Empirical method

What is the empirical method?

The empirical method is a research model that aims to obtain knowledge from the observation of reality. Therefore, it is based on experience.

In this model, the observation of reality is the starting point for formulating hypotheses, which must be tested through experimentation.

All research based on the empirical method is characterized by the following elements:

  • Object of study: sensible reality, that is, that which can be observed, measured, quantified or verified.
  • Source of knowledge: direct experience.
  • Starting point: formulation of a hypothesis.
  • Proof: based on refutation or confirmation of the hypothesis.
  • Utility: direct and concrete application on reality.

These aspects differentiate the empirical method from the methods of the formal sciences and the humanities, based on abstraction and logical reasoning.

The sciences that use the empirical method are the so-called factual sciences. Among them are the natural sciences (such as chemistry, physics or biology) and the social sciences (such as economics, anthropology or sociology, among others).

Steps of the empirical method

Depending on the objective of the investigation, there may be different steps to apply the empirical method. However, the basic and elementary steps are as follows.

Observation: First, the researcher will define the object to analyze and the size of the sample. Once this is done, the researcher will observe the behavior of the object of study in its usual conditions and will make a record of it.

Formulation of the hypothesis. After observation, the researcher will formulate a hypothesis. A hypothesis is an assumption of the various ways in which the object of study is related to some aspect of interest.

Verification of the hypothesis. The hypothesis will be tested, which means applying various techniques to confirm or refute it, including experimentation. In this way, it can be verified if the assumption of the hypothesis is fulfilled.

Formulation of a law or rule. The verification of the hypothesis must give rise to a law or a constant rule that is fulfilled in all cases similar to those analyzed.

Theory construction. The theory corresponds to the process of generalization of the rule or law obtained during the investigation, capable of being applied to similar cases. The theory building process may involve creating new theories or correcting pre-existing theories from the new information available.

Types of empirical method

By virtue of the above, we can affirm that there are three types of empirical method: observation, experimentation and measurement.

  • Observation. It consists of the direct observation of the object of study in its natural or habitual conditions, in order to record its behavior, describe it and analyze it. A classic model of observation is field work.
  • Experimentation. It consists of the creation, adaptation or intervention of a scenario to observe the behavior of the object of study under conditions controlled by the researcher. A concrete form of this methodology is scientific experiments.
  • Measurement. It consists of obtaining numerical information on the properties of the object of study, taking into account quantifiable quantities. Measurement is based on statistics. Therefore, they frequently go to instruments such as surveys, data tabulation, etc.

These methods are not excluded, but can complement each other according to the needs of the research.

Examples of empirical method

Topic: Yanomami culture.
Objective: To know the ways of life of the Yanomami ethnic group in their real environment.
Empirical method: The researcher (anthropologist) must move to a Yanomami town in the Venezuelan Amazon to do field work. They must observe and record the daily life of the ethnic group in different aspects: social organization, customs, traditions, clothing, etc.

Topic: Hydration of plants.
Objective: To understand how plants absorb water through xylem.
Empirical method: The researcher must carry out an experiment, which may consist of introducing freshly cut flowers into a glass, previously loaded with water colored with plant pigments. By letting it sit for a while, the flowers will change color and the streaks that lead the liquid will be visible. In this way, the researcher will be able to observe and record the hydration mechanism of the plants.

Topic: Sugar consumption.
Objective: To know the level of sugar consumption in the population of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Empirical method: The researcher will carry out surveys in a representative sample of inhabitants of Tegucigalpa, Honduras. To do this, it will take into account the different age groups and compare the data obtained with the indices considered healthy by the World Health Organization and local authorities.