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Empirical research ~ guidelines for bachelor thesis & master thesis

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Empirical research means gaining scientific experience. Accordingly, “empirical research” is the scientific method which, through systematic collection, evaluation and interpretation of data, gains knowledge and allows statements to be made about reality.

In this article you will find out how you can implement empiricism in your bachelor's or master's thesis and what stumbling blocks there are.

Definition: empirical research

“Empiricism” comes from the ancient Greek term “empeiria” and means “experience”, “many years of practice”, “skill” or “knowledge” (cf. Tervooren 2014: 55).

Empirical research means the systematic collection, evaluation and interpretation of data and findings with the help of scientific methods, which then allow statements about reality. Empirical research differs from other scientific methods in that empirical statements can be checked against reality (cf. Hug; Poscheschnik 2015: 22ff.).

frequently asked Questions

In contrast to literature research, empirical research is much more practice-oriented. Because in empirical research, data is collected independently, for example through a survey or Expert interviews. With this type of research, your results will not only come from existing literature.

The word empirical comes from the Greek and means "knowledge" or "experience". In this type of research, data for your bachelor thesis is collected, evaluated and interpreted. This is why many students find it a lot easier to do empirical research because it is a little more practice-oriented.

TIP: Since you often use questionnaires for empirical work, you will find out how to do one with us Create questionnaire.

There are numerous empirical options qualitative research to operate. Examples of this are expert interviews or group interviews. However, quantitative work is also a type of empirical research, including online surveys or experiments.

A study is empirical if your research is reliable and valid. This means that the research would come to the same result even if it were repeated. In addition, it must be ensured that the research result for your bachelor thesis answered the research question. These are principles that must be met in empirical research.

Tasks & goals

For a successful empirical bachelor thesis or an empirical master's thesis is not enough to simply describe everyday experiences. Good empirical research includes checking scientific theories in the context of empirical research.

Empirical research or empirical social research therefore serves to make statements about reality that are as accurate as possible and also to critically examine scientific results for the bachelor thesis and master thesis.

The goals of empirical research for bachelor thesis and master thesis can be in the process of describing or explaining a scientific problem, giving a prognosis or describing a change. Two central tasks of empirical research are the development of new theories (hypothesis development) and the review of existing theories (hypothesis testing) (cf. Beller 2016: 11ff.).

Why do you need knowledge of empirical research? (cf. Diekmann 2016: 47ff.)

  • First of all, for scientific writing in general and for understanding the way of thinking and the systematics of scientific work.
  • Knowledge of empirical research will help you assess and evaluate the results of empirical research.
  • For writing empirical bachelor theses, empirical master theses or other research work, such as seminar papers, term papers or dissertations.

When is research an empirical research? (cf. Hug; Poscheschnik 2015: 15ff.)

It is then about empirical research or empirical social research, ...

  • ... if your research takes place simulated in a laboratory or in the field (= research area). The systematic approach distinguishes empirical research from everyday experience.
  • ... when data is collected systematically and in a way that is understandable for other scientists.
  • ... if your research has been done repeatably and objectively.

It is essential to note:The prerequisite for empirical research and empirical social research and thus also for empirical research methods are three quality criteria, i.e. standards:

  • objectivity (= Verifiability: Do the research results apply regardless of the researcher?) (Cf. Diekmann 2016: 249f.)
  • Reliability (= Reliability: Do the research results also apply if the research is repeated?) (Cf. Diekmann 2016: 250ff.)
  • validity (= Validity: Has research been carried out on what is to be researched? Do the research results answer the research question?) (Cf. Diekmann 2016: 256ff.)

Methods of Emperie

The findings of empirical research can basically be obtained through two different types of measurement and evaluation of empirical social research:

1. Quantitative research

2. Qualitative research

Quantitative research methods should be used to collect as much data as possible. The qualitative research methods, on the other hand, aim to collect data that is as accurate as possible.

While the questions in quantitative research are standardized and a large amount of data can therefore be processed quickly, the questions in qualitative research tend to go in-depth, which means that new knowledge can be gained (cf. Schirmer 2009: 66ff.).

This means that it depends entirely on the direction of your bachelor thesis or master thesis What matters is which method for empirical research or empirical social research is the right one for you.

