Part 1: Introduction to research
- How do social workers know what to do? (12 minute read time)
- The scientific method (16 minute read time)
- Evidence-based practice (11 minute read time)
- Social work research (10 minute read time)
Content warning: Examples in this chapter contain references to school discipline, child abuse, food insecurity, homelessness, poverty and anti-poverty stigma, anti-vaccination pseudoscience, autism, trauma and PTSD, mental health stigma, susto and culture-bound syndromes, gender-based discrimination at work, homelessness, psychiatric hospitalizations, substance use, and mandatory treatment.
1.1 How do social workers know what to do?
Learners will be able to…
- Reflect on how we, as social workers, make decisions
- Differentiate between micro-, meso-, and macro-level analysis
- Describe the concept of intuition, its purpose in social work, and its limitations
- Identify specific errors in thinking and reasoning
What would you do?
Case 1: Imagine you are a clinical social worker at a children’s mental health agency. One day, you receive a referral from your town’s middle school about a client who often skips school, gets into fights, and is disruptive in class. The school has suspended him and met with the parents on multiple occasions, who say they practice strict discipline at home. Yet the client’s behavior has worsened. When you arrive at the school to meet with your client, who is also a gifted artist, you notice he seems to have bruises on his legs, has difficulty maintaining eye contact, and appears distracted. Despite this, he spends the hour painting and drawing, during which time you are able to observe him.
- Given your observations of your client’s strengths and challenges, what intervention would you select, and how could you determine its effectiveness?
Case 2: Imagine you are a social worker working in the midst of an urban food desert (a geographic area in which there is no grocery store that sells fresh food). As a result, many of your low-income clients either eat takeout, or rely on food from the dollar store or a convenience store. You are becoming concerned about your clients’ health, as many of them are obese and say they are unable to buy fresh food. Your clients tell you that they have to rely on food pantries because convenience stores are expensive and often don’t have the right kinds of food for their families. You have spent the past month building a coalition of community members to lobby your city council. The coalition includes individuals from non-profit agencies, religious groups, and healthcare workers.
- How should this group address the impact of food deserts in your community? What intervention(s) do you suggest? How would you determine whether your intervention was effective?
Case 3: You are a social worker working at a public policy center whose work focuses on the issue of homelessness. Your city is seeking a large federal grant to address this growing problem and has hired you as a consultant to work on the grant proposal. After interviewing individuals who are homeless and conducting a needs assessment in collaboration with local social service agencies, you meet with city council members to talk about potential opportunities for intervention. Local agencies want to spend the money to increase the capacity of existing shelters in the community. In addition, they want to create a transitional housing program at an unused apartment complex where people can reside upon leaving the shelter, and where they can gain independent living skills. On the other hand, homeless individuals you interview indicate that they would prefer to receive housing vouchers to rent an apartment in the community. They also fear the agencies running the shelter and transitional housing program would impose restrictions and unnecessary rules and regulations, thereby curbing their ability to freely live their lives. When you ask the agencies about these client concerns, they state that these clients need the structure and supervision provided by agency support workers.
- Which kind of program should your city choose to implement? Which is most likely to be effective and why?
Assuming you’ve taken a social work course before, you will notice that these case studies cover different levels of analysis in the social ecosystem—micro, meso, and macro. At the , social workers examine the smallest levels of interaction; in some cases, just “the self” alone (e.g. the child in case one).
When social workers investigate groups and communities, such as our food desert in case 2, their inquiry is at the .
At the , social workers examine social structures and institutions. Research at the macro-level examines large-scale patterns, including culture and government policy.
These three domains interact with one another, and it is common for a research project to address more than one level of analysis. For example, you may have a study about individuals at a case management agency (a micro-level study) that impacts the organization as a whole (meso-level) and incorporates policies and cultural issues (macro-level). Moreover, research that occurs on one level is likely to have multiple implications across domains.
How do social workers know what to do?
