Empirical research

Empirical research

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Empirical research is a way of gaining knowledge by means of direct and indirect observation
Observation
Observation is either an activity of a living being, such as a human, consisting of receiving knowledge of the outside world through the senses, or the recording of data using scientific instruments. The term may also refer to any data collected during this activity...

 or experience. Empirical evidence (the record of one's direct observations or experiences) can be analyzed quantitatively or qualitatively. Through quantifying the evidence or making sense of it in qualitative form, a researcher can answer empirical questions, which should be clearly defined and answerable with the evidence collected (usually called data). Research design varies by field and by the question being investigated. Many researchers combine qualitative and quantitative forms of analysis to better answer questions which cannot be studied in laboratory settings, particularly in the social sciences and in education.

In some fields, quantitative research may begin with a research question (e.g., "Does listening to vocal music during learning a word list have an effect on later memory for these words?") which is tested through experimentation in a lab. Usually, a researcher has a certain theory
Theory
The English word theory was derived from a technical term in Ancient Greek philosophy. The word theoria, , meant "a looking at, viewing, beholding", and referring to contemplation or speculation, as opposed to action...

 regarding the topic under investigation. Based on this theory some statements, or hypotheses, will be proposed (e.g., "Listening to vocal music has a negative effect on learning a word list."). From these hypotheses predictions about specific events are derived (e.g., "People who study a word list while listening to vocal music will remember fewer words on a later memory test than people who study a word list in silence."). These predictions can then be tested with a suitable experiment
Experiment
An experiment is a methodical procedure carried out with the goal of verifying, falsifying, or establishing the validity of a hypothesis. Experiments vary greatly in their goal and scale, but always rely on repeatable procedure and logical analysis of the results...

. Depending on the outcomes of the experiment, the theory on which the hypotheses and predictions were based will be supported or not.

Terminology


The term empirical
Empirical
The word empirical denotes information gained by means of observation or experimentation. Empirical data are data produced by an experiment or observation....

 was originally used to refer to certain ancient Greek practitioners of medicine who rejected adherence to the dogmatic doctrines of the day, preferring instead to rely on the observation of phenomena as perceived in experience. Later empiricism referred to a theory of knowledge
Knowledge
Knowledge is a familiarity with someone or something unknown, which can include information, facts, descriptions, or skills acquired through experience or education. It can refer to the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject...

 in philosophy which adheres to the principle that knowledge arises from experience and evidence gathered specifically using the senses. In scientific use the term empirical refers to the gathering of data using only evidence that is observable by the senses or in some cases using calibrated scientific instruments. What early philosophers described as empiricist and empirical research have in common is the dependence on observable data to formulate and test theories and come to conclusions.

Usage


The researchers attempts to describe accurately the interaction between the instrument (or the human senses) and the entity being observed. If instrumentation is involved, the researcher is expected to calibrate his/her instrument by applying it to known standard objects and documenting the results before applying it to unknown objects. In other words, it describes the research that has not been taken place before and their results.

In practice, the accumulation of evidence for or against any particular theory involves planned research design
Research design
Research designs are concerned with turning the research question into a testing project. The best design depends on your research questions. Every design has its positive and negative sides...

s for the collection of empirical data, and academic rigor plays a large part of judging the merits of research design. Several typographies
Typography
Typography is the art and technique of arranging type in order to make language visible. The arrangement of type involves the selection of typefaces, point size, line length, leading , adjusting the spaces between groups of letters and adjusting the space between pairs of letters...

 for such designs have been suggested, one of the most popular of which comes from Campbell and Stanley (1963). They are responsible for popularizing the widely cited distinction among pre-experimental, experimental, and quasi-experimental
Quasi-experimental design
The design of a quasi-experiment relates to a particular type of experiment or other study in which one has little or no control over the allocation of the treatments or other factors being studied. The key difference in this empirical approach is the lack of random assignment...

 designs and are staunch advocates of the central role of randomized experiments in educational research
Educational research
Educational research refers to a variety of methods, in which individuals evaluate different aspects of education including but not limited to: “student learning, teaching methods, teacher training, and classroom dynamics”....

.

Scientific research


Accurate analysis of data using standardized statistical methods in scientific
Science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

 studies is critical to determining the validity of empirical research. Statistical
Statistics
Statistics is the study of the collection, organization, analysis, and interpretation of data. It deals with all aspects of this, including the planning of data collection in terms of the design of surveys and experiments....

 formulas such as regression, uncertainty coefficient
Uncertainty coefficient
In statistics, the uncertainty coefficient, also called entropy coefficient or Theil's U, is a measure of nominal association. It was first introduced by Henri Theil and is based on the concept of information entropy. Suppose we have samples of two random variables, i and j...

, t-test, chi square, and various types of ANOVA (analyses of variance) are fundamental to forming logical, valid conclusions. If empirical data reach significance under the appropriate statistical formula, the research hypothesis is supported. If not, the null hypothesis is supported (or, more correctly, not rejected), meaning no effect of the independent variable(s) was observed on the dependent variable(s).

It is important to understand that the outcome of empirical research using statistical hypothesis testing is never proof. It can only support a hypothesis, reject it, or do neither. These methods yield only probabilities.

Among scientific researchers, empirical evidence (as distinct from empirical research) refers to objective evidence that appears the same regardless of the observer. For example, a thermometer will not display different temperatures for each individual who observes it. Temperature, as measured by an accurate, well calibrated thermometer, is empirical evidence. By contrast, non-empirical evidence is subjective, depending on the observer. Following the previous example, observer A might truthfully report that a room is warm, while observer B might truthfully report that the same room is cool, though both observe the same reading on the thermometer. The use of empirical evidence negates this effect of personal (i.e., subjective) experience.

Ideally, empirical research yields empirical evidence, which can then be analyzed for statistical significance or reported in its raw form.

Empirical cycle



A.D. de Groot
Adriaan de Groot
Adrianus Dingeman de Groot was a Dutch chess master and psychologist, who conducted some of the most famous chess experiments of all time in the 1940s-60...

's empirical cycle:

Observation: The collecting and organisation of empirical facts; Forming hypothesis
Hypothesis
A hypothesis is a proposed explanation for a phenomenon. The term derives from the Greek, ὑποτιθέναι – hypotithenai meaning "to put under" or "to suppose". For a hypothesis to be put forward as a scientific hypothesis, the scientific method requires that one can test it...

.

Induction: Formulating hypothesis.

Deduction: Deducting consequenses of hypothesis as testable predictions.

Testing: Testing the hypothesis with new empirical material.

Evaluation: Evaluating the outcome of testing.

See also

  • Case study research
  • Empirical
    Empirical
    The word empirical denotes information gained by means of observation or experimentation. Empirical data are data produced by an experiment or observation....

  • Fact
    Fact
    A fact is something that has really occurred or is actually the case. The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability, that is whether it can be shown to correspond to experience. Standard reference works are often used to check facts...

  • Qualitative research
    Qualitative research
    Qualitative research is a method of inquiry employed in many different academic disciplines, traditionally in the social sciences, but also in market research and further contexts. Qualitative researchers aim to gather an in-depth understanding of human behavior and the reasons that govern such...

  • Quantitative research
    Quantitative research
    In the social sciences, quantitative research refers to the systematic empirical investigation of social phenomena via statistical, mathematical or computational techniques. The objective of quantitative research is to develop and employ mathematical models, theories and/or hypotheses pertaining to...

  • Scientific method
    Scientific method
    Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of...


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