Bibliographic vs. Empirical Research (Reading vs. Lab Work)

What is Academic Inquiry?

There are two basic types discussed in this section:

  1. Bibliographic Research

  2. Empirical Research, either observational or experimental

Every master's thesis should include at least the first.

A majority will also include some aspects of the second.  

Bibliographic Research

Bibliographic research, for the purposes of the ALM, is the background reading. This is the literature-based reading and thinking essential to the development and elaboration of your research question and hypothesis.

Why is bibliographic research important?

This background preparation allows you to formulate and test your hypothesis. One of your chief tasks is to get a thorough knowledge of the literature relevant to your research problem.

You need to master existing knowledge in your field before you can extend that knowledge through your research.

Does bibliographic research apply to all disciplines?

Yes. A responsible exploration of a research topic means that you must understand others’ investigations as they appear in the relevant literature.

In the humanities and social sciences especially, much of the literature you will review will consist of secondary sources - books written about a particular subject that are a distillation of the author’s research.

  • In the biological and behavioral sciences it is expected that you will be reading almost entirely primary sources

Any other helpful hints?

  1. In using any literature, pay particular attention to how recently it has been published and how valid and reliable it is, and in some cases to the scholarly reputation of the author or publisher

  2. Be familiar with the most recent publications in your field

  3. Reach out to the reference librarians in Widener Library. They can give you information about relevant databases and help you to perform literature searches. It is important for you to learn how to use HOLLIS, the University Libraries’ online catalog, as well as the journal indexing and abstracting resources, the various encyclopedias, dictionaries and bibliographies in your field of interest

Empirical Research

  • Empirical research is how you will extend, challenge or verify a hypothesis by obtaining original data through direct observation and/or experimentation
  • In the biological and behavioral sciences, direct observation means that the researcher directly observes behavior or phenomena (associated with chemicals, organisms, cells, humans, etc.)
    • Direct observation includes naturalistic, correlational, experimental, and quasi-experimental designs
    • It refers to the type of data to be collected rather than a specific research design
  • Its parallel in the humanities and social sciences is working with primary sources—living subjects, original documents, fine artworks, drama, etc.