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A Library Subject Guide

Experimental (Empirical) Research Articles

How Can I Find Experimental (Empirical) Articles?

Many of the recommended databases in this research guide contain scholarly experimental articles (also known as empirical articles or research studies or primary research). Search in databases like: 

Because those databases are rich in scholarly experimental articles, any well-structured search that you enter will retrieve experimental/empirical articles. These searches, for example, will retrieve many experimental/empirical articles:

  • caffeine AND "reaction time"
  • aging AND ("cognitive function" OR "cognitive ability")
  • "child development" AND play

Experimental (Empirical) Articles: How Will I Know One When I See One?

Scholarly Experimental Articles 
To conduct and publish an experiment, an author or team of authors designs an experiment, gathers data, then analyzes the data and discusses the results of the experiment. A published experiment or research study will therefore look very different from other types of articles (newspaper stories, magazine articles, essays, etc.) found in our library databases.

In fact, newspapers, magazines, and websites written by journalists report on psychology research all the time, summarizing published experiments in non-technical language for the general public. Although that kind of article can be interesting to read (and can even lead you to look up the original experiment published by the researchers themselves), to write a research paper about a psychology topic, you should, generally, use experimental articles written by researchers.The following guidelines will help you recognize an experimental article, written by the researchers themselves and published in a scholarly journal.

Structure of a Experimental Article
Typically, an experimental article has the following sections:

  • Abstract
    • The author summarizes her article
  • Introduction
    • The author discusses the general background of her research topic; often, she will present a literature review, that is, summarize what other experts have written on this particular research topic
  • Methods
    • The author describes the experiment she designed and conducted
  • Results
    • The author presents the data she gathered during her experiment
  • Discussion
    • The author offers ideas about the importance and implications of her research findings, and speculates on future directions that similar research might take
  • Literature Cited
    • The author gives a References list of sources she used in her paper

Look for articles structured in that way--they will be experimental/empirical articles. ​

Also, experimental/empirical articles are written in very formal, technical language (even the titles of the articles sound complicated!) and will usually contain numerical data presented in tables. 

Because experimental/empirical articles are written in technical language by researchers for other experts like themselves, the articles can be very hard to understand. However, if you carefully review the introduction, results, and discussion sections, you will usually be able to understand and use one or two main ideas that the author is trying to get across, like why their experiment is important, and what results they discovered. 

As noted above, when you search in a database like APA PsycInfo, it's really easy to find experimental/empirical articles, once you know what you're looking for. Just in case, though, here is a shortcut that might help:

First, do your keyword search, for example:

search menu in APA PsycInfo

In the results screen, on the left-hand side, scroll down until you see "Methodology." You can use that menu to refine your search by limiting the articles to empirical studies only:

Methodology menu in APA PsycInfo

You can learn learn more about searching in APA PsycInfo, including advanced search limiters like methodology, age group, etc., from this APA guide