology describes the research design, processes, and tools for the systematic investigation. 

The findings refer to the research outcomes and they can be outlined as statistical data or in the form of information obtained through the qualitative observation of research variables. The discussions highlight the significance of the study and its contributions to knowledge. 

Uses of Empirical Research

Without any doubt, empirical research is one of the most useful methods of systematic investigation. It can be used for validating multiple research hypotheses in different fields including Law, Medicine, and Anthropology. 

  • Empirical Research in Law : In Law, empirical research is used to study institutions, rules, procedures, and personnel of the law, with a view to understanding how they operate and what effects they have. It makes use of direct methods rather than secondary sources, and this helps you to arrive at more valid conclusions. 
  • Empirical Research in Medicine : In medicine, empirical research is used to test and validate multiple hypotheses and increase human knowledge. 
  • Empirical Research in Anthropology : In anthropology, empirical research is used as an evidence-based systematic method of inquiry into patterns of human behaviors and cultures. This helps to validate and advance human knowledge. 

The Empirical Research Cycle

The empirical research cycle is a 5-phase cycle that outlines the systematic processes for conducting and empirical research. It was developed by Dutch psychologist, A.D. de Groot in the 1940s and it aligns 5 important stages that can be viewed as deductive approaches to empirical research. 

In the empirical research methodological cycle, all processes are interconnected and none of the processes is more important than the other. This cycle clearly outlines the different phases involved in generating the research hypotheses and testing these hypotheses systematically using the empirical data. 

  • Observation:This is the process of gathering empirical data for the research. At this stage, the researcher gathers relevant empirical data using qualitative or quantitative observation methods, and this goes ahead to inform the research hypotheses. 
  • Induction: At this stage, the researcher makes use of inductive reasoning in order to arrive at a general probable research conclusion based on his or her observation. The researcher generates a general assumption that attempts to explain the empirical data and s/he goes on to observe the empirical data in line with this assumption.  
  • Deduction: This is the deductive reasoning stage. This is where the researcher generates hypotheses by applying logic and rationality to his or her observation. 
  • Testing: Here, the researcher puts the hypotheses to test using qualitative or quantitative research methods. In the testing stage, the researcher combines relevant instruments of systematic investigation with empirical methods in order to arrive at objective results that support or negate the research hypotheses. 
  • Evaluation: The evaluation research is the final stage in an empirical research study. Here, the research outlines the empirical data, the research findings and the supporting arguments plus any challenges encountered during the research process. 

This information is useful for further research. 

Examples of Empirical Research 

  • An empirical research study can be carried out to determine if listening to happy music improves the mood of individuals. The researcher may need to conduct an experiment that involves exposing individuals to happy music to see if this improves their moods.

The findings from such an experiment will provide empirical evidence that confirms or refutes the hypotheses. 

  • An empirical research study can also be carried out to determine the effects of a new drug on specific groups of people. The researcher may expose the research subjects to controlled quantities of the drug and observe research subjects to controlled quantities of the drug and observe the effects over a specific period of time in order to gather empirical data. 
  • Another example of empirical research is measuring the levels of noise pollution found in an urban area to determine the average levels of sound exposure experienced by its inhabitants. Here, the researcher may have to administer questionnaires or carry out a survey in order to gather relevant data based on the experiences of the research subjects. 
  • Empirical research can also be carried out to determine the relationship between seasonal migration and the body mass of flying birds. A researcher may need to observe the birds and carry out necessary observation and experimentation in order to arrive at objective outcomes that answer the research question. 

Empirical Research Data Collection Methods

Empirical data can be gathered using qualitative and quantitative data collection methods. Quantitative data collection methods are used for numerical data gathering while qualitative data collection processes are used to gather empirical data that cannot be quantified, that is, non-numerical data. 

The following are common methods of gathering data in empirical research

  • Survey/ Questionnaire

A survey is a method of data gathering that is typically employed by researchers to gather large sets of data from a specific number of respondents with regards to a research subject. This method of data gathering is often used for quantitative data collection , although it can also be deployed during quantitative research.  

A survey contains a set of questions that can range from close-ended to open-ended questions together with other question types that revolve around the research subject. A survey can be administered physically or with the use of online data-gathering platforms like Formplus. 

Empirical data can also be collected by carrying out an experiment. An experiment is a controlled simulation in which one or more of the research variables is manipulated using a set of interconnected processes in order to confirm or refute the research hypotheses. 

An experiment is a useful method of measuring causality; that is cause and effect between dependent and independent variables in a research environment. It is an integral data gathering method in an empirical research study because it involves testing calculated assumptions in order to arrive at the most valid data and research outcomes. 

T he case study method is another common data gathering method in an empirical research study. It involves sifting through and analyzing relevant cases and real-life experiences about the research subject or research variables in order to discover in-depth information that can serve as empirical data. 

  • Observation

The observational method is a method of qualitative data gathering that requires the researcher to study the behaviors of research variables in their natural environments in order to gather relevant information that can serve as empirical data. 

How to collect Empirical Research Data with Questionnaire

With Formplus, you can create a survey or questionnaire for collecting empirical data from your research subjects. Formplus also offers multiple form sharing options so that you can share your empirical research survey to research subjects via a variety of methods.

Here is a step-by-step guide of how to collect empirical data using Formplus:

Sign in to Formplus

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In the Formplus builder, you can easily create your empirical research survey by dragging and dropping preferred fields into your form. To access the Formplus builder, you will need to create an account on Formplus. 

Once you do this, sign in to your account and click on “Create Form ” to begin. 

Edit Form Title

Click on the field provided to input your form title, for example, “Empirical Research Survey”.

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Edit Form  

  • Click on the edit button to edit the form.
  • Add Fields: Drag and drop preferred form fields into your form in the Formplus builder inputs column. There are several field input options for survey forms in the Formplus builder. 
  • Edit fields
  • Click on “Save”
  • Preview form. 

empirical-research-survey

Customize Form

Formplus allows you to add unique features to your empirical research survey form. You can personalize your survey using various customization options. Here, you can add background images, your organization’s logo, and use other styling options. You can also change the display theme of your form. 

empirical-research-questionnaire

  • Share your Form Link with Respondents

Formplus offers multiple form sharing options which enables you to easily share your empirical research survey form with respondents. You can use the direct social media sharing buttons to share your form link to your organization’s social media pages. 

You can send out your survey form as email invitations to your research subjects too. If you wish, you can share your form’s QR code or embed it on your organization’s website for easy access. 

formplus-form-share

Empirical vs Non-Empirical Research

Empirical and non-empirical research are common methods of systematic investigation employed by researchers. Unlike empirical research that tests hypotheses in order to arrive at valid research outcomes, non-empirical research theorizes the logical assumptions of research variables. 