Welcome to social work research. This chapter begins with three problems that social workers might face in practice, and three questions about what a social worker should do next. If you haven’t already, spend a minute or two thinking about the three aforementioned cases and jot down some notes. How might you respond to each of these cases?
I assume it is unlikely you are an expert in the areas of children’s mental health, community responses to food deserts, and homelessness policy. Don’t worry, I’m not either. In fact, for many of you, this textbook will likely come at an early point in your graduate social work education, so it may seem unfair for me to ask you what the ‘right’ answers are. And to disappoint you further, this course will not teach you the ‘right’ answer to these questions. It will, however, teach you how to answer these questions for yourself, and to find the ‘right’ answer that works best in each unique situation.
Assuming you are not an experienced practitioner in the areas described above, you likely used (Cheung, 2016). when thinking about what you would do in each of these scenarios. Intuition is a “gut feeling” about what to think about and do, often based on personal experience. What we experience influences how we perceive the world. For example, if you’ve witnessed representations of trauma in your practice, personal life, or in movies or television, you may have perceived that the child in case one was being physically abused and that his behavior was a sign of trauma. As you think about problems such as those described above, you find that certain details stay with you and influence your thinking to a greater degree than others. Using past experiences, you apply seemingly relevant knowledge and make predictions about what might be true.
Over a social worker’s career, intuition evolves into . Practice wisdom is the “learning by doing” that develops as a result of practice experience. For example, a clinical social worker may have a “feel” for why certain clients would be a good fit to join a particular therapy group. This idea may be informed by direct experience with similar situations, reflections on previous experiences, and any consultation they receive from colleagues and/or supervisors. This “feel” that social workers get for their practice is a useful and valid source of knowledge and decision-makin – do not discount it.
On the other hand, intuitive thinking can be prone to a number of errors. We are all limited in terms of what we know and experience. One’s economic, social, and cultural background will shape intuition, and acting on your intuition may not work in a different sociocultural context. Because you cannot learn everything there is to know before you start your career as a social worker, it is important to learn how to understand and use social science to help you make sense of the world and to help you make sound, reasoned, and well-thought out decisions.
Social workers must learn how to take their intuition and deepen or challenge it by engaging with scientific literature. Similarly, social work researchers engage in research to make certain their interventions are effective and efficient (see Section 1.4 for more information). Both of these processes–consuming and producing research–inform the social justice mission of social work. That’s why the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), who accredits the MSW program you are in, requires that you engage in social science.
Competency 4: Engage In Practice-informed Research and Research-informed Practice Social workers understand quantitative and qualitative research methods and their respective roles in advancing a science of social work and in evaluating their practice. Social workers know the principles of logic, scientific inquiry, and culturally informed and ethical approaches to building knowledge. Social workers understand that evidence that informs practice derives from multi-disciplinary sources and multiple ways of knowing. They also understand the processes for translating research findings into effective practice. Social workers: • use practice experience and theory to inform scientific inquiry and research; • apply critical thinking to engage in analysis of quantitative and qualitative research methods and research findings; and • use and translate research evidence to inform and improve practice, policy, and service delivery. (CSWE, 2015).
Errors in thinking
We all rely on mental shortcuts to help us figure out what to do in a practice situation. All people, including you and me, must train our minds to be aware of predictable flaws in thinking, termed . Here is a link to the Wikipedia entry on cognitive biases, as well as an interactive list. As you can see, there are many types of biases that can results in irrational conclusions.
The most important error in thinking for social scientists to be aware of is the concept of . Confirmation bias involves observing and analyzing information in a way that confirms what you already believe to be true. We all arrive at each moment with a set of personal beliefs, experiences, and worldviews that have been developed and ingrained over time. These patterns of thought inform our intuitions, primarily in an unconscious manner. Confirmation bias occurs when our mind ignores or manipulates information to avoid challenging what we already believe to be true.
In our second case study, we are trying to figure out how to help people who receive SNAP (sometimes referred to as Food Stamps) who live in a food desert. Let’s say we have arrived at a policy solution and are now lobbying the city council to implement it. There are many who have negative beliefs about people who are “on welfare.” These people may believe individuals who receive social welfare benefits spend their money irresponsibly, are too lazy to get a job, and manipulate the system to maintain or increase their government payout.
