Empirical Research: Advantages, Drawbacks and Differences with Non-Empirical Research

Based on the purpose and available resources, researchers conduct empirical or non-empirical research. Researchers employ both of these methods in various fields using qualitative, quantitative, or secondary data. Let's look at the characteristics of empirical research and see how it is different from non-empirical research.

The empirical study is evidence-based research. That is to say, it uses evidence, experiment, or observation to test the hypotheses. It is a systematic collection and analysis of data. Empirical research allows researchers to find new and thorough insights into the issue.  Mariam-Webster dictionary defines the word "empirical" as:

               "originating in or based on observation or experience"

               "relying on experience or observation alone often without due regard for system and theory"

               "capable of being verified or disproved by observation or experiment"

Unlike non-empirical research, it does not just rely on theories but also tries to find the reasoning behind those theories in order to prove them. Non-empirical research is based on theories and logic, and researchers don't attempt to test them.  Although empirical research mostly depends on primary data, secondary data can also be beneficial for the theory side of the research.  The empirical research process includes the following:

  • Defining the issue
  • Theory generation and research questions
  • If available, studying existing theories about the issue
  • Choosing appropriate data collection methods such as experiment or observation
  • Data gathering
  • Data coding, analysis, and evaluation
  • Data Interpretation and result
  • Reporting and publishing  the findings

Benefits of empirical research

  • Empirical research aims to find the meaning behind a particular phenomenon. In other words, it seeks answers to how and why something works the way it is.
  • By identifying the reasons why something happens, it is possible to replicate or prevent similar events.
  • The flexibility of the research allows the researchers to change certain aspects of the research and adjust them to new goals. 
  • It is more reliable because it represents a real-life experience and not just theories.
  • Data collected through empirical research may be less biased because the researcher is there during the collection process. In contrast, it is sometimes impossible to verify the accuracy of data in non-empirical research.

Drawbacks of empirical research

  • It can be time-consuming depending on the research subject.
  • It is not a cost-effective way of data collection in most cases because of the possible expensive methods of data gathering. Moreover, it may require traveling between multiple locations.
  • Lack of evidence and research subjects may not yield the desired result. A small sample size prevents generalization because it may not be enough to represent the target audience.
  • It isn't easy to get information on sensitive topics, and also, researchers may need participants' consent to use the data.

In most scientific fields, acting based solely on theories (or logic) is not enough. Empirical research makes it possible to measure the reliability of the theory before applying it. Researchers sometimes alternate between the two forms of research, as non-empirical research provides them with important information about the phenomenon, while empirical research helps them use that information to test the theory.