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The Debate on Social Work Research

Social work, like most academic professions, has a research component. However, many say that social work research is not rigorous enough and does not adhere to the same standards as other disciplines. Still, there are others that say there are efforts being made to improve the rigor of social work research. What do you think?

According to LeCroy in “Knowledge Building and Social Work Research: A Critical Perspective,��? in order to build social work knowledge, a critical perspective must be applied. However, LeCroy does not believe that this perspective has been understood or applied in the field of social work, weakening social work research. In “Reflections and the Need for Social Work Research,��? Howard states that there is a need for applied social work research but it is currently limited, limiting the quality of research. Pardeck and Meinert are also critics of social work research. In Lindsey’s article “Ensuring Standards in Social Work Research,��? a study done by Pardeck and Meinert found that the journal Social Work had an inadequate peer-review process. Since Social Work is the profession’s main journal, this finding is unsettling for proponents of social work research.

There are those who find social work research inadequate, but others believe it is on the right track. Although Howard said that there is a need for more applied social work research, it is also stated in “Reflections and the Need for Social Work Research��? that applied social work research is increasing in quality and quantity. In “Social Work Research: Debating the Boundaries,��? McDermott states that there are three foci within social work research. “A focus on the individual in relation to the social, a commitment to social change, and a concern with the poor and oppressed,��? are all prominent in today’s social work research and must remain so in order for the research to be effective. In a study done by Holosko in “What types of designs are we using in social work research and evaluation?��? 329 social work articles from top journals were analyzed. It was found that social work research and evaluation is based on non-research studies. However, instead of this being a hindrance to the quality of research, Holosko states that researchers must better understand the context of social work research and stop “apologizing for the designs used, and how one can and should strengthen designs to offset concerns.��? These arguments state that although social work research is different than other disciplines’ studies, it does not make it less rigorous, only different.

Do you agree with LeCroy, Howard, and Lindsey and think social work research is inadequate? Or do you think it has many valuable components and is unique because the profession is unique like Holosko and McDermott? Read the full articles available online through our databases:

Holosko, M.J. (2010). What types of designs are we using in social work research and evaluation?. Research on Social Work Practice, 20(6), 665-673.

Howard, M. (2009). Reflections and the need for social work research. Social Work Research, 33(1), 3-4.

Lindsey, D. (1999). Ensuring standards in social work research. Research on Social Work Practice, 9(1), 115-120.

McDermott, F. (1996). Social work research: debating the boundaries. Australian Social Work, 9(1), 5-10.

LeCroy, C. (2010). Knowledge building and social work research: a critical perspective. Research on Social Work Practice, 20(3), 321-324.

There are also several research methods materials available at the Dewey Library. Check out the following and form your own opinion on the standards of social work research:

Research and research methods for youth practitioners. Edited by Simon Bradford and Fin Cullen. New York: Routledge, 2012.
Dewey Library HV 1421 R458 2012 / New Books Display

Adventures in social research: data analysis using IBM SPSS statistics. Earl Babbie...[et al.]. Los Angeles: Pine Forge Press, c2011.
Dewey Library HA 32 A386X 2011

The handbook of social work research methods. Editor, Bruce Thyer. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, c2010.
Dewey Library HV 11 H342 2010

Sage handbook of mixed methods in social & behavioral research
. Edited by Abbas Tashakkori & Charles Teddlie. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, c2010.
Dewey Library Reference H 62 T244 2010

The SAGE handbook of applied social research methods
. Edited by Leonard Bickman & Debra J. Rog. Los Angeles : SAGE, c2009.
Dewey Library H 62 H24534 2009

The University Libraries also subscribe to many relevant journals. Check out Journal of Evidence-Based Social Work: Advances in Practice; Programming, Research, and Policy; Social Work Research; and Research on Social Work Practice. These journals all offer valuable and relevant material on social work research.

If you have any questions regarding social work research, please contact our social welfare bibliographer Elaine Lasda Bergman by phone at 442-3695 or email at elasdabergman@albany.edu.