Those espousing this belief may point to an example such as Louis Cuff, who bought steak and lobster with his SNAP benefits and resold them for a profit. However, they are falling prey to assuming that one person’s bad behavior reflects upon an entire group of people. City council members who hold these beliefs may ignore the truth about the client population—that people experiencing poverty usually spend their money responsibly and that they genuinely need help accessing fresh and healthy food. In this way, confirmation bias often makes people less capable of empathizing with one another because they have difficulty accepting alternative perspectives.
Errors in reasoning
Because the human mind is prone to errors, when anyone makes a statement about what is true or what should be done in a given situation, errors in logic may abound. Think back to the case studies at the beginning of this section. You most likely had some ideas about what to do in each case. Below are some of the most common logical fallacies and the ways in which they may negatively influence a social worker:
- Making hasty generalization: when a person draws conclusions before having enough information. A social worker may apply lessons from a handful of clients to an entire population of people (see Louis Cuff, above). It is important to examine the scientific literature in order to avoid this.
- Confusing correlation with causation: when one concludes that because two things are correlated (as one changes, the other changes), they must be causally related. As an example, a social worker might observe both an increase in the minimum wage and higher unemployment in certain areas of the city. However, just because two things changed at the same time does not mean they are causally related. Social workers should explore other factors that might impact causality.
- Going down a slippery slope: when a person concludes that we should not do something because something far worse will happen if we do so. For example, a social worker may seek to increase a client’s opportunity to choose their own activities, but face opposition from those who believe it will lead to clients making unreasonable demands. Clearly, this is nonsense. Changes that foster self-determination are unlikely to result in client revolt. Social workers should be skeptical of arguments opposing small changes because one argues that radical changes are inevitable.
- Appealing to authority: when a person draws a conclusion by appealing to the authority of an expert or reputable individual, rather than through the strength of the claim. You have likely encountered individuals who believe they are correct because another in a position of authority told them so. Instead, we should work to build a reflective and critical approach to practice that questions authority.
- Hopping on the bandwagon: when a person draws a conclusion consistent with popular belief. Just because something is popular does not mean it is correct. Fashionable ideas come and go. Social workers should engage with trendy ideas but must ground their work in scientific evidence rather than popular opinion.
- Using a straw man: when a person does not represent their opponent’s position fairly or with sufficient depth. For example, a social worker advocating for a new group home may depict homeowners that are opposed to clients living in their neighborhood as individuals concerned only with their property values. However, this may not be the case. Social workers should instead engage deeply with all sides of an issue and represent them accurately.
- Social work research occurs at the micro-, meso-, and macro-level.
- Intuition is a powerful, though limited, source of information when making decisions.
- All human thought is subject to errors in thinking and reasoning.
- Scientific inquiry accounts for cognitive biases by applying an organized, logical way of observing and theorizing about the world.
- Think about a social work topic you might want to study this semester as part of a research project. How do individuals commit specific errors in logic or reasoning when discussing a specific topic (e.g. Louis Cuff)? How can using scientific evidence help you combat popular myths that are based on erroneous thinking?
- Reflect on the strengths and limitations of your personal experiences as a way to guide your work with diverse populations. Describe an instance when your intuition may have resulted in biased or misguided thinking or behavior in a social work practice situation.
1.2 The scientific method
Learners will be able to…
- Define science and social science
- Describe the differences between objective and subjective truth(s)
- Identify how qualitative and quantitative data are analyzed differently and how they can be used together
- Delineate the features of science that distinguish it from pseudoscience
If I asked you to draw a picture of science, what would you draw? My guess is it would be something from a chemistry or biology classroom, like a microscope or a beaker. Maybe something from a science fiction movie. All social workers use scientific thinking in their practice. However, social workers have a unique understanding of what science means, one that is (not surprisingly) more open to the unexpected and human side of the social world.
