What is empirical research

Empirical research

Empirical research for the master's thesis: systematically collect and evaluate data

Many subjects base their research on statistical evaluations. These come about through empirical research, in which qualitative or quantitative research is used to collect, analyze and evaluate data.

The term “empiricism” is derived from ancient Greek and means something like “experience” or “skill”. Transferring this to scientific research, empirical research can be understood as a method with which scientific experience can be achieved. In doing so, data is systematically collected, evaluated and interpreted in order to gain knowledge.

Empirical Research: Definition

Empirical research is thus defined as “systematic collection, analysis and interpretation of data”. With the help of scientific processes, findings are obtained that enable a statement to be made about reality. Because these findings can be tested and checked against reality, empirical research is different from other scientific methods.

Practical tip: Knowledge of empirical research will help you in various areas of academic research. In order to understand the way of thinking and the systematics of other scientific work, you need an insight into the processes of empirical research. Knowledge of empirical research methods can also help when writing your own master's thesis.

What does (empirical) research actually mean?

Not all research is empirical. Especially in humanities subjects, research is often not done empirically. Basically, the term “research” is understood to mean the application of scientific procedures in order to obtain new knowledge about a situation.

The empirical research forms a special field within the research, which approaches the determination of data and results in a very systematic way. Often empirical research takes place in a simulated environment (e.g. a laboratory) in order to make the research process objective and repeatable. Three so-called quality criteria play a central role so that a research project can be classified as empirical:

  1. Objectivity: The research results must be objective and verifiable, i. H. independent of the researcher.
  2. Reliability: The results must be reliable; H. repeatable under the same conditions.
  3. Validity: Finally, the results must be valid. The question here is whether the subject that has been researched can answer the research question.

Social sciences or psychology are subjects that require empirical research in order to arrive at representative results. Empirical research differs from general scientific research by the following points:

  • If the research is simulated and systematically carried out in a laboratory or in the research area, it is empirical research.
  • The data from empirical research must be collected and evaluated in a comprehensible manner for other scientists (and laypeople).
  • The research process must be objective and repeatable.

What tasks and goals does empirical research have?

The master's thesis is (unless you are aiming for a doctorate and want to write a dissertation) the last scientific work of your degree. It thus marks the end of your academic career and the beginning of your professional life. For this reason, there are correspondingly high demands on the content of the master's thesis: A description or summary of research findings already obtained is no longer sufficient here. Rather, the master's thesis is about putting your knowledge from the past semesters to the test and applying it in order to gain new academic insights.

In many branches of study, empirical research is the means of choice for obtaining data that can be evaluated for research purposes. With the empirical social research z. B. fairly accurate and representative statements about reality, e.g. B. society, meet. The topic of your master's thesis is initially irrelevant: the empirical research can be used to describe scientific problems, highlight changes or make a prognosis for the future.

On the one hand, existing hypotheses or hypotheses drawn up for the purpose of research can be checked; on the other hand, empirical research also offers opportunities to develop new hypotheses. Theory and empiricism are therefore closely related: While you derive research questions and verifiable hypotheses from the theory, you can in turn develop the scientific theory further and change it for the future on the basis of empirical research results.

Methods of empirical research

Empirical research or social research can be done in two different ways. In order to collect and evaluate data, the Qualitative research and the Quantitative researchacross from:


Qualitative research

Quantitative research

wants to collect data that is as accurate as possible

wants to collect as much data as possible

wants to gain new knowledge by going as deep as possible

uses standardized procedures and enables large amounts of data to be processed quickly

uses qualitative methods of survey through interview (guided interview, focused / narrative / problem-centered interview, content analysis, group discussion)

Standardized observation or questioning, (physiological) measurements, counts and experiments come into question as methods

aims to develop hypotheses through a deductive approach

aims to test hypotheses through an inductive approach

a small sample / number of subjects is sufficient

requires a large sample to arrive at representative results

researches non-experimental

researches experimentally


In addition to these two basic types of empirical research, a distinction is made between a total of four research methods, which differ from one another in terms of both their objectives and their approach:

  1. Exploratory investigation: There is no specific assumption here, so the research is based on hypothesis exploration.
  2. Descriptive investigation: Based on an estimate of frequencies, previously established hypotheses are checked here.
  3. Testing of hypotheses and theories: Here hypotheses are tested with the aim of reducing uncertainties.
  4. Evaluation research: Here, too, hypotheses are checked - the aim is to determine the degree of effectiveness of certain measures.

Which type and method of empirical research is the right one for a master's thesis depends on various parameters. This includes the subject of study, the research area and, last but not least, the research question. For example, if you want to set up new theories, a method of qualitative research is an option; on the other hand, to test existing hypotheses, you should resort to quantitative research.