Definition: Empirical research is a research approach that makes use of evidence-based data while non-empirical research is a research approach that makes use of theoretical data. 

Method: In empirical research, the researcher arrives at valid outcomes by mainly observing research variables, creating a hypothesis and experimenting on research variables to confirm or refute the hypothesis. In non-empirical research, the researcher relies on inductive and deductive reasoning to theorize logical assumptions about the research subjects.

The major difference between the research methodology of empirical and non-empirical research is while the assumptions are tested in empirical research, they are entirely theorized in non-empirical research. 

Data Sample: Empirical research makes use of empirical data while non-empirical research does not make use of empirical data. Empirical data refers to information that is gathered through experience or observation. 

Unlike empirical research, theoretical or non-empirical research does not rely on data gathered through evidence. Rather, it works with logical assumptions and beliefs about the research subject. 

Data Collection Methods : Empirical research makes use of quantitative and qualitative data gathering methods which may include surveys, experiments, and methods of observation. This helps the researcher to gather empirical data, that is, data backed by evidence.  

Non-empirical research, on the other hand, does not make use of qualitative or quantitative methods of data collection . Instead, the researcher gathers relevant data through critical studies, systematic review and meta-analysis. 

Advantages of Empirical Research 

  • Empirical research is flexible. In this type of systematic investigation, the researcher can adjust the research methodology including the data sample size, data gathering methods plus the data analysis methods as necessitated by the research process. 
  • It helps the research to understand how the research outcomes can be influenced by different research environments.
  • Empirical research study helps the researcher to develop relevant analytical and observation skills that can be useful in dynamic research contexts. 
  • This type of research approach allows the researcher to control multiple research variables in order to arrive at the most relevant research outcomes. 
  • Empirical research is widely considered as one of the most authentic and competent research designs. 
  • It improves the internal validity of traditional research using a variety of experiments and research observation methods. 

Disadvantages of Empirical Research 

  • An empirical research study is time-consuming because the researcher needs to gather the empirical data from multiple resources which typically takes a lot of time.
  • It is not a cost-effective research approach. Usually, this method of research incurs a lot of cost because of the monetary demands of the field research. 
  • It may be difficult to gather the needed empirical data sample because of the multiple data gathering methods employed in an empirical research study. 
  • It may be difficult to gain access to some communities and firms during the data gathering process and this can affect the validity of the research.
  • The report from an empirical research study is intensive and can be very lengthy in nature. 

Conclusion 

Empirical research is an important method of systematic investigation because it gives the researcher the opportunity to test the validity of different assumptions, in the form of hypotheses, before arriving at any findings. Hence, it is a more research approach. 

There are different quantitative and qualitative methods of data gathering employed during an empirical research study based on the purpose of the research which include surveys, experiments, and various observatory methods. Surveys are one of the most common methods or empirical data collection and they can be administered online or physically. 

You can use Formplus to create and administer your online empirical research survey. Formplus allows you to create survey forms that you can share with target respondents in order to obtain valuable feedback about your research context, question or subject. 

In the form builder, you can add different fields to your survey form and you can also modify these form fields to suit your research process. Sign up to Formplus to access the form builder and start creating powerful online empirical research survey forms. 

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  • Open access
  • Published: 09 August 2022

A scoping review of frameworks in empirical studies and a review of dissemination frameworks

  • Ana A. Baumann   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-4523-0147 1 ,
  • Cole Hooley 2 ,
  • Emily Kryzer 3 ,
  • Alexandra B. Morshed 4 ,
  • Cassidy A. Gutner 5 , 6 ,
  • Sara Malone 7 ,
  • Callie Walsh-Bailey 7 ,
  • Meagan Pilar 8 ,
  • Brittney Sandler 9 ,
  • Rachel G. Tabak 7 &
  • Stephanie Mazzucca 7  

Implementation Science volume  17 , Article number:  53 ( 2022 ) Cite this article

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The field of dissemination and implementation (D&I) research has grown immensely in recent years. However, the field of dissemination research has not coalesced to the same degree as the field of implementation research. To advance the field of dissemination research, this review aimed to (1) identify the extent to which dissemination frameworks are used in dissemination empirical studies, (2) examine how scholars define dissemination, and (3) identify key constructs from dissemination frameworks.

To achieve aims 1 and 2, we conducted a scoping review of dissemination studies published in D&I science journals. The search strategy included manuscripts published from 1985 to 2020. Articles were included if they were empirical quantitative or mixed methods studies about the dissemination of information to a professional audience. Studies were excluded if they were systematic reviews, commentaries or conceptual papers, scale-up or scale-out studies, qualitative or case studies, or descriptions of programs. To achieve aim 1, we compiled the frameworks identified in the empirical studies. To achieve aim 2, we compiled the definitions from dissemination from frameworks identified in aim 1 and from dissemination frameworks identified in a 2021 review (Tabak RG, Am J Prev Med 43:337-350, 2012). To achieve aim 3, we compile the constructs and their definitions from the frameworks.

Out of 6017 studies, 89 studies were included for full-text extraction. Of these, 45 (51%) used a framework to guide the study. Across the 45 studies, 34 distinct frameworks were identified, out of which 13 (38%) defined dissemination. There is a lack of consensus on the definition of dissemination. Altogether, we identified 48 constructs, divided into 4 categories: process, determinants, strategies, and outcomes. Constructs in the frameworks are not well defined.

Implication for D&I research

This study provides a critical step in the dissemination research literature by offering suggestions on how to define dissemination research and by cataloging and defining dissemination constructs. Strengthening these definitions and distinctions between D&I research could enhance scientific reproducibility and advance the field of dissemination research.

Peer Review reports

Contributions to the literature

The field of dissemination research has not coalesced to the same degree as the field of implementation research. Clearly defining dissemination and identifying dissemination constructs will help enhance dissemination research.

In a review of 34 frameworks, we found a lack of consensus in the definition of dissemination and 48 constructs identified in the frameworks.

We provide a suggested definition of dissemination and a catalog of the constructs to advance the field of dissemination research.

The field of dissemination and implementation (D&I) research has grown extensively in the past years. While scholars from the field of implementation research have made substantial advances, the field of dissemination research has not coalesced to the same degree, limiting the ability to conduct rigorous, reproducible dissemination research. Dissemination research has broadly focused on examining how evidence-based information gets packaged into practices, policies, and programs. This information delivery is often targeted at providers in public health and clinical settings and policymakers to improve public health decision-making. Here, we use provider to refer to a person or group that provides something—in this case, information. The chasm between how evidence-based information is disseminated and how this information is used by providers and policymakers is well-documented [ 1 ] and further evidenced by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic [ 2 , 3 ].

