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PSY210H5 Introduction to Developmental Psychology

This guide helps students find empirical articles for their assignments.

Definition: Empirical Study

Primary sources in science have to:

  • Document original research work: first disclosure.
  • Include enough information for peers to understand and reproduce the work: institution of peer review.
  • Be easy to find: Indexed in a science journal article database like Web of Science, PsycINFO and Scopus: screening by secondary services.

Most of the time, we consider peer-reviewed scholarly journal articles to be the model primary sources in science.

Peer-reviewed journal articles reporting original research are empirical studies. They are organized in a way that reflects the research process:

  • introduction: statement of the purpose of the paper, and historical background for the research;
  • method: description of how the research work was carried out;
  • results: what was observed, and how it was analyzed;
  • discussion: what are the significance and the interpretation of the findings.

Take a look at this interactive guide to scholarly peer-reviewed articles. It shows all the elements common to empirical studies.

Please refer to page 10 of the Publication Manual of the APA (2010) for more details on empirical studies and other types of publications in psychology. We have print copies of the Manual in the library at the reference desk (call number BF76.7 .P83 2010). No completely electronic copies of the 6th edition are available.



American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Day, RA, and Gastel, B. (2006). How to write and publish a scientific paper. 6th ed. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press.

Find Empirical Studies in PsycINFO

A good starting point is the specialized psychology journal article database called PsycINFO. PsycINFO lets you search all the key research journals in psychology at the same time.

  •  Scroll down and find the Methodology search limit. Select "Empirical Study":

  • Now, scroll up again and use the Thesaurus (first link on the right-hand side beside Advance Search) to help you get started.  Here is a sample Thesaurus search on the term "attachment":

  • Click on the info page to learn more about any of the terms PsycINFO has suggested.  If you like the term, you can include it in your search by clicking on the box beside it.  You will get all the articles on that concept in the database:

  • When you are ready to search, select the scholarly and peer-reviewed boxes:

search limits

  • Once you have selected the limits, click on Search. Make sure to look at the abstracts of the articles you find.  Often the type of study conducted is mentioned clearly in the abstract, and it will always be listed below the abstract under the Methodology.
  • Don't forget to go back to the definition of the empirical study: If the articles you find don't have the four sections characteristic of original quantitaitve research, they won't meet the needs of the assignment.

Peer Review in 3 Minutes

Is the Journal Peer-Reviewed?

Ulrich's Periodical Directory lets you see whether a journal in which you found your article is scholarly and peer-reviewed. 

Search for the title of the journal in Ulrich's

screen cap of ulrich's search

If the journal is peer-reviewed, you will see a REFEREE'S T-shirt image beside the title:

screen cap of refereed journal symbol