Course of empirical research

The empirical research consists of a total of five work steps that follow one another:


Step 1

Formulate and specify the research question

step 2

Prepare and plan data collection

step 3

Collect data

Step 4

Evaluate and analyze data

Step 5

Visualize and prepare results


Step 1: Formulate and specify the research question

If the method of empirical research is used for the master's thesis, it should first be determined what should be empirically researched and why it should be researched. However, a lot of preparatory work must precede this idea: You first have to develop an idea and read the specialist literature in order to get an idea of ​​the current research situation. Depending on the subject, the research question can also arise from a practical problem or be specified by a client, e.g. B. if you are writing your master's thesis in a company.

The research question is formulated either descriptively or hypothetically. A descriptive research question describes the facts that are to be investigated in a value-neutral manner. A hypothesis, on the other hand, makes a (non-neutral) assumption and can be specified either as a difference hypothesis or as a connection hypothesis.

Step 2: Prepare and plan data collection

When preparing for data collection, the primary question is how the research is to be carried out. You now have to define the terms on which your research is based as precisely as possible and make them measurable. One method with which empirical research projects can be implemented very well is the development of a questionnaire.

In addition to defining and preparing your research methodology, you also need to decide who will participate in your study and how large the group you will study. You have to differentiate between longitudinal and cross-sectional surveys, individual and collective studies as well as trend, panel and cohort studies.

Since the empirical measurement and evaluation of data is time-consuming, it makes sense to carry out a so-called pretest before starting the actual investigation. The purpose of the pretest is to try out the study group and the study method before the “real” study. That way, you can put the questionnaire or interview you developed to a test. For example, if the questions are not specific enough, are ambiguous, or are in an illogical order, this can distort your research. This would be fatal in a large-scale study, but a pretest gives you the opportunity to readjust again.

Practical tip: If your pretest has shown that you need to readjust, you should consider another, second pretest. If this then goes smoothly, you can be sure that everything will go smoothly in the actual research.

Step 3: collect data

In order for you to receive empirical research results and evaluate them with regard to your research question, you need data in the next step that can be analyzed. This step of empirical research is about using the previously developed questionnaire or interview guide and recording the data that is generated.

A distinction is made between primary and secondary data: Primary data must be collected from scratch; secondary data, on the other hand, have already been compiled in another data collection and can be analyzed and evaluated again. The type of data to be collected and which method is the right one for your master's thesis depends on the research question you have asked for your research. In addition to a survey and an interview, observation or an objective measurement are also possible.

Step 4: evaluate and analyze data

At the end of the survey, the interview or the observation, so-called raw data is available. These now have to be organized in such a way that they can be evaluated. Before starting the analysis, you should also check whether there are any errors in the data sets.

Then you can start analyzing the data. The evaluation of the empirically collected data is a decisive step in your research - perhaps even the most important, because it forms the basis of your entire master's thesis. Drawing conclusions from the data and applying them to your research question is the most important section of your master's thesis.

Because in most cases large amounts of data have to be analyzed in empirical research, it makes sense not to evaluate them manually but with suitable software. The statistical software SPSS, for example, is ideal for evaluating questionnaires; for interviews, however, MAXQDA. However, software can only be used in a targeted and profitable manner if the raw data has previously been prepared in tables or categories for statistical analysis.

Step 5: visualize and prepare results

However, analyzing your data is only the first step. So that an answer to your research question can actually be given at the end of your master’s thesis, the results of the empirical research must finally be integrated into the context of the master’s thesis.

In the first step (as soon as the evaluation is completed) the results must be presented visually. This can e.g. This can be done, for example, in the form of tables or diagrams which, for example, show a distribution within the surveyed group in an easily understandable manner. The clearer you visualize the results, the better your lecturers, but also your readers, can understand the research process.

The report on the results of empirical research usually forms the final chapter of your master's thesis before you draw a conclusion in the final part. This should not only contain a summary of the results, but also a presentation of the method used, the literature and a discussion of the results.


  • The scientific question of the master's thesis can be answered both through theoretical research (e.g. hermeneutics, logic, language analysis) as well as through empirical research and empirical social research.
  • Empirical research (also: empirical social research) is one of the basic academic skills of many subjects.
  • “Empirical research” comprises the methodical collection and systematic evaluation of data.
  • In the master's thesis, the methodology of empirical research, the results and their interpretation must be described.
  • The empirical research consists of 5 steps: formulation of the research question, preparation of the data collection, collection of the data, evaluation and analysis of the data, visualization of the results.