Understanding Empirical Research

A Deep Dive into Understanding Empirical Research

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Ancient Greece was an era that produced some of the greatest philosophers with unique perspectives that stemmed from equally unique beliefs. Among them were some that adhered to the dogmatic doctrines popular and commonly held at that time.

Empirical Data Hero

Then there were those who rejected them and instead favored evidence collected by observation of phenomenon through senses.


These were called empiricists. Their belief in this theory of knowledge was what gave birth to the concept of empiricism in scientific research. It evolved into the term empirical, which referred to data collection using evidence obtained through observation using the senses or with calibrated scientific instruments. 


What is empirical research?


Based on this, empirical research is a type of investigation where the researcher infers a conclusion by testing empirical evidence. It provides a more concrete conclusion to an inquiry as it uses real-world evidence.

This approach to research is important for marketers to understand as it simplifies decision-making. For example, let’s consider a company that wants to investigate whether their web designers are more productive working from home; as a part of new remote work policies.


To test this with empirical research, they will conduct an experiment where they make two groups, sending one to work from home while the other remains in-house for a certain period. The evidence observed from this experiment will help them determine whether switching to remote work is the right decision.


Using this method of investigation, the researcher can get more in-depth data. In the example stated above, the company can assess productivity levels, individual employee performance, software effectiveness, work efficiency, etc.


Compared to empirical data, the results of a survey that simply asked for employee preference for remote work will not be as productive. The latter won’t provide verifiable evidence that is required to make a decision that impacts the productivity of the entire organization.


Components of empirical research


There are a few elements that all empirical studies contain:

  • The research question, which can be obtained from previous experience, literature, or other similar studies – basically the objective of your study;
  • Research design based on the research question;
  • Research methodology, which refers to the method for data collection and analysis;
  • Data collection, which is primary in most studies
  • The sample, which should be representative of a larger population;
  • Reliability, which means the results can be recreated later;


Empirical research components



Empirical research methodology for data collection


There are essentially two methodologies the researchers use, quantitative research and qualitative research.  The research methodology the researcher chooses depends on the research question and the field in which the results will be utilized.



Qualitative Empirical Research


This qualitative research methodology is collected non-numerical data and provides more detailed insights into the sample’s opinions underlying reasons regarding the hypothesis being tested.


This method is conversational and can be structures or unstructured. Researchers opt for this methodology when they want to observe the subjects’ behavior. The data gathered is more descriptive than predictive.



Some of the common methods for collecting qualitative data include:



This is when the researcher collects empirical evidence by observing the sample over a particular period. For example, a marketer can observe how their chosen sample responds to a new type of grocery store layout.



Case Studies

Instead of collecting primary data, the researcher obtains evidence from existing cases that match the parameters and variables of the research design in question. For example, a tea company researching a blue ocean strategy may collect empirical data from existing cases where other tea companies applied this strategy.




This method is pretty self-explanatory. By asking the right questions, the researcher can obtain empirical data from people who have observed or experienced the phenomenon related to the study.



Focus Groups

A moderator guides discussion between a sampled group of people to find their opinions on the research topic. Like interviews, the online focus group questions are specific and consider the variables of the research.



Quantitative Empirical Research


This method of data collection is used when the researcher wants to obtain numerical data. The quantitative method in empirical research quantifies opinions, much like any other research. Different ways of collecting quantitative data include:



Surveys or Questionnaires

Usually deployed to a larger sample size compared to qualitative empirical research, surveys include a set of predetermined questions based on research variables and the phenomenon being studied. This method is the most commonly used (via online surveys using a market research panel or customer list) as it provides a larger amount of data.


Behavioral Data / Passive Metering

Typically permission-based, it is possible to match panelist’s online and mobile transactional behavior with survey attitude and intention responses. It is possible to track: search, shopping, purchase, ad views, media consumption, and social media activity while correlating many of these transactions.



This is where empirical research truly shines. This is used when the researcher tests their hypothesis by setting up an experiment and manipulates the variables to observe how the phenomenon changes with each alteration.


For example, let’s consider the marketing department of a confectionary company is trying to find why their new product failed. They may set up an experiment by changing different aspects of the product, e.g., the flavor, the appearance, the packaging, and the price. This will help them figure out the cause of the failure.


Other methods of collective quantitative empirical data include causal-comparative, cross-sectional, longitudinal, and correlational research.



Approach to Analysis of Empirical Research


When you have to bring a theoretical perspective in your empirical research, you can take the inductive approach or a deductive approach.


The Inductive approach is interpretive, where you form a theory after collecting empirical evidence. It generally uses qualitative research methods and looks into how people perceive a certain phenomenon.


On the other hand, the Deductive approach is when the researcher establishes a hypothesis and develops a theoretical position before testing it against the data. Unlike the inductive approach, the deductive approach is positivist and uses quantitative methods in a highly-structured methodology.


Research team analyzing empirical research data



Why Use Empirical Research


When it comes to market research, empirical research provides certain advantages over-simplistic survey analyses. It is one of the most commonly used research methods because:

  1. It provides data and results that can be used to confirm existing theories and authenticate traditional research through experiments and observation;
  2. It enables the research to observe dynamic changes in the phenomenon being observed;
  3. It allows the researcher to have more control over the variables involved in the study;
  4. It increases internal validity.


While these advantages are why empirical research is a preferred market research approach, some cons may prevent some marketers from using it.

  • Empirical research is relatively more time consuming as experiments and observations for collecting primary data involve multiple variables and parameters;
  • Based on the research question, the researcher may need to collect data from samples placed in different locations or environments – it can get expensive.


The importance of empirical research since is Ancient Greek beginnings has only grown. This is because human decisions rely on evidence. Marketers and decision-makers are more likely to lean on the side that can be proven and validated.


If an approach is scientifically proven to work, it is a more plausible alternative to a conclusion based solely on assumptions without investigation.




Jim Whaley

Jim Whaley



Jim Whaley is a business leader, market research expert, and writer. He posts frequently on The Standard Ovation and other industry blogs.

OvationMR is a global provider of first-party data for those seeking solutions that require information for informed business decisions.

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