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How to... conduct empirical research

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What is it?

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. The data gathered is all primary data, although secondary data from a literature review may form the theoretical background.

Typically, empirical research embodies the following elements:

  • A research question, which will determine research objectives.

  • A particular and planned design for the research, which will depend on the question and which will find ways of answering it with appropriate use of resources.

  • The gathering of primary data, which is then analysed.

  • A particular methodology for collecting and analysing the data, such as an experiment or survey.

  • The limitation of the data to a particular group, area or time scale, known as a sample: for example, a specific number of employees of a particular company type, or all users of a library over a given time scale. The sample should be somehow representative of a wider population.

  • The ability to recreate the study and test the results. This is known as reliability.

  • The ability to generalize from the findings to a larger sample and to other situations.