Skip to Main Content

Psychology: Self-help and Workshop Topics


What is empirical research?

Empirical research is knowledge based on observation, measured phenomena, or experimentation rather than theory. This type of research is usually published in scholarly or peer-reviewed articles by individuals who conduct their own research.

How do you know if an article is empirical?

Look for:

  • An abstract or introduction that states a specific research question.
  • A Method, Results, and Discussion section within the article explaining how the study was conducted and the results of that study.
    • Are the methods based on observation, surveys, experiments, etc?
    • Are there graphs or charts that explain the study results?
    • Is there detail that would allow you to recreate the study?

Watch out for:

  • Literature reviews, case studies, etc., that speak to results but do not specify how a study was conducted.
  • Articles that offer analysis or commentary about the research that others conducted.

Finding empirical articles

  • Some databases will let you limit or filter results. For example, in PsycINFO, you can limit to empirical research under Methodology in the "Advanced Search" section. 
  • Try adding keywords such as empirical research, quantitative method, qualitative method, survey, or another type of empirical research method. Also, look for the words "evidence-based practice."

Ways to Evaluate Resources you Find

  • Evaluating criteria (asking critical questions)
  • Deciding what kind of information you need and what information the resource can provide
  • Checking for peer review
  • Impact of the journal.

Ask Critical Questions
  • Currency: When was the information published or posted? Has the information been revised or updated? Does your topic require current information, or will older sources also work?
  • Relevance: Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question? Who is the intended audience? Have you looked at various sources before determining which one you will use? Would you be comfortable citing this source in your research paper?
  • Authority: Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor? What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations? Is the author qualified to write on the topic? Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address? 
  • Accuracy: Where does the information come from? Does evidence support the information? Has the information been reviewed or refereed? Can you verify the information from another source or personal knowledge? Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion? Are there spelling, grammar, or typographical errors?
  • Purpose. What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade? Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear? Does the point of view appear objective and impartial? Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?

What Information Does Your Source Provide?

Each of your sources must help you address/answer your research question in some way. Consider if a source provides data you can analyze, arguments you can engage with, or background information to contextualize your topic. 

  • Data: Provide examples you can analyze.
  • Argument: Provide an argument you can engage with. Does it allow you to affirm, dispute, refine, or extend your own argument?
  • Background: Provide general information or facts that give context to your topic.

Ways to Tell if It's Peer Reviewed
  • Use a database
    • Databases have tools that help you narrow results to scholarly and or peer-reviewed
  • Google the source/publication title
    • If you Google the source/publication title and go to their webpage, look for Journal Information or About This Journal,, which will tell you if it is scholarly and/or peer-reviewed.
  • Check a directory - Ulrich's Periodicals Directory 
    • Ulrich's is a database that has information on every published journal. To check a publication title, search for its title and look for the referee icon that signifieses it is refereed, AKA peer-reviewed.

Consider Journal Impact

Impact Factors are used to measure the importance of a journal by calculating the number of times selected articles have been cited within the last few years. The higher the impact factor, the more highly ranked the journal. It is one tool you can use to compare journals in a subject category.

Journal Citation Reports

NOTE: Impact Factors are useful but should not be the only consideration when judging quality. Not all journals are tracked in the JCR database and, as a result, do not have impact factors. New journals must wait until they have a record of citations before even being considered for inclusion. The scientific worth of an individual article has nothing to do with the impact factor of a journal.

What is an Annotated Bibliography?

A list of citations to sources that contain the citation and a short summary and analysis after each referenced source. The purpose is to inform the reader about a source's content, quality, and relevancy. There are different types of annotations: descriptive, informative, and critical. Be sure to follow the guidelines articulated by your instructor. 

There are three parts to an annotation.

  1. APA citation
  2. Summary of the source
  3. Analysis of the source.

Parts of an annotation

Annotation Writing Tips

Step 1: Format the APA citation.Summary Consider: who, when, where, what, why, how

Step 2: Write the Summary

  • Read the article once through, then type/write out in your own words what you understand from what you read.

  • Go through the article and pinpoint pieces of information from the chart - who, when, where, why, how, what

  • Look at samples, if needed, for ideas on how to put it all together

Step 3: Write the Analysis and include:

  • Evaluate this article's value for your research. How does it address your topic?
  • Why is the article useful?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses?

What is a literature review?

A literature review provides an overview of the scholarly writings published on a topic by scholars and researchers.  Specifically, a literature review:

  • Focuses on a particular question, area of research, theory or issue.
  • Provides an overview of the existing literature on a topic and reflects a critical analysis of this research. 
  • Demonstrates that you've read extensively in your field, have a thorough understanding of that field, and are capable of intelligently critiquing others' work.

The literature review forms the justification for your research. It is the platform upon which you will build your argument, place your research in context, and demonstrate how your research improves the discipline.


Department of Psychology Writing a Literature Review

UCSC Library Write a Literature Review