Research Description & Research Types

Purpose of research

The first thing to look at in regards to activity that is done is they why. If there is no reason to do something, then why would you do it?

There are three main reasons that social workers need to understand research;

  • Read & understand other studies
  • Evaluate your practice
  • Improve client's well being
  • Stabilize your practice methods
  • Decline fallibility of bad practice methods
  • Conduct your own research study's

All research can be broken up into three purposes. These are exploration, description, and explanation. Each of these purposes become more complex as listed. Exploration is what all qualitative studies are (don't worry, we'll go over qualitative vs. quantitative later). They are normally to gain familiarity with a topic, breaking new ground with subjects that have not been studied. They are never trying to generalize, and often generate more research questions. Descriptive studies are quantitative and what most social science studies are. They use a representative sample size so that it can be generalized to the entire population. There is an emphasis on accuracy & precision, and not on cause & effect. Explanation studies seek to solve the cause and effects of various activities. They seek to understand the why. To do this they test hypotheses using the scientific method.

Many social workers are in the profession to work directly with people and might not see the need for research. Really there are a number of similarities between research and practice. First they both are for the purpose of problem solving, e.g. reducing or solving problems. They focus on vulnerable population and utilize strengths perspective.

Although they both follow these similarities, there are differences in how individuals purse truth in working with their clients. Every social worker's should have the goal to rely on multiple realities. This means being guided both by logic and experience, and not only being guided by what others tell you or your own limited experience. Agreement reality is finding truth based on what others say is correct. This type of truth is really an Ad Hominin. For example, if the worker follows a particular practice simply because it is what many of the agency staff believes is true. Experiential reality is finding truth based simply on methods learned due to direct experience. The fact that something is true in certain cases, does not mean that it is universal and can be contradicted in other circumstances. The Scientific approach is the method for finding truth that leads to truth not limited to just one of these realities. It is the basis for evidence based practice.

Types of Research

Research can generally be broken up into two different parts, qualitative and quantitative. Many think that this simply has to do with numbers of participants in the study, but this is not true. In fact hard numbers really cannot be given to describe whether a study is qualitative or quantitative. In general, qualitative can be thought of a study of depth and quantitative as a study of breadth.


  • Treatment variables
  • Reason for improvement
  • Contextual issues

Outcome: Improvement goals

Qualitative studies use a family of methods (e.g. ethnographic interviews, narrative analysis… etc.) to do exploratory research. It is trying to capture the lived experience of someone, often dealing with sensitive areas of the participant's lives. It is studying process variables and outcomes in practice evaluations.

Quantitative studies have the same purposes of both the descriptive and explanative studies. To better understand the differences in qualitative vs. quantitative studies the following is a table describe the similarities and differences.

Develop theoriesTest theories
Individual - In-depthMake generalizations
Fluid - Open system dynamicRigid method - closed system
Researcher is the instrumentResearcher employs an instrument
Many paths to the "right" answerMore structured, less paths