Methods overview

Methods of empirical social researchQuantitative research method Qualitative research method
Description of the empirical research methodsObservation,
(physiological) measurements,
Counts,
experiment
Qualitative survey: e.g. guided interview, focused interview, narrative interview, problem-centered interview,
qualitative content analysis,
Group discussion
ActionInductive approach / testing of hypotheses Deductive approach / hypothesis development
requirementLarge sample required Small number of subjects is sufficient
Investigation orderexperimentalNot experimental

In addition, a distinction is made between the following four different investigation methods in empirical research. These types of research differ in the aim and procedure of empirical research (cf. Schirmer 2009).

Four types of research in empirical research

Types of investigation of empirical researchStarting situation / goalAction
exploratory studyno specific guesshypothesizing
descriptive investigationEstimation of frequencieshypothesis testing
Examination of hypotheses and theoriesReduction of uncertaintieshypothesis testing
Evaluation researchDetermination of the degree of effectiveness of certain measureshypothesis testing

Tip: Before you start empirical research for your bachelor thesis or master thesis, it is best to think about What and Why you research and how you want to do the empirical research. Think about whether you want to use your empirical research to propose new theories (qualitative research) or want to check existing theory (quantitative research).

If you want to gather more in-depth knowledge, a qualitative survey is useful. However, if you want to compare many results with each other, a quantitative survey is better suited for your bachelor thesis or master thesis (cf. Baur; Fromm 2008: 14).

Examples & tips

The ideal-typical course of empirical research or empirical social research in an empirical bachelor thesis or empirical master thesis consists of five steps (see Beller 2016):

Step 1 of empirical research: Formulating and specifying the research question (see Beller 2016: 9ff.)

At the beginning of empirical research for your bachelor thesis or master's thesis, the focus is on the question:

What and why should be researched empirically?

A good research question usually develops

- the scientific literature

- an idea

- a practical problem

- or by a client

- a research question is either descriptive (value-neutral / descriptive) or a hypothesis (assumption) (see Beller 2016: 9ff.)

Example of the formulation of a descriptive hypothesis

Example topic: Pressure to perform in school à descriptive hypothesis: There is so much pressure to perform at school that the pupil does not have enough time for leisure activities.

Example for the formulation of a difference hypothesis

Question: Do students learn better with graphics and tables or with texts? à Difference hypothesis: Pupils learn better with the help of graphics and tables than with texts.

Example for the formulation of a hypothesis of association

Question: How is the educational level of the parents related to the reading performance of pupils? à Correlation hypothesis: the higher the level of education of the parents, the better pupils can read.

Step 2 of empirical research: planning and preparing the data collection for empirical research - finding participants (cf. Diekmann 2016: 186ff.)

In the second step of the empirical research, the focus is on the question:

How should empirical research be carried out?

Important: To prepare for empirical research and also empirical social research, all relevant terms must be defined and operationalized (measurable). (cf. Diekmann 2016: 239)

Example for the operationalization of a term "pressure to perform":

- Measure school requirements as precisely as possible

- Measure leisure behavior and leisure time desires

The next step is to determine the type and method of investigation for empirical research. A distinction is made e.g. B. between longitudinal or cross-sectional studies, individual or collective studies, trend, panel or cohort studies.

Then the type and size of the sample for empirical research or empirical social research is determined: Who should be questioned / observed / what and how much should be measured?

In any case, you should Pretest to conduct empirical research. With the pretest you check your survey instrument for empirical research (e.g. the questionnaire, interview guide or an observation scheme).

In the pretest, problems of the survey instrument emerge, such as an inconclusive, ambiguous or ambiguous question or an illogical order of the question. After the pretest you have the opportunity to avoid these problems in actual empirical research or empirical social research.

In order for you to end up with a satisfactory survey instrument, two or more pretests are often necessary (cf. Diekmann 2016: 195ff.).

Attention: The people you have selected for your pretest can no longer be available to carry out your survey. However, it is essential to select people who match your sample (i.e. have the same characteristics) (cf. Diekmann 2016: 195ff.).

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Step 3 of empirical research: data collection - create interview guidelines or surveys (cf. Kaya 2007: 49ff.)

- To make empirical research possible, data is needed.

- For data collection, the focus is on the following question:

What should be researched for?

A distinction is made between the collection of primary and secondary data. While primary data have to be collected again, secondary data have already been obtained in another collection and are therefore already available.

You can read in our article how to create, conduct and evaluate a guided interview.

It is essential to note: Which procedure should be chosen for your bachelor thesis or master thesis depends on the Research question and the goal of empirical research.

For data collection, you therefore choose a method of empirical social research: Depending on the research question, you lead e.g. B. a survey, an observation or a measurement (cf. Kaya 2007: 49ff.). But don't choose your empirical research method based on your preferences alone! Creating questionnaires, for example, is not always the appropriate method for empirical social research.