The definition of dissemination research has been modified over the years and is not consistent across various sources. Dissemination research could be advanced by further development of existing conceptual and theoretical work. In a previous review [ 4 ], nine D&I science frameworks were categorized as “dissemination only” frameworks (i.e., the explicit focus of the framework was on the spread of information about evidence-based interventions to a target audience) [ 4 ]. Frameworks are important because they provide a systematic way to develop, plan, manage and evaluate a study [ 5 , 6 ]. The extent to which dissemination scholars are using frameworks to inform their studies, and which frameworks are used, is unclear.

Building on previous compilations of dissemination frameworks [ 7 ], this paper intends to advance the knowledge of dissemination research by examining dissemination frameworks reported in the empirical literature, cataloging the constructs across different frameworks, and providing definitions for these constructs. A scoping review is ideal at this stage of the dissemination research literature because it helps map the existing frameworks from a body of emerging literature and identifies gaps in the field [ 8 ].

Specifically, this study has three aims: (1) to conduct a scoping review of the empirical dissemination literature and identify the dissemination frameworks informing those studies, (2) to examine how scholars define dissemination, and (3) to catalog and define the constructs from the dissemination frameworks identified in aim 1 and the frameworks categorized as dissemination only by Tabak et al. [ 4 ]

The methods section is divided into the three aims of this study. First, we report the methods for our scoping review to identify the frameworks used in empirical dissemination studies. Second, we report on how we identified the definitions of dissemination. Third, we report the methods for abstracting the dissemination constructs from the frameworks identified in the empirical literature (aim 1) and from the frameworks categorized as “dissemination only” by Tabak et al. [ 4 ] Tabak et al. [ 4 ] categorized models “on a continuum from dissemination to implementation” and acknowledge that “these divisions are intended to assist the reader in model selection, rather than to provide actual classifications for models.” For the current review, we selected only those categorized as dissemination-only because we aimed to examine whether there were any distinct components between the dissemination and implementation frameworks by coding the dissemination-only frameworks.

Scoping review of the literature

We conducted a scoping review to identify dissemination frameworks used in the empirical dissemination literature. A scoping review is appropriate as the goal of this work is to map the current state of the literature, not to evaluate evidence or provide specific recommendations as is the case with a systematic review [ 8 ]. We followed the method developed by Arksey and O’Malley [ 9 ] and later modified by Levac and colleagues [ 10 ]. In doing so, we first identified the research questions (i.e., “Which dissemination frameworks are used in the literature?” and “How are the dissemination constructs defined?”), identified relevant studies (see below), and charted the data to present a summary of our results.

We iteratively created a search strategy in Scopus with terms relevant to dissemination. We ran the search in 2017 and again in December 2020, using the following terms: TITLE-ABS-KEY (dissem* OR (knowledge AND trans*) OR diffuse* OR spread*) in the 20 most relevant journals for the D&I science field, identified by Norton et al. [ 11 ] We ran an identical search at a second time point due to several logistical reasons. This review was an unfunded project conducted by faculty and students who experienced numerous significant life transitions during the project period. We anticipated the original search would be out of date by the time of submission for publication, thus wanted to provide the most up-to-date literature feasible given the time needed to complete the review steps. This approach is appropriate for systematic and scoping reviews [ 12 ]

We included studies if they were (a) quantitative or mixed methods empirical studies, (b) if they were about the dissemination of information (e.g., guidelines) to targeted professional audiences, and (c) published since 1985. Articles were excluded if they were (a) systematic reviews, commentaries, or other non-empirical articles; (b) qualitative studies; (c) scale-up studies (i.e., expanding a program into additional delivery settings); (d) case studies or description of programs; and/or (e) dissemination of information to lay consumer audiences or the general public. Some of the exclusion criteria, specifically around distinguishing studies that were dissemination studies from scale-up or health communication studies, were refined as we reviewed the paper abstracts. In the “Definition of dissemination section, we explain our rationale and process to distinguish these types of studies.

The screening procedures were piloted among all coders with a random sample of articles. AB, SaM, CH, CG, EK, and CWB screened titles for inclusion/exclusion independently, then met to ensure a shared understanding of the criteria and to generate consensus. The same coders then reviewed titles based on the above inclusion/exclusion criteria. Any unclear records were retained for abstract review. Consistent with the previously utilized methodology, the abstract review was conducted sequentially to the title review [ 13 , 14 ]. This approach can improve efficiency while maintaining accuracy [ 15 ]. In this round of review, abstracts were single-screened for inclusion/exclusion. Then, 26% of the articles were independently co-screened by pairs of coders; coding pairs met to generate consensus on disagreements.

Articles that passed to full-text review were independently screened by two coders (AB, CH, EK, and CWB). Coders met to reach a consensus and a third reviewer was consulted if the pair could not reach an agreement. From included records, coders extracted bibliometric information about the article (authors, journal, and year of publication) and the name of the framework used in the study (if a framework was used). Coders met regularly to discuss any discrepancies in coding and to generate consensus; final decisions were made by a third reviewer if necessary.

Review of definitions of dissemination

First, we compiled the list of frameworks identified in the empirical studies. Because some frameworks categorized as dissemination-only by the review of frameworks in Tabak et al. [ 4 ] were not present in our sample, we added those to our list of frameworks to review. From the articles describing these frameworks, we extracted dissemination definitions, constructs, and construct definitions. AB, SM, AM, and MP independently abstracted and compared the constructs’ definitions.

Review of dissemination constructs

Once constructs were identified, the frequency of the constructs was counted, and definitions were abstracted. We then organized the constructs into four categories: dissemination processes, determinants, strategies, and outcomes. These categories were organized based on themes by AB and reviewed by all authors. We presented different versions of these categories to groups of stakeholders along our process, including posters at the 2019 and 2021 Conferences on the Science of Dissemination and Implementation in Health, the Washington University Network for Dissemination and Implementation Researchers (WUNDIR), and our network of D&I research peers. During these presentations and among our internal authorship group, we received feedback that the categorization of the constructs was helpful.

We defined the constructs in the dissemination process as constructs that relate to processes, stages, or events by which the dissemination process happens. The dissemination determinants construct encompasses constructs that may facilitate or obstruct the dissemination process (i.e., barriers or facilitators). The dissemination strategies constructs are those that describe the approaches or actions of a dissemination process. Finally, dissemination outcomes are the identified dissemination outcomes in the frameworks (distinct from health service, clinical, or population health outcomes). These categories are subjective and defined by the study team. The tables in Additional file 1 include our suggested labels and definitions for the constructs within these four categories, the definitions as provided by the articles describing the frameworks, and the total frequency of each construct from the frameworks reviewed.

