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DNH-720 Population Health

Course materials for DNH-720 at MGH IHP


The tutorials and resources on these pages will help you make the most of our library's databases and tools while you are working on your Health Determinants paper for DNH 720 and beyond.

Please reach out to us at any time during the semester to get help with finding articles for your assignment. If you are off campus, we can assist over the phone or with screen sharing software.

Finding Empirical Research

For your Health Determinants paper, you have been asked to find empirical research studies, also called original research. Empirical studies are papers about observational or experimental research. They are different from articles like review articles, which discuss several different studies but don't report new experimental results. Empirical research is considered to be a primary source while review articles are secondary sources. (See the box below for more on primary sources.)

How can you tell if the article you found is empirical research? Look at the sections of the article. Most empirical studies will have the following five sections:

  • Introduction and Literature Review
  • Method
  • Results
  • Discussion or Conclusion
  • Reference List

Empirical research articles are published in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals and can be found in the library's databases, as well as in publically accessible databases like PubMed.

Empirical is not a study design, but a term for any study that is experimental or observational. Empirical research can be quantitative, qualitative or mixed methods. Randomized controlled trials, cohort studies, and ethnographic studies are all examples of empirical research.


Primary Sources


In the health and social sciences, most often a primary source is a report of the results of an experiment or research study.  The most common source format these take are published articles found in scholarly journals or conference papers.

Why Choose Primary Sources

Primary Sources represent the best evidence to support an argument.  When you examine a primary source, you get to see all of the relevant information about the study as well as the authors' interpretation of the results of that study.  You can then come to your own conclusions about the significance, relevance, and meaning of those results as they apply to your topics of interest.  If instead you rely on the interpretations of another author, say from a literature review or other secondary source, you can run into trouble, because their point of view might cloud their interpretations and could lead you astray. Therefore, when you can, you will want to select primary sources to cite in your papers and other academic work.  

Identifying Primary Sources

However, not everything published in a scholarly journal or presented at a conference will be a primary source.  Here are some things to look for.

  • Details about the experiment/study
    Look for a methods section with details about study participants, instruments, and procedures.  

  • Details about the results
    Look for raw and analysed data gathered during the study.  Frequently these numbers will be displayed in charts or graphs.

  • Don't be fooled by literature reviews where authors talk about other peoples' research.