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Psychology Research Guide

A guide to research resources in psychology.

Identifying & Finding Empirical Studies

Peer-reviewed Empirical Articles (video, 3.01 min.)
This APA video defines empirical articles found in peer-reviewed journals. A transcript is available on YouTube.

How to find empirical articles in the PsycINFO database:
1) Access the PsycINFO database.
2) In the default Advanced Search page, look for the Methodology filter, and select Empirical Study from the menu options.
3) In the search box, type your keywords, or use subject headings. Run the search.

How to find empirical articles in the PsycNET databases:
1) Access the PscyNET databases.
2) Type your keywords, or use subject headings. Then, run your search.

3) In the Results page, look for the Methodology filter, and select Empirical Study.

Broad Study Types



· Generate numerical data or data that can be converted into numbers. 

· Can sort out

· Can be an empirical article when its methodology describes original research (i.e., not a review article)











Terms for Searching/Search Strategies:


Examples of quantitative studies:

Case report - report on a single patient;
Case series - report on a series of patients (no control group);
Case control study - identifies patients with a particular outcome (cases) and control patients without the outcome. Looks back and explores exposures and possible links to outcome. Very useful in causation research;
Cohort study - identifies two groups (cohorts) of patients one which received the exposure of interest, and one which did not. Follows these cohorts forward for the outcome of interest. Very useful in causation as well as prognosis research. (Bandolier 2004)
Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) - a clinical trial in which participants are randomly allocated to a test treatment and a control; involves concurrent enrollment and follow-up of both groups; gold standard in testing the efficacy of an intervention (therapy/prevention); RCTs are 
experimental literature ("primary literature in which the experimenter controls exposures that the subjects have")
Systematic Review - identifies and critically appraises all research on a specific topic, and combines valid studies; increasingly important in evidence based medicine; different from review article (which is a summary of more than one paper on a specific topic, and which may or may not be comprehensive)
• Meta-Analysis - a systematic review that uses quantitative methods to summarize the results.
(Bandolier 2004; NCBI 2010)
Cross-sectional survey - the observation of a defined population at a single point in time or time interval. Exposure and outcome are determined simultaneously. Gold standard in diagnosis and screening research;
Decision analysis - uses the results of primary studies to generate probability trees to be used in making choices about clinical management or resource allocation;
Economic analysis - uses the results of primary studies to say whether a particular course of action is a good use of resources. (Bandolier 2004; Greenhalgh 2001)


· Generate
non-numerical data (text/classes fields).

Can sort out WHY and HOW

· Explore and understand people's beliefs, experiences, attitudes, behavior and interactions.

· Can be an empirical article when its methodology describes original research (i.e., not a review article)


(qualitative OR ethnograph* OR phenomenolog* OR "grounded studies" OR "case studies" OR "narrative studies" OR "focus groups")

Examples of qualitative studies:
• Document - study of documentary accounts of events, such as meetings;
• Passive observation - systematic watching of behavior and talk in natural occurring settings;
• Participant observation - observation in which the researcher also occupies a role or part in the setting, in addition to observing;
• In depth interview - face to face conversation with the purpose of exploring issues or topics in detail. Does not use preset questions, but is shaped by a defined set of topics;
• Focus group - method of group interview which explicitly includes and uses the group interaction to generate data. (Greenhalgh 2002). 
Adapted from:

Gehlbach, S. H. (2002). Interpreting the medical literature. McGraw-Hill.

"Scholarly Sources" Umbrella & Variation of Article Types

Finding if a Journal is Peer-reviewed

One definitive way to determine if a journal is peer-reviewed is when this is acknowledged in the journal itself. For example, frequently include instruction for authors will use the phrase "peer reviewed."  Others will say that manuscripts are sent for blind review, reviewed by a committee, or anonymously reviewed.  Therefore, it is worthwhile to visit the journal publisher's official website and review the journal's review process and journal description/scope.

There are other ways to identify a peer-reviewed journal.  Below are some tools to help us identify whether a journal is peer-reviewed:

1) Ulrich's Periodicals Directory includes information about whether the journal is peer-reviewed (or refereed).  The print (paper) edition of Ulrich's is found in the Bierce Library. 

2) Research Databases:  Some databases allow users to limit a search to peer-reviewed journals.  For example, CINAHL allows users to limit a search to peer-reviewed journals and indicates that an article is peer reviewed in the Journal Subset field, when appropriate.  Note: Scholarly articles is the umbrella term for academic articles. All peer-reviewed articles are scholarly/academic journals but not all scholarly/academic journals are peer-reviewed.  Authors of peer-reviewed articles go to a more rigorous process of evaluation than when writing in non-peer reviewed journals.