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Empirical Research: Defining, Identifying, & Finding

What is empirical research, how do you recognize it, and how can you improve your searches to find it?


The Methods Section

The Methods section exists to explain to the reader how the researchers collected and analyzed their data. The authors need to convince the reader that the methods used can provide an answer to the research question and that the reader can trust the results. 

What Criteria to Look For

Since the "Methods" section describes how the research is being conducted, it is probably the most important section for identifying empirical research. It is where you are likely to find many criteria, including the

  • Design,
  • Methodology, and
  • Sample.

The Methods section is also connected to how to recreate the study. By providing sufficient information about their design, methodology, and sample, the authors of the research let other researchers know what they would need to do to recreate it. Additionally, the authors may also discuss how the methodology affects how much you can generalize from their results. 

Finding the Criteria

When looking for the sample, look for where the authors discuss who was included in the research and why the authors wanted that group. Design and methodology tend to mix together. Look for where the researchers discuss how they identified the sample, how they performed the research, and how they analyzed their results. 

What the Section Might Be Called

The Methods section has a few common heading labels: 

  • Methods
  • Methodology
  • Procedure
  • Design

You might see "research" or "study" added to any of the above headings. The section may also be broken down into headings or subheadings for specific aspects of the methods, such as "participants," "sample," "measures," or "data analysis."  


  • Lamont et al. (2018)
    • Has a single "Methods" heading for the section which starts on page 1004.
    • The first paragraph of the section discusses the sample of "24 LGBTQ students attending a public university in the southeastern United States" with a detailed breakdown of the demographics of that sample, which is then also conveyed in Table 1 on page 1005. 
    • The first paragraph also introduces broadly that the methodology will be interviews, and then in the second paragraph, which stretches from page 1004 to page 1005, the authors further explain methodology and design decisions including how participants were recruited, how the interviews were conducted, what types of questions were asked, how the data was collected, and how the authors analyzed that data. 
    • The last paragraph of the section, spanning the end of page 1005 and beginning of page 1006, begins to discuss how readers might be able to generalize the results based on limitations in the sample. 
  • Diemer et al. (2019)
    • Section labeled "Method" and begins on page 540.
    • Has subheadings: Sample (page 540), Measures (page 541), and Data Analysis (page 541).
    • "Sample" subheading covers the sample while "Measures" and "Data Analysis" cover methodology and design. 
  • Sosoo et al. (2019)
    • Section labeled "Method" and begins on page 573.
    • Has subheadings: Participants, Procedure, and Measures.
    • "Participants" subheading covers sample while "Procedure" and "Measures" cover methodology and design.