Science and not-science
In social work, is a way of ‘knowing’ that attempts to systematically collect and categorize facts or truths. A key word here is systematically–conducting science is a deliberate process. Scientists gather information about facts in a way that is organized and intentional, and usually follows a set of predetermined steps. Social work is not a science, but social work is informed by ; the science of humanity, social interactions, and social structures. In other words, social work research uses organized and intentional procedures to uncover facts or truths about the social world. And social workers rely on social scientific research to promote change.
Science can also be thought of in terms of its impostor, pseudoscience. refers to beliefs about the social world that are unsupported by scientific evidence. These claims are often presented as though they are based on science. But once researchers test them scientifically, they are demonstrated to be false. A scientifically uninformed social work practitioner using pseudoscience may recommend any number of ineffective, misguided, or harmful interventions.
An example of pseudoscience comes from anti-vaccination activists. Despite overwhelming scientific consensus that vaccines do not cause autism, a very vocal minority of people continue to believe that they do. Anti-vaccination advocates present their information as based in science, as seen here at Green Med Info. The author of this website shares real abstracts from scientific journal articles and studies but will only provide information on articles that show the potential dangers of vaccines, without showing any research that prevents the positive and safe side of vaccines. Green Med Info is an example of confirmation bias, as all data presented on the website supports what the pseudo-scientific researcher believes to be true. For more information on assessing causal relationships, consult Chapter 6, where we discuss causality in detail.
The values and practices associated with the scientific method work to overcome common errors in thinking (such as confirmation bias). First, the scientific method uses established techniques from the literature to determine the likelihood of something being true or false. The research process often cites these techniques, reasons for their use, and how researchers came to the decision to use said techniques. However, each technique comes with its own strengths and limitations. Rigorous science is about making the best choice, being open about your process, and allowing others to check your work. It is important to remember that there is no “perfect” study – all research has limitations because all scientific methods come with limitations.
Skepticism and debate
Unfortunately, the “perfect” researcher does not exist. Scientists are human, so they are subject to error and bias, such as gravitating toward fashionable ideas and thinking their work is more important than others’ work. Theories and concepts fade in and out of use and may be tossed aside when new evidence challenges their truth. Part of the challenge in your research projects will be finding what you believe about an issue, rather than summarizing what others think about the topic. Good science, just like good social work practice, is authentic. When I see students present their research projects, those that are the strongest deliver both passionate and informed arguments about their topic area.
Good science is also open to ongoing questioning. Scientists are fundamentally skeptical. As such, they are likely to pursue alternative explanations. They might question the design of a study or replicate it to see if it works in another context. Scientists debate what is true until they arrive at a majority consensus. If you’ve ever heard that 97% of climate scientists agree that global warming is due to human activity or that 99% of economists agree that tariffs make the economy worse, you are seeing this sociology of science in action. This skepticism will help to catch situations in which scientists who make the oh-so-human mistakes in thinking and reasoning reviewed in Section 1.1.
Skepticism also helps to identify unethical scientists, as with Andrew Wakefield’s study linking the MMR vaccination and autism. When other researchers looked at his data, they found that he had altered the data to match his own conclusions and sought to benefit financially from the ensuing panic about vaccination (Godlee, Smith, & Marcovitch, 2011). This highlights another key value in science: openness.
Through the use of publications and presentations, scientists share the methods used to gather and analyze data. The trend towards open science has also prompted researchers to share data as well. This in turn enables other researchers to re-run, replicate, and validate analyses and results. A major barrier to openness in science is the paywall. When you’ve searched online for a journal article (we will review search techniques in Chapter 3), you have likely run into the $25-$50 price tag. Don’t despair – your university should subscribe to these journals. However, the push towards openness in science means that more researchers are sharing their work in open access journals, which are free for people to access (like this textbook!). These open access journals do not require a university subscription to view.
