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Answered By: David Hisle
Last Updated: Aug 30, 2022     Views: 65730

These guidelines can help you identify a research study and distinguish an article that presents the findings of a research study from other types of articles.

  • A research study must:
    • Ask a research question
    • Identify a research population or group
    • Describe a research method
    • Test or measure something
    • Summarize the results

Research studies are almost always published in peer-reviewed (scholarly) journals. The articles often contain headings similar to these: Literature Review, Method, Results, Discussion, and Conclusion.

Articles that review other studies without presenting new research results are not research studies. Examples of article types that are NOT research studies include:

  • literature reviews
  • meta-analyses
  • editorials
  • case studies
  • comments or letters relating to previously-published research studies

Some databases allow you to limit by publication type. Use this feature to help identify research studies. Here are tips for limiting by publication type in several popular databases:


  • Click on the Advanced Search button.
  • Type your search terms in the top boxes.
  • In the area below the search boxes, find the box labeled "Publication Type".
  • Select "Peer Reviewed Journal"
  • Scroll down the screen until you find "Methodology". There is not a category for Research Studies. However, these publication types usually qualify as research studies:
    • empirical study
    • follow-up study
    • longitudinal study
    • prospective study
    • retrospective study
    • treatment outcomes study

ERIC via EBSCOhost:

  • Click on the Advanced Search button.
  • Type your search terms in the top boxes.
  • In the area below the search boxes, find the box labeled "Journal or Document".
  • Select "Journal Articles" from the menu choices.
  • Further down the screen, find the box labeled "Publication Type".
  • Select "Reports - Research / Technical."
  • Look carefully at the article abstracts to see if the article meets the requirements of a research study. Sometimes, you may have to look at the actual article to make this determination.

Some databases, like Sociological Abstracts, and Social Work Abstracts allow you to limit to "Articles" or "Abstracts of Journal Articles," but do not have more specific publication types. In Sociological Abstracts, a quick and dirty way to find research studies is to limit to "Articles" and then add "tables" to your search. This works because most research studies contain tables, and this is an indexed field in this database. For example, you might search for "gender and tables." This doesn't work well in Social Work Abstracts, though, because "tables" is not indexed. Instead, try something like "gender and research study" or even "gender and study." In all of these examples, you need to carefully examine the abstracts to see if the articles meet the requirements of a research study.

Many of the EBSCOhost databases (e.g., Academic Search Complete, Health Source Nursing/Academic Edition, Sociological Collection) allow you to limit to peer reviewed journals, but not by specific publication type. Be sure to click in the box to limit to peer reviewed journals. Then, add terms like "research study," "empirical," or "longitudinal" to your search. Again, carefully examine the abstracts to see if the articles meet the requirements of a research study.

Here is an example of an abstract of a research study from Sociological Collection. Phrases that help identify it as a research study are in bold:

Self-pity is a frequent response to stressful events. So far, however, empirical research has paid only scant attention to this subject. The present article aims at exploring personality characteristics associated with individual differences in feeling sorry for oneself. Two studies with N=5141 and N=5161 university students were conducted, employing multidimensional measures of personality, control beliefs, anger, loneliness, and adult attachment. With respect to personality, results showed strong associations of self-pity with neuroticism, particularly with the depression facet. With respect to control beliefs, individuals high in self-pity showed generalized externality beliefs, seeing themselves as controlled by both chance and powerful others. With respect to anger expression, self-pity was primarily related to anger-in. Strong connections with anger rumination were also found. Furthermore, individuals high in self-pity reported emotional loneliness and ambivalent-worrisome attachments. Finally, in both studies, a strong correlation with gender was found, with women reporting more self-pity reactions to stress than men. Findings are discussed with respect to how they support, extend, and qualify the previous literature on self-pity, and directions for future empirical research are pointed out.

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