Empirical Research

are synonymous terms. These terms refer to research studies in which investigators base knowledge claims on empirical evidence.

Empirical Research is information that is gleaned from experience, observation or experimentation. There are two forms of empirical evidence:

  • Quantitative Data (spoken and written language) and
  • Qualitative Data (numbers, mathematical equations).

Empirical Research may also be referred to as Primary Research, Scientific Research, or Field Research

Empirical Research is conducted when the answers to our research questions are not readily available from informal research or secondary research. Empiricists (aka Empirical Researchers) conduct investigations

  • to create new knowledge (Basic Research)
  • to solve a problem in our work context (Applied Research).
  • to conduct replication studies–i.e., repeat a study with the same methods but different subjects and experimenters.

Empirical Research derives from Empiricism, a philosophy that assumes knowledge is grounded in what you can see, hear, or experience. Empiricism values empirical evidence over “claims of authority, intuition, imaginative conjecture, and abstract, theoretical, or systematic reasoning as sources of reliable belief” (Duignan, Fumerton, Quinton, Quinton 2020).

Depending on how it uses data, a research project is sometimes called a Qualitative Study or Quantitative Study. Alternatively, studies may be described as using Qualitative Methods or Quantitative Methods. Studies that draw equally on Qualitative Methods or Quantitative Methods are called Mixed Methods.

Synonyms: Original Research, Field Research


Empirical Research is an especially powerful method we use to solve problems and develop applications in work, academic, and personal contexts.

Informally, as humans, we engage routinely in the intellectual strategies that inform empirical research:

  • we talk with others and listen to their stories to better understand their perceptions and experiences,
  • we make observations,
  • we survey friends, peers, coworkers
  • we cross cultures and learn about difference, and
  • we make predictions about future events based on our experiences and observations.

These same intellectual strategies we use to reason from our observations and experiences also undergird empirical research methods. For example,

  • a psychologist might develop a case study based on interviews
  • an anthropologist or sociologist might engage in participant observation to write an ethnographic study
  • a political science researcher might survey voter trends
  • a stock trader may project a stock bounce based on a 30-day moving average.

The main difference between informal and formal empirical research is intentionality: Formal Empirical Research presupposes a Research Plan, which is sometimes referred to as as Research Protocol. When researchers want their results to be taken seriously they have to employ the research methods a methodological community has for vetting knowledge claims.

Different academic communities (e.g., Natural Sciences, Social Science, Humanities, Arts) have unique ideas about how to conduct primary research. Professionals in the workplace — e.g., geologists, anthropologists, biologists — use entirely different tools to gather and interpret data. Being credentialed in a particular discipline or profession is tied to mastery of unique methodological practices.

Across disciplines, however, Empiricists share a number of operating assumptions: Empiricists

  • develop a research plan prior to engaging in research.
  • seek approval from Ethics Committees when human subjects or animal testing is involved
  • explain how subjects/research participants are chosen and given opportunities to opt in and opt out of studies.

Empiricists are meticulous about how they collect data because their research must be verifiable if they want other empiricists to take their work seriously. In other words, their research plan needs to be so explicit that subsequent researchers can conduct the same study.

Empirical Research is a Rhetorical Practice

Empiricists develop their hypothesis/ research question and their research methods by considering their audience and purpose. Prior to initiating a study, researchers conduct secondary research–especially Searching as Strategic Exploration–to identify the current knowledge about a topic. As a consequence of their deep understanding of pertinent scholarly conversations on the topic, empiricists identify gaps in knowledge.

Works Cited

Duignan, Brian; Richard Fumerton, Anthony M. Quinton, and Baron Quinton (2020). “Empiricism.” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/empiricism