Empirical Research Research Paper Starter

Empirical Research

(Research Starters)

Calfee and Chambliss (2003) define empirical research as "the systematic approach for answering certain types of questions" (p. 152). Empirical research design encompasses a full range of systematic approaches to gathering evidence, resulting from what may be both theoretical and practical questions. Researchers who use empirical research methods have a pragmatic need for investigating a question. Methods are not as clearly defined as in quantitative or qualitative research, as the researcher determines the method based on the questions that need investigating. However, there is a process of activities that are inherent within empirical research. Empirical researchers identify and conceptualize the problem they wish to explore; compose a research question; survey the project to determine how effective their results might be; construct their research plans; select the subjects to be used to answer the research question; collect and analyze data; and interpret and present their findings (Calfee & Chambliss, 2003; Bausell, 1986).

Keywords Confounding; Empirical Data; Empirical Research; Factorial Design; Literature Review; Qualitative Research; Quantitative Research; Random Sample; Research Method; Scientifically Based Research; Validity

Overview

Calfee and Chambliss (2003) define empirical research as "the systematic approach for answering certain types of questions" (p. 152). Empirical research is:

… a collection of evidence under carefully defined replicable conditions, whereby social science researchers seek to discover the influence of factors that affect human thought and action, and to understand when and why these influences occur (p. 152).

This type of research creates and validates theories about how people think and act, as researchers look for answers to practical questions.

The ideas behind empirical research are based upon epistemology. Popper (1963) states that science is involved in explaining why things in nature are the way they are. New knowledge is generated from this pursuit of truth. In order to find answers to questions, scientists pursue empirical research and embark on a process of investigation that leads to an accurate picture of the facts. Dyer (1995) states that from its development in the seventeenth century to today, "the doctrine of empiricism provided a solution to this problem by specifying clearly how a researcher should set about the process of acquiring knowledge" (p. 9). Researchers who delve in empirical research are "able to develop powerful explanations for a wide range of natural phenomena" (p. 10).

Principles of Scientific Knowledge

There are basic principles of empiricism that guide the nature of the pursuit of scientific knowledge. Dyer (1995) states that these principles include that:

• The understanding of natural phenomena can only be constructed from information which has been obtained directly through the senses, that research proceeds by careful observation of the object of inquiry.

• The truth of an idea is able to be measured when the situation described is able to be observed by any competent person, to the exclusion of all bias.

• Observable processes can be objectively verified (p. 10).

Empirical research design encompasses a full range of systematic approaches to gathering evidence, resulting from what may be both theoretical and practical questions (Calfee & Chambliss, 2003). Researchers who use empirical research methods have a pragmatic need for investigating a question. Methods are not as clearly defined as in quantitative or qualitative research, as the researcher determines the method based on the questions that need investigating. However, there is a process of activities that are inherent within empirical research. Empirical researchers identify and conceptualize the problem they wish to explore; compose a research question; survey the project to determine how effective their results might be; construct their research plans; select the subjects to be used to answer the research question; collect and analyze data; and interpret and present their findings (Calfee & Chambliss, 2003; Bausell, 1986).

Major factors for constructing a research project include determining a research question and providing a context for the study. Calfee and Chambliss (2003) state that identifying a problem to research, one that can be conceptualized, is the most important aspect in empirical research. Sugarman (2004) states that "good empirical research is contingent in part upon knowing what questions are worth asking and how to investigate and measure them" (p. 228). Empirical researchers must formulate a question that can be answered, one that can be answered through objective evidence. Value judgments are not a part of empirical research. Calfee and Chambliss (2003) provide a question that a researcher should ask himself or herself:

Assuming that I collect evidence of one sort or another, and obtain a particular set of results, to what degree can I make a convincing argument when I interpret the findings in relation to the original questions? (p. 154).

Defining the Question

Questions can be developed through many channels. The researcher, in the review of previous literature in the area of inquiry, can envision perceived gap or shortcomings of other studies and can base the question on furthering knowledge. Testing existing theory or formulating a new theory is based on what Bausell (1986) calls "a desire or a need either to know if an existing program or practice works or to solve a pressing clinical problem" (p. 12).

While researchers may define their question, they have to be prepared to shift or change elements of the question if they find that their question is faulty and cannot be effectively answered. Research questions can be converted into a working hypothesis, one that defines the study's purpose and "forces the researcher to come to grips with exactly what is being tested" (Bausell, 1986, p. 14). However, once a working question has been defined, then researchers need to use their professional knowledge to determine what prior knowledge they have about the topic that might be helpful in their exploration of the question (Calfee & Chambliss, 2003).

After determining prior knowledge of the subject, researchers do extensive research to determine what studies have been written previously about the topic. They write a literature review that explores the topic and related topics (Krathwohl, 1997; Slavin, 1986; Calfee & Chambliss, 2003). Bausell (1986) has developed commonsense guidelines that can make the researching and writing of a literature review more manageable. He suggests that researchers:

• Search for published literature reviews offered by many journals;

• Employ all the relevant abstracting and citation services available;

• Use computerized retrieval systems;

• Concentrate on retrieving information from major journals;

• Ask for help from reference librarians and those who have published articles;

• Read the key studies in the area;

• Use the reference lists of published studies as sources of additional references; and,

• Record and categorize researched materials systematically (Bausell, 1986, pp. 10-11).

Collecting Data

Part of the research process is the collection of empirical data. Calfee and Chambliss (2003) state that empirical data is inherently qualitative in nature. As with all qualitative studies, empirical researchers triangulate their data, considering different ways to collect data throughout the study. Quantitative research is also empirical in nature, as this form of research relies on evidence. Those using empirical research can rely on both quantitative and qualitative data to inform their study. They may "quantify their observations by using statistical methods to summarize information and conducting inferential analysis" or qualify information to allow the researcher "to delve into underlying processes and explore complex hypotheses" (p. 155).

Calfee and Chambliss (2003) state that "the practical significance of a study depends on the quality of the research rather than the character of the setting" (p. 155). Research settings can be set in...

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