The PRISMA Extension for Scoping Reviews (PRISMA-ScR) flowchart is shown in Fig. 1 . The combined searches yielded 6017 unique articles. Of those, 5622 were excluded during the title and abstract screening. Of the 395 full-text articles, we retained 89 in our final sample.

figure 1

PRISMA chart

Papers were excluded during the full-text review for several reasons. Many papers ( n = 101, 33%) were excluded because they did not meet the coding definitions for dissemination studies. For example, some studies were focused on larger quality improvement initiatives without a clear dissemination component while other studies reported disseminating findings tangentially. Many ( n = 61; 20%) were excluded because they reported a study testing approaches to spread information to the general public or lay audiences instead of to a group of professionals (e.g., disseminating information about HIV perinatal transmission to mothers, not healthcare providers.) Several articles ( n = 55, 18%) were related to the scale up of interventions and not the dissemination of information.

Frameworks identified

Table 1 shows the frameworks used in the included studies. We identified a total of 27 unique frameworks in the empirical studies. Out of the 27 frameworks identified, only three overlapped with the 11 frameworks cataloged as “dissemination only” in Tabak et al. [ 4 ] review. Two frameworks identified in the empirical studies were cataloged by Tabak et al [ 4 ] as “D = I,” one was cataloged as “D > I,” and one as “I only.” Additional file 1 : Table S1 shows all the frameworks, with frameworks 1–11 being “D only” from Tabak et al. [ 4 ], and frameworks 12–34 are the ones identified in our empirical sample. Rogers’ diffusion of innovation [ 16 ] was used most frequently (in 10 studies), followed by the Knowledge to Action Framework (in 4 studies) [ 17 ] and RE-AIM (in 3 studies) [ 18 ]. Dobbins’ Framework for the Dissemination and Utilization of Research for Health-Care Policy and Practice [ 19 ], the Interactive Systems Framework and Network Theory [ 20 ], and Kingdon’s Multiple Streams Framework [ 21 ] were each used by two studies. Thirty studies (33%) did not explicitly describe a dissemination framework that informed their work.

Definition of dissemination

Table 2 shows the definition of dissemination from the frameworks. Out of the 38 frameworks, only 12 (32%) defined dissemination. There is wide variability in the depth of the definitions, with some authors defining dissemination as a process “transferring research to the users,” [ 24 ] and others defining it as both a process and an outcome [ 19 , 23 ]. The definitions of dissemination varied among the 13 frameworks that defined dissemination; however, some shared characteristics were identified. In nine of the 13 frameworks, the definition of dissemination included language about the movement or spread of something, whether an idea, innovation, program, or research finding [ 16 , 23 , 24 , 25 , 26 , 27 , 28 , 31 , 32 ]. Seven of the frameworks described dissemination as active, intentional, or planned by those leading a dissemination effort [ 7 , 16 , 23 , 25 , 26 , 27 , 32 ]. Five frameworks specified some type of outcome as a result of dissemination (e.g., the adoption of an innovation or awareness of research results) [ 7 , 19 , 23 , 27 , 29 , 30 ]. Three of the frameworks’ definitions included the role of influential determinants of dissemination [ 19 , 27 , 29 , 30 ]. Only two frameworks highlighted dissemination as a process [ 23 , 25 ].

Definition of dissemination constructs

Below, we describe the results presented in Tables 3 , 4 , 5 , and 6 with constructs grouped by dissemination process, determinants, strategies, and outcomes. The definitions proposed for the constructs were based on a thematic review of the definitions provided in the articles, which can be found in the Additional file 1 : Tables S2-S5.

Table 3 shows the constructs that relate to the dissemination processes , i.e., the steps or processes through which dissemination happens. Seven constructs were categorized as processes: knowledge inquiry, knowledge synthesis, communication, interaction, persuasion, activation, and research transfer. That is, six frameworks suggest that the dissemination process starts with an inquiry of what type of information is needed to close the knowledge gap. Next, there is a process of gathering and synthesizing the information, including examining the context in which the information will be shared. After the information is identified and gathered, there is a process of communication, interaction with the information, and persuasion where the information is shared with the target users, where the users then engage with the information and activate towards action based on the information received. Finally, there is a process of research transfer, where the information sharing “becomes essentially independent of explicit intentional change activity.” [ 33 ]

Table 4 shows the 17 constructs categorized as dissemination determinants , which are constructs that reflect aspects that may facilitate or hinder the dissemination process. Determinants identified included content of the information, context, interpersonal networks, source of knowledge and audience, the medium of dissemination, opinion leaders, compatibility of the information with the setting, type of information, and capacity of the audience to adopt the innovation. Communication, the salience of communication, and users’ perceived attitudes towards the information were the most frequent constructs ( n = 14 each), followed by context ( n = 13), interpersonal networks ( n = 12), sources of knowledge, and audience ( n = 10 each).

Table 5 shows the nine constructs related to dissemination strategies , which are constructs that describe the approaches or actions to promote or support dissemination. Leeman and colleagues [ 34 ] conceptualize dissemination strategies as strategies that provide synthesis, translation, and support of information. The authors refer to dissemination as two broad strategies: developing materials and distributing materials. We identified several strategies related to the synthesis of information (e.g., identify the knowledge), translation of information (e.g., adapt information to context), and other constructs. Monitoring and evaluation were the most frequent constructs ( n = 10), with identify the quality gap and increase audience’s skills next ( n = 6).

Finally, Table 6 shows the dissemination outcomes , which are constructs related to the effects of the dissemination process. Fifteen constructs were categorized here, including awareness and changes in policy, decision and impact, adoption and cost, emotion reactions, knowledge gained, accountability, maintenance, persuasion, reception, confirmation, and fidelity. Knowledge utilization was the most cited construct across frameworks ( n = 11), followed by awareness and change in policy ( n = 8 each).

The goals of this study were threefold. First, we conducted a scoping review of the empirical literature to catalog the dissemination frameworks informing dissemination studies. Second, we compiled the definition of dissemination, and third, we cataloged and defined the constructs from the dissemination frameworks. During our review process, we found that clearly identifying dissemination studies was more complicated than anticipated. Defining the sample of articles to code for this study was a challenge because of the large variability of studies that use the word “dissemination” in the titles but that are actually scale-up or health communication studies.

