Social Work Research Method Class

Typical sources of knowledge and potential errors


  • Based on information from leaders
    • ex) political figures, community leader, religious leader, parents etc

Common sense

  • Based on our perceptions
    • ex) Earth is viewed as flat


  • Based on inaccurate/selective observations
    • ex) play therapy


  • Based on making too general a conclusion
    • ex) stereotyping

Popular media

  • Based on influences from the tv, internet, social media

Tradition and norms

  • Based on religion, up bringing, cultural beliefs, social norms, etc.

Defining Research

Webster Dictionary

  • the activity of getting information about a subject
  • Careful study that is done to find and report new knowledge about something

Our typical sources of knowledge is more prone to error and misjudgement

Process using specific principles to come to a conclusion based on empirical findings and contributing to scientific knowledge

Research is not fool proof

Research Process and the Scientific Method

Key features of the scientific method

  • TROUt
    • Tentative: everything we currently know is subject to question and reassessment, modification or refutation
  • Replication
    • Studies should be replicated
  • Observation
    • Knowledge is grounded in systematic and comprehensive observations
  • Unbiased
    • Observations must be unbiased
  • Transparency
    • procedure details are open to review and evaluation to document the basis of study results and conclusion

Review of Scientific Process/Method

  • Select a problem or issue
  • Review the literature
  • Formulate research question and hypothesis
  • Outline concepts (variables) to be studied
  • Construct a research design
  • Select a study sample
  • Identify ways to operationalize the variables
  • Collect the data
  • Analyze the data and discuss results
  • Interpret data and then draft conclusions in a report or manuscript


:A proposed explanation for scientific observations.

  • It must be a clear, testable statement that identifies measurable variables and is limited to the experiment at hand.
  • A hypothesis is a possible explanation for the observations made
  • A theory is a tested and documented explanation of a phenomenon based on a large amount of good data.
    • Hypothesis is submitted to the greater scientific community for wider testing
  • Methods/Methodology
    • define concepts (variables) to be studies
    • Outline a research design
    • Identify study sample
    • operationalize variables
    • Describe data collection process
  • Findings/Results
    • Analyze data and include any tables/graphs
  • Discussion
    • Interpret results and draft conclusion
    • Discuss limitations and implications

Research in Social Work

  • During 1970s, reviews of research found that direct social work practice was viewed as not effective
  • Studies were later published that evaluated the effectiveness of interventions
  • Interventions recognized with research support include
    • CBT for various disorders
    • Motivational interviewing and motivational enhancement therapy for substance abuse

Why do we need research?

Professional reasons

  • Potential funding opportunities
  • Gather specific data for policy and set priorities
  • Understand population’s needs (e.g., needs assessment)
  • Evaluate effectiveness of practices for patients and deciding what works best
  • Keep up to date about best patient care practices

Role of Evidence based practice

  • Application of the scientific method to help practitioners make informed decisions beyond on available specific literature

Purposes of research

  • Descriptive research
    • A study designed to depict the participants in accurate way
    • All about describing people who take part in study
      • Observational
        • A method of viewing and recording the participants
        • All about watching people
    • Case study
      • An in-depth study of an individual or group of individuals
    • Survey
      • Brief interviews or discussion with individuals about a specific topic
  • Exploratory resaerch
  • Correlational/explanatory research

Main types of research studies

Descriptive research

  • attempt to explore and explain while providing additional information about a topic
  • Research is tying to describe what is happening in more detail, filing in the missing parts and expanding our understanding
  • As much information as collected as possible instead of making guesses or elaborate models to predict the future-the what and how, rather than why
    • ex) fMRI, CT imaging to describe the living brain
  • Documents attitudes, conditions, characteristics of an event, individuals or groups, used for fact-gathering
  • ex) How many women in your workplace are singles?

Exploratory research

  • Investigate the meaning to people’s actions, environment, circumstances, etc
  • is a more open-ended inquiry
  • used to develop general understanding so ideas can be refined for further research as well as develop for potential policy or program development
  • Examples
    • How do single moms cope with having to work as well as raise a young child by herself?
    • How can services be improved for patients at the agency?

Correlational/Explanatory research (associations vs predictions)

  • We began exploring something new with exploratory research
    • Attempt to connect ideas to understand cause and effect
      • Research want to explain what is going on
      • Looks at how things come together and interact.

Exploratory research–>Descriptive research (providing more descriptions and information)–>Explanatory research (connecting idas)

Variables and its associated values

  • What is a variable?:
    • concept or characteristic or factor that changes or varies
    • Attributes/values are the categories or levels within each variabl

Two main types of variables

Independent variable

Dependent variable

Independent variable (IV)

  • also called predictor or explanatory variable
  • Let us initially think of IC as the factor hypothesized to cause a change in DC when considering predictive explanatory research.
  • IV influences the outcome or result of interest for researchers

Dependent variable (DV)

  • Also called outcome, criterion, response variable
  • DV is hypothesized as the effect being seen that was influenced by the IV in predictive explanatory research
  • In essense,, DV is the effect in the study that researchers are interested
  • Ex. DV is the outcome (e.g., severity of mental illness) and the outcome is based on which treatment is more effective

How to define variabkes

  • Operationalization of variables: Measurable indicators to determine the variable’s attributes (i,e,m making variable measurable)
    • Use tools
    • Insruments to neasure these variables

P7 Main research approaches

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