Understanding Research Methodology 2: Systematic EmpiricismScientific research relies on the use of empirical data for acquiring knowledge.  Empiricism means making use of observation and experience.  Science goes beyond the use of the empiricism normally used in everyday life, however.  Scientific research employs systematic empiricism.

Observation itself is necessary in acquiring scientific knowledge, but unstructured observation of the natural world will not lead to an increased understanding of the world.

“Write down every observation you make from the time you get up in the morning to the time you go to bed on a given day. When you finish, you will have a great number of facts, but you will not have a greater understanding of the world.” (Stanovich & Stanovich, 2003, p. 12)

Empiricism becomes systematic empiricism when it is structured in a way that allows us to learn about causation in the world.  After careful systematic observation, some causal relationships are supported while others are rejected.

Moving beyond observations, scientists propose general explanations that account for the observations. “We could observe end-less pieces of data, adding to the content of science, but our observations would be of limited use without general principles to structure them.” (Myers & Hansen, 2002, p. 10)

To reiterate, the empirical approach (as used in everyday observation) allows us to observe things about the world. But, everyday observations are often made carelessly and unsystematically.  A major impediment in determining how the world works in accordance with everyday observations is the lack of control.  As a consequence, erroneous conclusions are often drawn.

Key Points

  • Empirical data (making use of observation and experience) is important in developing scientific knowledge, but it is not enough.
  • Systematic empiricism (also known as scientific empiricism) is structured in a way to help us describe, predict and explain how things work in the world.
  • Everyday observation, no matter how much is done, does not give us a better understanding of the world.
  • One of the biggest drawbacks of everyday observations is lack of control.
  • Many have suggested the essential ingredient of scientific research is control, which is lacking in everyday observation and experience.


Myers, A., & Hansen, C. (2002).  Experimental Psychology.  Pacific Grove, CA: Wadsworth.

Stanovich, P., & Stanovich, K. (2003).  Using Research and Reason in Education: How Teachers Can Use Scientifically Based Research to Make Curricular & Instructional Decisions. National Institute of Literacy.

Photo by Pascal, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.