Lesson 2: Empirical studies

Quantitative and qualitative approaches are employed to collect data across a variety of study types, including empirical studies.  Empirical studies are the collection and analysis of primary data based on direct observation or experiences in the ‘field’. There are a variety of study types that can be employed when conducting an empirical study, including:

Descriptive or observational studies, that…

  1. Provides data on what is going on
  2. Emphasises features of a new condition/phenomenon, or
  3. Describes the current status of existing condition/phenomenon
  4. Can highlight associations between variables, but cannot establish causality
  5. Can suggest hypotheses which can be tested in analytical studies
  6. Examples: case report, case series, cross-sectional study (prevalence study)

Empirical studies that describe what is happening based on direct observation, focus group discussions, and in-depth interviews are defined as qualitative studies.  These include case reports and research studies with a limited population that is not aiming to establish statistical associations between variables.  Qualitative empirical studies can provide rich, deep contextual data to help us understand a phenomenon, but cannot be generalized to establish prevalence or incidence of a phenomenon; nor can they be generalized to highlight statistical associations between variables.

Empirical studies that aim to highlight statistical associations between variables or to establish the prevalence or incidence of a phenomenon should utilize quantitative methods like cross sectional surveys with an appropriately large sample size.  This kind of survey can describe the who, what, and where of a phenomenon (and are thus descriptive) but cannot answer the why question.  In order to answer the question of why (causation,) an analytical or experimental study is needed.

Other types of empirical studies are explanatory, analytical and experimental studies. Learn more about these kind of studies in the following.

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