The high variability in the definition of dissemination poses a challenge for the field because if we do not clearly define what we are doing, we are unable to set boundaries to distinguish dissemination research from other fields. Among the identified frameworks that defined dissemination, the definitions highlighted that dissemination involved the spread of something, whether knowledge, an innovation, or a program. Distinct from diffusion, several definitions described dissemination as an active process, using intentional strategies. Few definitions described the role of determinants, whether dissemination is a process or a discrete event, and what strategies and outcomes may be pertinent. Future work is needed to unify these distinct conceptualizations into a comprehensive definition that dissemination researchers can use.

While it is clear that dissemination differs from diffusion, as the latter has been considered the passive and “haphazard” spread of information [ 35 ], the distinction between dissemination and scale-up—as shown in the definitions identified in this study—is less clear. Some articles from our search not included in the review conceptualized dissemination as similar to scale-up. To clarify the distinction between dissemination and scale-up in our review, we used the WHO’s definition of scale-up [ 36 ] as “deliberate efforts to increase the impact of successfully tested health innovations to benefit more people and to foster policy and program development on a lasting basis.” In other words, based on these definitions, our team considered scale-up as referencing active efforts to spread evidence-based interventions , whereas diffusion is the passive spread of information. Dissemination, therefore, can be conceptualized as the active and planned spread of information.

Another helpful component in distinguishing dissemination science from other sciences is related to the target audience. Brownson et al. [ 1 ] define dissemination as an “active approach of spreading evidence-based information to the target audience via determined channels using planned strategies” (p. 9). Defining the target audience in the context of dissemination is important because it may help distinguish the field from social marketing. Indeed, several studies we excluded involved sharing information with the public (e.g., increasing the awareness of the importance of sunscreen in public swimming pools). Grier and Bryant define social marketing as a “program-planning process that applies commercial marketing concepts and techniques to promote voluntary behavior change ( … ) by groups of individuals, often referred to as the target audience.” [ 37 ] The target audience in the context of social marketing, the authors explain, is usually considered consumers but can also be policymakers [ 37 ]. To attempt to delineate a distinction between these two fields, dissemination work has traditionally identified professionals (e.g., clinicians, public health practitioners, policymakers) as the target audience of dissemination efforts, whereas the target audience in social marketing is conceptualized as a broader audience. Figure 2 shows how we conceptualize the distinct components of dissemination research from other fields. Based on these distinctions, we propose the following coalesced definition for dissemination research to guide this review: the scientific study of the targeted distribution of information to a specific professional person or group of professionals. Clearly distinguishing dissemination from scale-up as well as health communication will help further advance the dissemination research field.

figure 2

Proposed distinction of definitions between diffusion, scale-up, and dissemination

Our results show that of the empirical papers identified in this review, 51% used a framework to guide their study. This finding mirrors the suboptimal use of frameworks in the field of implementation research [ 38 , 39 ], with scholars recently putting forth guidance on how to select and use frameworks to enhance their use in implementation research studies [ 6 ]. Similarly, we provide a catalog of dissemination frameworks and their constructs identified in dissemination studies. It is necessary to move the dissemination research field forward by embedding frameworks in dissemination-focused studies.

Some empirical papers included in our review used frameworks based on the knowledge translation literature. Knowledge translation, a field most prominent outside the USA, has been defined as “a dynamic and iterative process that includes the synthesis, dissemination, exchange and ethically sound application of knowledge to improve health, provide more effective health services and products, and strengthen the health care system” [ 40 ]. As such, it conceptualizes an interactive relationship between the creation and the application of knowledge. In the USA, however, researchers tend to conceptualize dissemination as a concept discrete from implementation and use the acronym “D&I” to identify these two fields.

While one could state that there is a distinct set of outcomes, methods, and frameworks between dissemination and implementation fields, previous scholars have cataloged [ 4 ] a continuum, from dissemination only” to “implementation only” frameworks. Consistent with this, our findings show that scholars have adapted implementation frameworks to fit dissemination outcomes (e.g., Klesges’ adaptation of RE-AIM [ 41 ]), while other frameworks have both dissemination and implementation components (e.g., integrated Promoting Action on Research Implementation in Health Services [i-PARIHS] [ 42 ]). Additionally, behavioral change frameworks (e.g., theory of planned behavior) were cataloged in our study as they were used in included articles. The use of implementation frameworks in studies identified here as dissemination studies highlights at least three potential hypotheses. One possibility is the use of implementation frameworks in dissemination studies is due to the underdevelopment of the field of dissemination, as shown in the challenges that we found in the conceptual definition of dissemination. We hope that, by clearly outlining a definition of dissemination, scholars can start to empirically examine whether there are distinct components between implementation and dissemination outcomes and processes.

The second hypothesis is that we still do not have enough evidence in the dissemination or implementation fields to be dogmatic about the categorization of frameworks as either “dissemination” or “implementation.” Until we have more robust evidence about what is and what is not dissemination (or other continua along which frameworks may be categorized), we caution against holding too firm to characterizations of frameworks [ 38 , 43 , 44 , 45 ] Frameworks evolve as more empirical evidence is gathered [ 43 , 45 , 46 , 47 , 48 , 49 ], and they are applied in different settings and contexts. We could hypothesize that it is less important, as of now, to categorize a framework as an implementation or dissemination framework and instead clearly explain why a specific framework was selected and how it is applied in the study.

Selection and application of frameworks in dissemination and implementation research is still a challenge, especially considering scholars may often select frameworks in a haphazard way [ 6 , 50 , 51 ]. While scholars have put forward some guidance to select implementation frameworks [ 6 , 52 ], the challenge in the dissemination and implementation research fields is likely not only in the selection of the frameworks but perhaps more so in the misuse or misapplication of frameworks, theories, or models. A survey indicated that there is little consensus on the process that scholars use to select frameworks and that scholars select frameworks based on several criteria, including familiarity with the framework [ 50 ]. As such, Birken et al. [ 52 ] offer other criteria for the selection of frameworks, such as (a) usability (i.e., whether the framework includes relevant constructs and whether the framework provides an explanation of how constructs influence each other), (b) applicability (i.e., how a method, such as an interview, can be used with the framework; whether the framework is generalizable to different contexts), and (c) testability (i.e., whether the framework proposed a testable hypothesis and whether it contributes to an evidence-based or theory development). Moullin et al. [ 6 ] suggest that implementation frameworks should be selected based on their (a) purpose, (b), levels of analysis (e.g., provider, organizational, system), (c) degree of inclusion and depth of analysis or operationalization of implementation concepts, and (d) the framework’s orientation (e.g., setting and type of intervention).