Openness also means engaging the broader public about your study. Social work researchers conduct studies to help people, and part of scientific work is making sure your study has an impact. For example, it is likely that many of the authors publishing in scientific journals are on Twitter or other social media platforms, relaying the importance of study findings. They may create content for popular media, including newspapers, websites, blogs, or podcasts. It may lead to training for agency workers or public administrators. Regrettably, academic researchers have a reputation for being aloof and disengaged from the public conversation. However, this reputation is slowly changing with the trend towards public scholarship and engagement. For example, see this recent section of the Journal of the Society of Social Work and Research on public impact scholarship.
Quantitative and qualitative data
Pseudoscience is often doctored up to look like science, but the surety with which its advocates speak is not backed up by empirical data. refers to information about the social world gathered and analyzed through scientific observation or experimentation. Theory is also an important part of science, as we will discuss in Chapter 5. However, theories must be supported by empirical data–evidence that what we think is true really exists in the world.
There are two types of empirical data that social workers should become familiar with. refers to numbers and refers to words. Researchers use specific methods designed to analyze each type of data. Together, these are known as , or the methods researchers use to examine empirical data.
In our vaccine example, scientists have conducted many studies tracking children who were vaccinated to look for future diagnoses of autism (see Taylor et al. 2014 for a review). This is an example of using quantitative data to determine whether there is a causal relationship between vaccination and autism. By examining the number of people who develop autism after vaccinations and controlling for all of the other possible causes, researchers can determine the likelihood of whether vaccinations cause changes in the brain that are eventually diagnosed as autism.
In this case, the use of quantitative data is a good fit for disproving myths about the dangers of vaccination. When researchers analyze quantitative data, they are trying to establish an objective truth. An is always true, regardless of context. Generally speaking, researchers seeking to establish objective truth tend to use quantitative data because they believe numbers don’t lie. If repeated statistical analyses don’t show a relationship between two variables, like vaccines and autism, that relationship almost certainly does not exist. By boiling everything down to numbers, we can minimize the biases and logical errors that human researchers bring to the scientific process. That said, the interpretation of those numbers is always up for debate. That process can be subjective.
This approach to finding truth probably sounds similar to something you heard in your middle school science classes. When you learned about gravitational force or the mitochondria of a cell, you were learning about the theories and observations that make up our understanding of the physical world. We assume that gravity is real and that the mitochondria of a cell are real. Mitochondria are easy to spot with a powerful microscope and we can observe and theorize about their function in a cell. The gravitational force is invisible, but clearly apparent from observable facts, such as watching an apple fall. If we were unable to perceive mitochondria or gravity, they would still be there, doing their thing, because they exist independent of our observation of them.
Let’s consider a social work example. Scientific research has established that children who are subjected to severely traumatic experiences are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder (e.g., Mahoney, Karatzias, & Hutton, 2019). A diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is considered objective, and may refer to a mental health issue that exists independent of the individual observing it and is highly similar in its presentation across clients. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5, 2017) identifies a group of criteria which is based on unbiased, neutral client observations. These criteria are based in research, and render an objective diagnosis more likely to be valid and reliable. Through the clinician’s observations and the client’s description of their symptoms, an objective determination of a mental health diagnosis can be made.
For those of you skeptics, you may ask yourself: but does a diagnosis tell a client’s whole story? No. It does not tell you what the client thinks and feels about their diagnosis, for example. Receiving a diagnosis of PTSD may be a relief for a client. The diagnosis may suggest the words to describe their experiences. In addition, this diagnosis may provide a direction for therapeutic work, as there are evidence-based interventions clinicians can use with each diagnosis. On the other hand, a client may feel shame and view the diagnosis as a label, defining them in a negative way and limiting their potential (Barsky, 2015).
Imagine if we surveyed people with PTSD to see how they interpreted their diagnosis. Objectively, we could determine whether more people said the diagnosis was, overall, a positive or negative event for them. However, it is unlikely that the experience of receiving a diagnosis was either completely positive or completely negative. In social work, we know that a client’s thoughts and emotions are rarely binary, either/or situations. Clients likely feel a mix of positive and negative thoughts and emotions during the diagnostic process. These messy bits are , or the thoughts and feelings that arise as people interpret and make meaning of situations. Uniquely, looking for subjective truths can help us see the contradictory and multi-faceted nature of people’s thoughts, and qualitative data allows us to avoid oversimplifying them into negative and positive feelings that could be counted, as in quantitative data. It is the role of a researcher, just like a practitioner, to seek to understand things from the perspective of the client. Unlike with objective truth, this will not lead to a general sense of what is true for everyone, but rather what is true for that one person.
