Empirical study pattern


Empirical studies are used to derive conclusions from information in the world. They may be quantitative or qualitative, and they may be used to frame hypotheses or to test them.


This is an architectural pattern, shaping the overall organization of the paper. There is a rich body of practice and guidance on types of empirical studies and the ground rules for conducting them.


An empirical study will generally have these elements (see Empirical study desiderata in the Resources).  The elements do not necessarily correspond to sections of the paper, but they do shape the argument.

Context: a literature or other narrative that establishes the current state of knowledge, identifies a clear gap, and shows why it’s worth addressing that gap

Research questions: the objective of the study which may be as open-ended as framing hypotheses for further research or as concrete as posing hypotheses for testing (in the latter case they may be called hypotheses)

Research method: one of the numerous empirical methods ranging from qualitative to highly quantitative; these have their own patterns

Results: findings described clearly and without irrelevant detail, fully justified by the method

implications: consequences of the results and to what extent they fill the gap identified in the context

Limitations: weaknesses, ambiguities, threats to validity, and alternate explanations of the findings

New questions: new research questions that arise from the work, and their significance

Validation: Justification that the results address the research questions and are supported by the research method


In the Examples section, Michaela Greiler, Arie van Deursen, Margaret-Anne Storey. Test Confessions: A Study of Testing Practices for Plug-In Systems. ICSE-12.  This includes an organization map of the paper

Patterns Used

Each use of the Empirical study pattern will use one or more of the specific empirical method patterns Exploratory study method [[list more here as they’re generated]]

Patterns Used By

Indicators for Use

[[question about the world]]

[[not amenable to formal analysis]]

Contraindicators for Use

[[desire to prove a global assertion]]

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