More than one framework can be selected in one study, depending on the research question(s). The application of a framework can support a project in the planning stages (e.g., examining the determinants of a context, engaging with stakeholders), during the project (e.g., making explicit the mechanisms of action, tracking and exploring the process of change), and after the project is completed (e.g., use of the framework to report outcomes, to understand what happened and why) [ 6 , 51 , 53 ]. We believe that similar guidance can and should be applied to dissemination frameworks; further empirical work may be needed to help identify how to select and apply dissemination and/or implementation frameworks in dissemination research. The goal of this review is to support the advancement of the dissemination and implementation sciences by identifying constructs and frameworks that scholars can apply in their dissemination studies. Additional file 1 : Tables S6-S9 show the frequency of constructs per framework, and readers can see the variability in the frequency of constructs per framework to help in their selection of frameworks.

A third hypothesis is that the processes of dissemination and implementation are interrelated, may occur simultaneously, and perhaps support each other in the uptake of evidence-based interventions. For example, Leppin et al. [ 54 ] use the definition of implementation based on the National Institutes of Health: “the adoption and integration of evidence-based health interventions into clinical and community settings for the purposes of improving care delivery and efficiency, patient outcomes, and individual and population health” [ 55 ], and implementation research as the study of this process to develop a knowledge base about how interventions can be embedded in practices. In this sense, implementation aims to examine the “how” to normalize interventions in practices, to enhance uptake of these interventions, guidelines, or policies, whereas dissemination examines how to spread the information about these interventions, policies, and practices, intending to support their adoption (see Fig. 1 ). In other words, using Curran’s [ 56 ] simple terms, implementation is about adopting and maintaining “the thing” whereas dissemination is about intentionally spreading information to enable learning about “the thing.” As Leppin et al. argue, these two sciences [ 54 , 57 , 58 ], while separate, could co-occur in the process of supporting the uptake of evidence-based interventions. Future work may entail empirically understanding the role of these frameworks in dissemination research.

This review aimed to advance a critical step in the dissemination literature by defining and categorizing dissemination constructs. Constructs are subjective, socially constructed concepts [ 59 ], and therefore their definitions may be bounded by factors including, but not limited to, the researchers’ discipline and background, the research context, and time [ 60 ]. This is evident in the constructs’ lack of consistent, clear definitions (see Additional file 1 ). The inconsistency in the definitions of the constructs is problematic because it impairs measurement development and consequently validity and comparability across studies. The lack of clear definitions of the dissemination constructs may be due to the multidisciplinary nature of the D&I research field in general [ 61 , 62 ], which is a value of the field. However, not having consistency in terms and definitions makes it difficult to develop generalizable conclusions and synthesize scientific findings regarding dissemination research.

We identified a total of 48 constructs, which we separated into four categories: dissemination processes, determinants, strategies, and outcomes. By providing these categories, we can hope to help advance the field of dissemination research to ensure rigor and consistency. Process constructs are important to guide the critical steps and structure that scholars may need to take when doing dissemination research. Of note is that the processes identified in this study may not be unique to dissemination research but rather to the research process in general. As the field of dissemination research advances, it will be interesting to examine whether there are unique components in these process stages that are unique to the dissemination field. In addition to the process, an examination of dissemination determinants (i.e., barriers and facilitators) is essential in understanding how contextual factors occurring at different levels (e.g., information recipient, organizational setting, policy environment) influence dissemination efforts and impede or improve dissemination success [ 7 ]. Understanding the essential determinants will help to guide the selection and design of strategies that can support dissemination efforts. Finally, the constructs in the dissemination outcomes will help examine levels and processes to assess.

The categorization of the constructs was not without challenges. For example, persuasion was coded as a strategy (persuading) and as an outcome (persuasion). Likewise, the construct confirmation could be conceptualized as a stage [ 16 ] or as an outcome [ 19 ]. The constructs identified in this review provide an initial taxonomy for understanding and assessing dissemination outcomes, but more research and conceptualization are needed to fully describe dissemination processes, determinants, strategies, and outcomes. Given the recent interest in the dissemination literature [ 22 , 63 ], a future step for the field is examining the precise and coherent definition and operationalization of dissemination constructs, along with the identification or development of measures to assess them.

Limitations

A few limitations to this study should be noted. First, the search was limited to one bibliometric database and from journals publishing D&I in health studies. We limited our search to one database because we aimed to capture articles from Norton et al. [ 11 ], and therefore, our search methodology was focused on journals instead of on databases. Future work learning from other fields, and doing a broader search on other databases could provide different perspectives. Second, we did not include terms such as research utilization, research translation, knowledge exchange, knowledge mobilization, or translation science in our search, limiting the scope and potential generalizability of our search. Translation science has been defined as being a different science than dissemination, however. Leppin et al. [ 54 ], for example, offer the definition of translation science as the science that aims to identify and advance generalizable principles to expedite research translation, or the “process of turning observations into interventions that improve health” (see Fig. 1 ). Translation research, therefore, focuses on the determinants to achieve this end. Accordingly, Wilson et al. [ 7 ] used other terms in their search, including translation, diffusion of innovation, and knowledge mobilization and found different frameworks in their review. In their paper, Wilson and colleagues [ 7 ] provided a different analysis than ours in that they aimed to examine the theoretical underpinning of the frameworks identified by them. Our study is different from theirs in that we offer the definition of disseminating and a compilation of constructs and their definitions. A future study could combine the frameworks identified by our study with the ones identified by Wilson and colleagues and detail the theoretical origins of the frameworks, and the definitions of the constructs to support in the selection of frameworks for dissemination studies. Third, by being stringent in our inclusion criteria, we may have missed important work. Several articles were excluded from our scoping review because they were examining the spread of an evidence-based intervention (scale up) or of the spread of dissemination for the public (health communication). As noted above, however, clearly distinguishing dissemination from scale-up and from health communication will help further advance the dissemination research field and identify its mechanisms of action. Fourth, given the broad literatures in diffusion, dissemination, and social marketing, researchers may disagree with our definitions and how we conceptualized the constructs. Fifth, we did not code qualitative studies because we wanted to have boundaries in this study as it is a scoping study. Future studies could examine the application of frameworks in qualitative work. It is our hope that future research can build from this work to continue to define and test the dissemination constructs.