Subjective truths are best expressed through qualitative data, or through the use of words (not numbers). For example, we might invite a client to tell us how they felt after they were first diagnosed, after they spoke with family, and over the course of the therapeutic process. While it may look different from what we normally think of as science (e.g. pharmaceutical studies), these stories are indeed a rich source of data for scientific analysis. However, it is impossible to analyze what this client said without also considering the sociocultural context in which they live. For example, the concept of PTSD is generated from Western thought and philosophy. How might people from other cultures understand trauma differently?
In the DSM-5 classification of mental health disorders, there is a list of culture-bound syndromes which appear only in certain cultures. For example, susto describes a unique cluster of symptoms experienced by Latin Americans after a traumatic event (Nogueira, Mari, & Razzouk, 2015). Susto involves more physical symptoms than a traditional PTSD diagnosis. Indeed, many of these syndromes do not fit within a Western conceptualization of mental health because they differentiate less between the mind and body. To a Western scientist, susto may seem less real than PTSD. To someone from Latin America, their symptoms may not fit neatly into the PTSD framework developed in Western nations. Science has historically privileged knowledge from the United States and other nations in the West and Global North, marking them as objectively true. The objectivity of Western science as universally applicable to all cultures has been increasingly called into question as science has become less dominated by white males, and interaction between cultures and groups becomes broadly more democratic. Clearly, what is true depends in part on the context in which it is observed.
In this way, social scientists have a unique task. People are both objects and subjects. Objectively, you could quantify how tall a person is, what car they drive, how many adverse childhood experiences they had, or their score on a PTSD checklist. Subjectively, you could understand how a person made sense of a traumatic incident or how it contributed to certain patterns in thinking, negative feelings, or opportunities for growth, for example. It is this added dimension that renders social science unique to natural science, which focuses almost exclusively on quantitative data and objective truth. For this reason, this book is divided between projects using qualitative data and quantitative data.
There is no “better” or “more true” way of approaching social science. Instead, the methods a researcher chooses should match the question they ask. If you want to answer, “do vaccines cause autism?” you should choose methods appropriate to answer that question. It seeks an objective truth–one that is true for everyone, regardless of context. Studies like these use quantitative data and statistical analyses to test mathematical relationships between variables. If, on the other hand, you wanted to know “what does a diagnosis of PTSD mean to clients?” you should collect qualitative data and seek subjective truths. You will gather stories and experiences from clients and interpret them in a way that best represents their unique and shared truths. Where there is consensus, you will report that. Where there is contradiction, you will report that as well.
In this textbook, we will treat quantitative and qualitative research methods separately. However, it is important to remember that a project can include both approaches. A mixed methods study, which we will discuss more in chapter 6, requires thinking through a more complicated project that includes at least one quantitative component, one qualitative component, and a plan to incorporate both approaches together. As a result, mixed methods projects may require more time for conceptualization, data collection, and analysis.
Regardless of whether you are seeking objective or subjective truths, research and scientific inquiry aim to find and explain patterns. Most of the time, a pattern will not explain every single person’s experience, a fact about social science that is both fascinating and frustrating. Even individuals who do not know each other can create patterns that persist over time. Those new to social science may find these patterns frustrating because they may believe that the patterns describing their sex, age, or some other facet of their lives don’t represent their experience. It’s true. A pattern can exist among your cohort without your individual participation in it. There is diversity within diversity.