Step 4 of empirical research: data evaluation and data analysis (see Schirmer 2009: 137ff.)

After data that can be analyzed, so-called raw data, has been collected and the data has also been checked for possible errors, the data analysis takes place.

Data analysis is a crucial step in empirical research or empirical social research. Since the amount of data is often very large, it makes sense to use suitable software for assistance (e.g. SPSS for evaluating the questionnaire, AmberScript for the Audio transcription or MAXQDA to evaluate interviews) (see Beller 2016: 69).

However, before the software can be used, the raw data must be prepared for statistical data analysis, i.e. tabulated or categorized. Either indicators or scale values ​​can be created for this, an item analysis or a correlation analysis can be carried out.

The choice of the appropriate procedure depends on the concern and goal of the research question as well as on the choice of data collection for empirical research or empirical social research

Note:The ones for yours bachelor thesis or master's thesis must be evaluated and analyzed in such a way that several researchers, experts or even laypeople and the respondents themselves can understand the results and explain them as applicable (see Schirmer 2009: 137ff.).

Step 5 of empirical research: visualization of the results (e.g. creating diagrams) and reporting (see Beller 2016: 176ff.)

In an empirical bachelor thesis, empirical master thesis or other research work, the presentation of the results of the empirical research must not be missing.

It is often useful to visualize the results with the help of tables or graphics. Your results are then presented more clearly and understandably for the readers.

Tip: The report on the results of the empirical research should include the method used (sample, material and implementation), the results, the discussion of the results and the literature used. At the end of your report, you should discuss the practical application or implementation of the results (see Beller 2016: 176ff.).

(adapted from Baur; Fromm 2008: 14)

Summary

  • There are basically two ways of answering a scientific question in the bachelor thesis and master thesis: In addition to theoretical research using philosophical methods of hermeneutics, phenomenology, logic or language analysis, a question can be answered by empirical research or empirical social research (see Hug; Poscheschnik 2015: 25).
  • Empirical research or empirical social research is one of the basic skills of scientific work in all disciplines.
  • The term “empirical research” refers to the methodical collection of data and the systematic evaluation of data.
  • In your empirical bachelor thesis or empirical master thesis, the method of your empirical research, the results and their discussion should be described (see Beller 2016: 176ff.).
  • Empirical research or empirical social research should be structured in 5 steps: 1. Formulate the research question, 2. Prepare for data collection, 3. Data collection, 4. Data evaluation and data analysis, 5. Visualization of the results.
  • For data analysis, the fourth step in empirical research, you should always keep the purpose of the results in mind (see Schirmer 2009: 137ff.).

References

Baur, N .; Fromm, S. (2008).Data analysis with SPSS for advanced users. A work book. 2nd edition, Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

Beller, S. (2016).Learn to research empirically. Concepts, methods, case studies, tips. 3rd edition, Bern: Hofgrefe Verlag.

Brosius, H.-B .; Koschel, F .; Haas, A. (2008).Methods of empirical communication research. An introduction. 4th edition, Wiesbaden: Springer VS

Diekmann, A. (2016).Empirical Social Research. Basics, methods, applications. 10th ed., Hambug: rowohls enzyklopädie.

Hug, T .; Poscheschnik, G. (2015).Research empirically. The planning and implementation of projects during your studies. 2nd edition, Konstanz: Verlag Huter & Roth KG.

Imhof, M. (2010).Psychology for student teachers. 2nd edition, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

Kaya, M. (2007). Data collection method. In: Albers, S .; Klapper, D .; Konradt, U .; Walter, A .; Wolf, J. (Ed.). Methods of empirical research. 2nd ed., Pp. 49-64. Wiesbaden: Gabler.

Schirmer, D. (2009).Empirical methods of social research. Basics and Techniques. Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink GmbH & Co. Verlags-KG.

Tervooren, A. (2014). Empiricism. In: Wulf, C .; Zirfas, J. (Ed.). Handbook of Pedagogical Anthropology. Wiesbaden: Springer specialist media.

About the author

Cornelia Endres

Cornelia Endres (M.A.) is a doctoral candidate at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. During her studies at the University of Augsburg and at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, she wrote scientific papers and also supported fellow students. During her work at the Center for Applied Cultural Studies, she also gained valuable experience in scientific work. She is doing her doctorate in the field of "international joint venture cooperation". Ms. Endres gives tips and information on various research methods and the writing of scientific papers.