Conclusions

Based on the review of frameworks and the empirical literature, we defined dissemination research and outlined key constructs in the categories of dissemination process, strategies, determinants, strategies, and outcomes. Our data indicate that the field of dissemination research could be advanced with a more explicit focus on methods and a common understanding of constructs. We hope that our review will help guide the field in providing a narrative taxonomy of dissemination constructs that promote clarity and advance the dissemination research field. We hope that future stages of the dissemination research field can examine specific measures and empirically test the mechanisms of action of the dissemination process.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets used and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Abbreviations

Dissemination and implementation

Integrated Promoting Action on Research Implementation in Health Services

Reach, Effectiveness, Adoption, Implementation, Maintenance

Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the WUNDIR community for their invaluable feedback.

AB is supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blook Institute U24HL154426 and 5U01HL133994, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development R01HD091218, and the National Institute of Mental Health P50MH122351. CWB is funded by NIMHD T37 MD014218. MP is supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (K24AI134413). ABM is supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (1T32HL130357). RGT and SM were supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases P30DK092950 and by the Nutrition Obesity Research Center, P30 DK056341, and Cooperative Agreement number U48DP006395 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. AB, SM, and TB were supported by the National Cancer Institute P50CA244431. AAB, ABM, MP, RGT, and SM were also supported by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences UL1TR002345. The findings and conclusions in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official positions of the National Institutes of Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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AB developed the research question. AB, CH, AM, CAG, SM, and RT designed the study. AB, CH, EK, ABM, CAG, SaM, CWB, MP, RGT, and SM coded the data. BS supported with editing and references. All authors collaborated on writing the manuscript, and all approve the final version of the document.

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Additional file 1: table s1..

Definition of disseminations from frameworks. Table S2. Dissemination Process constructs, their definition, and frequency across frameworks. Table S3. Dissemination determinants constructs, their definition, and frequency across frameworks. Table S4. Dissemination strategy constructs, their definition, and frequency across frameworks. Table S5. Dissemination outcome constructs, their definitions, and frequency across frameworks. Table S6. Frequency of Process Constructs Across Frameworks. Table S7. Frequency of Determinant Constructs Across Frameworks. Table S8. Frequency of Strategy Constructs Across Frameworks. Table S9. Frequency of Determinant Constructs Across Frameworks. Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for Scoping Reviews (PRISMA-ScR) Checklist [ 64 , 65 , 66 , 67 , 68 , 69 , 70 , 71 , 72 , 73 , 74 , 75 , 76 , 77 , 78 , 79 , 80 , 81 , 82 ].

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Baumann, A.A., Hooley, C., Kryzer, E. et al. A scoping review of frameworks in empirical studies and a review of dissemination frameworks. Implementation Sci 17 , 53 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13012-022-01225-4

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An empirical research article is a primary source where the authors reported on experiments or observations that they conducted. Their research includes their observed and measured data that they derived from an actual experiment rather than theory or belief. 

How do you know if you are reading an empirical article? Ask yourself: "What did the authors actually do?" or "How could this study be re-created?"

Key characteristics to look for:

  • Specific research questions  to be answered
  • Definition of the  population, behavior, or phenomena  being studied
  • Description of the  process or methodology  used to study this population or phenomena, including selection criteria, controls, and testing instruments (example: surveys, questionnaires, etc)
  • You can readily describe what the  authors actually did 

Layout of Empirical Articles

Scholarly journals sometimes use a specific layout for empirical articles, called the "IMRaD" format, to communicate empirical research findings. There are four main components:

  • Introduction : aka "literature review". This section summarizes what is known about the topic at the time of the article's publication. It brings the reader up-to-speed on the research and usually includes a theoretical framework 
  • Methodology : aka "research design". This section describes exactly how the study was done. It describes the population, research process, and analytical tools
  • Results : aka "findings". This section describes what was learned in the study. It usually contains statistical data or substantial quotes from research participants
  • Discussion : aka "conclusion" or "implications". This section explains why the study is important, and also describes the limitations of the study. While research results can influence professional practices and future studies, it's important for the researchers to clarify if specific aspects of the study should limit its use. For example, a study using undergraduate students at a small, western, private college can not be extrapolated to include  all  undergraduates. 
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Environmental information disclosure, central environmental protection supervision, and industrial green transformation—empirical evidence from listed companies

  • Published: 11 January 2024
  • Yanbo Zhang 1 ,
  • Yaning Chen   ORCID: orcid.org/0009-0005-4646-9773 1   na1 &
  • Yancheng Ning 1  

Under the increasingly severe resource environment, realizing the green transformation of industry is a pressing issue. This study examines the effects of environmental information disclosure and Central Environmental Protection Supervisions on China's industrial green transformation using data from listed businesses in 30 provinces of China between 2011 and 2018. Through the autocorrelation test of random disturbance term and overidentification test of tool variables, the system GMM method is determined to be used, and the coefficient value is estimated. The findings demonstrate that the release of environmental information considerably fosters China's industrial transition to a green economy, but there are regional differences in the promotion effect. After introducing adjustment variables, the influence of environmental information disclosure can be positively adjusted by the Central Environmental Protection Supervision to support industry green transformation, according to research. Our research yields significant findings for hastening the process of industrial green transformation and the development of ecological civilization. It is also very important for the government to strengthen the coordination and cooperation between policies and the legal framework for environmental information disclosure.

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All authors concurred that for the time being, data would not be shared.

Environmental information disclosure: EID for short; Central Environmental Protection Supervision: CEPS for short; industrial green transformation: GITO for short.

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The National Social Science Fund provided financing for this project—"Research on Establishing a Market-oriented Mechanism for Dual Control of Energy and Water Resources Consumption, Total Amount and Intensity of Construction Land" (Project No.: 15ZDC034).

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Yaning Chen and Yancheng Ning have contributed equally to this work.

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School of Business Administration, Northeastern University, Shenyang, 110167, China

Yanbo Zhang, Yaning Chen & Yancheng Ning

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Yanbo Zhang was responsible for analysis, writing, review, and editing; Yaning Chen was responsible for resources, survey, data management, and analysis; Yancheng Ning was responsible for methods, software, writing, and revision.

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Zhang, Y., Chen, Y. & Ning, Y. Environmental information disclosure, central environmental protection supervision, and industrial green transformation—empirical evidence from listed companies. Environ Dev Sustain (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10668-023-04370-y

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DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/s10668-023-04370-y

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Abstract: Recently, large language models such as ChatGPT have showcased remarkable abilities in solving general tasks, demonstrating the potential for applications in recommender systems. To assess how effectively LLMs can be used in recommendation tasks, our study primarily focuses on employing LLMs as recommender systems through prompting engineering. We propose a general framework for utilizing LLMs in recommendation tasks, focusing on the capabilities of LLMs as recommenders. To conduct our analysis, we formalize the input of LLMs for recommendation into natural language prompts with two key aspects, and explain how our framework can be generalized to various recommendation scenarios. As for the use of LLMs as recommenders, we analyze the impact of public availability, tuning strategies, model architecture, parameter scale, and context length on recommendation results based on the classification of LLMs. As for prompt engineering, we further analyze the impact of four important components of prompts, \ie task descriptions, user interest modeling, candidate items construction and prompting strategies. In each section, we first define and categorize concepts in line with the existing literature. Then, we propose inspiring research questions followed by experiments to systematically analyze the impact of different factors on two public datasets. Finally, we summarize promising directions to shed lights on future research.

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  1. What Is Empirical Research? Definition, Types & Samples in 2024

    B. Origins. It was the ancient Greek medical practitioners who originated the term empirical (empeirikos which means "experienced") when they began to deviate from the long-observed dogmatic principles to start depending on observed phenomena.Later on, empiricism pertained to a theory of knowledge in philosophy, which follows the belief that knowledge comes from evidence and experience ...

  2. Empirical Research: Defining, Identifying, & Finding

    Empirical research methodologies can be described as quantitative, qualitative, or a mix of both (usually called mixed-methods). Ruane (2016) (UofM login required) gets at the basic differences in approach between quantitative and qualitative research:

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    Among scientific researchers, empirical evidence (as distinct from empirical research) refers to objective evidence that appears the same regardless of the observer. For example, a thermometer will not display different temperatures for each individual who observes it.

  4. Empirical Research in the Social Sciences and Education

    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."

  5. What is a framework? Understanding their purpose, value ...

    Frameworks are important research tools across nearly all fields of science. They are critically important for structuring empirical inquiry and theoretical development in the environmental social sciences, governance research and practice, the sustainability sciences and fields of social-ecological systems research in tangent with the associated disciplines of those fields (Binder et al. 2013 ...

  6. Empirical Research

    Strategies for Empirical Research in Writing is a particularly accessible approach to both qualitative and quantitative empirical research methods, helping novices appreciate the value of empirical research in writing while easing their fears about the research process. This comprehensive book covers research methods ranging from traditional ...

  7. What is "Empirical Research"?

    Specific research questions to be answered; Definition of the ... 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 ...

  8. Empirical Research: What is 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."

  9. A scoping review of frameworks in empirical studies and a review of

    Conceptual Framework for Research Knowledge Transfer and Utilization a: 1: ... some shared characteristics were identified. In nine of the 13 frameworks, the definition of dissemination included language about the movement or spread of something, whether an idea, ... Based on the review of frameworks and the empirical literature, we defined ...

  10. What is 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."

  11. Empirical Research: Definition, Methods, Types and Examples

    Empirical research: Definition Empirical research: Origin Types and methodologies of empirical research Steps for conducting empirical research Empirical research methodology cycle Advantages of Empirical research Disadvantages of Empirical research Why is there a need for empirical research?

  12. Conduct empirical research

    Empirical research is research that is based on observation and measurement of phenomena, as directly experienced by the researcher. The data thus gathered may be compared against a theory or hypothesis, but the results are still based on real life experience.

  13. Conceptual frameworks and empirical approaches used to assess the

    Conceptual frameworks and empirical approaches used to assess the impact of health research: an overview of reviews - PMC Journal List Health Res Policy Syst v.9; 2011 PMC3141787 As a library, NLM provides access to scientific literature.

  14. Empirical Research: Defining, Identifying, & Finding

    Once you know the characteristics of empirical research, the next question is how to find those characteristics when reading a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal article.Knowing the basic structure of an article will help you identify those characteristics quickly. The IMRaD Layout. Many scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles, especially empirical articles, are structured according to the ...

  15. Empirical Research

    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 ...

  16. PSYCH 301: Basic Research Methods in Psychology

    Specific research questions to be answered; Definition of the ... 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 ...

  17. Defining Empirical Research— Types, Methods, and Examples

    Empirical research is a research methodology that uses experiences and verifiable evidence to reach conclusions. Derived from the Greek word ' empeirikos ,' which means experience, empirical research is based on believing only what can be seen, experienced, or verified. This makes empirical research stand out as scientific and trustworthy.

  18. LibGuides: Empirical Research: What is 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."

  19. The empirical framework

    The empirical framework Authors: Donald Kenkel Koji Miyamoto Request full-text To read the full-text of this research, you can request a copy directly from the authors. Citations (1) Abstract...

  20. Literature Reviews, Theoretical Frameworks, and Conceptual Frameworks

    For instance, a quick search for theoretical or conceptual frameworks in the abstracts of articles in Educational Research Complete (a common database for educational research) in STEM fields demonstrates a dramatic change over the last 20 years: from only 778 articles published between 2000 and 2010 to 5703 articles published between 2010 and ...

  21. What is Empirical Research Study? [Examples & Method]

    Empirical research is a type of research methodology that makes use of verifiable evidence in order to arrive at research outcomes. In other words, this type of research relies solely on evidence obtained through observation or scientific data collection methods.

  22. A scoping review of frameworks in empirical studies and a review of

    The field of dissemination and implementation (D&I) research has grown immensely in recent years. However, the field of dissemination research has not coalesced to the same degree as the field of implementation research. To advance the field of dissemination research, this review aimed to (1) identify the extent to which dissemination frameworks are used in dissemination empirical studies, (2 ...

  23. Empirical Research in the Social Sciences and Education

    An empirical research article is a primary source where the authors reported on experiments or observations that they conducted. Their research includes their observed and measured data that they derived from an actual experiment rather than theory or belief. How do you know if you are reading an empirical article?

  24. An Effective Alternative, Policy Experimentation, and the Multiple

    Within the study of public policy, Kingdon (1995) has presented the theory with the greatest development and impact for the analysis of policy incorporation in the public agenda process—the Multiple Streams Framework (MSF). Kingdon identifies five structural elements: problems, politics, policies stream independently, policy entrepreneurs, and policy windows (Kingdon, 1984).

  25. Environmental information disclosure, central environmental protection

    Under the increasingly severe resource environment, realizing the green transformation of industry is a pressing issue. This study examines the effects of environmental information disclosure and Central Environmental Protection Supervisions on China's industrial green transformation using data from listed businesses in 30 provinces of China between 2011 and 2018. Through the autocorrelation ...

  26. Prompting Large Language Models for Recommender Systems: A

    Recently, large language models such as ChatGPT have showcased remarkable abilities in solving general tasks, demonstrating the potential for applications in recommender systems. To assess how effectively LLMs can be used in recommendation tasks, our study primarily focuses on employing LLMs as recommender systems through prompting engineering. We propose a general framework for utilizing LLMs ...