Let’s consider some specific examples. You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a person’s social class background has an impact on their educational attainment and achievement. You may be surprised to learn that people select romantic partners that have similar educational attainment, which in turn, impacts their children’s educational attainment (Eika, Mogstad, & Zafar, 2019).. People who have graduated college pair off with other college graduates, as so forth. This, in turn, reinforces existing inequalities, stratifying society by those who have the opportunity to complete college and those who don’t.
People who object to these findings tend to cite evidence from their own personal experience. However, the problem with this response is that objecting to a social pattern on the grounds that it doesn’t match one’s individual experience misses the point about patterns. Patterns don’t perfectly predict what will happen to an individual person. Yet, they are a reasonable guide that, when systematically observed, can help guide social work thought and action. When we don’t investigate these patterns scientifically, we are subject to developing stereotypes, biases, and other harmful beliefs.
A final note on qualitative and quantitative methods
There is not one superior way to find patterns that help us understand the world. As we will learn about in Chapter 5, there are multiple philosophical, theoretical, and methodological ways to approach scientific truth. Qualitative methods aim to provide an in-depth understanding of a relatively small number of cases. They also provide a voice for the client. Quantitative methods offer less depth on each case but can say more about broad patterns because they typically focus on a much larger number of cases. A researcher should approach the process of scientific inquiry by formulating a clear research question and using the methodological tools best suited to that question.
Believe it or not, there are still significant methodological battles being waged in the academic literature on objective vs. subjective social science. Usually, quantitative methods are viewed as “more scientific” and qualitative methods are viewed as “less scientific.” Part of this battle is historical. As the social sciences developed, they were compared with the natural sciences, especially physics, which rely on mathematics and statistics to come to a truth. It is a hotly debated topic whether social science should adopt the philosophical assumptions of the natural sciences—with its emphasis on prediction, mathematics, and objectivity—or use a different set of tools—contextual understanding, language, and subjectivity—to find scientific truth.
You are fortunate to be in a profession that values multiple scientific ways of knowing. The qualitative/quantitative debate is fueled by researchers who may prefer one approach over another, either because their own research questions are better suited to one particular approach or because they happened to have been trained in one specific method. In this textbook, we’ll operate from the perspective that qualitative and quantitative methods are complementary rather than competing. While these two methodological approaches certainly differ, the main point is that they simply have different goals, strengths, and weaknesses. A social work researcher should select the method(s) that best match(es) the question they are asking.
- Social work is informed by science.
- Social science is concerned with both objective and subjective knowledge.
- Social science research aims to understand patterns in the social world.
- Social scientists use both qualitative and quantitative methods, which, while different, are often complementary.
Examine a pseudoscientific claim you’ve heard on the news or in conversation with others. Why do you consider it to be pseudoscientific? What empirical data can you find from a quick internet search that would demonstrate it lacks truth?
- Consider a topic you might want to study this semester as part of a research project. Provide a few examples of objective and subjective truths about the topic, even if you aren’t completely certain they are correct. Identify how objective and subjective truths differ.
1.3 Evidence-based practice
Learners will be able to…
- Explain how social workers produce and consume research as part of practice
- Review the process of evidence-based practice and how social workers apply research knowledge with clients and groups
“Why am I in this class?”
“When will I ever use this information?”
While students aren’t always so direct, I would wager a guess that these questions are on the mind of almost every student in a research methods class. And they are valid and important questions to ask! While it may seem strange, the answer is that you will probably use these skills often. Social workers engage with research on a daily basis by consuming it through culture and popular media as well as throughout their social work education. They also often contribute to research projects, adding new scientific information to what we know.
Social workers as research consumers
Whether you know it or not, your life is impacted by research every day. Many of our laws, social policies, and court proceedings are grounded in some degree of empirical research and evidence (Jenkins & Kroll-Smith, 1996). That’s not to say that all laws and social policies are good or make sense. But you can’t have an informed opinion about any of them without understanding where they come from, how they were formed, and what their evidence base is. In order to be effective practitioners across micro, meso, and macro domains, social workers need to understand the root causes and policy solutions to social problems their clients are experiencing.
A recent lawsuit against Walmart provides an example of social science research in action. A sociologist named Professor William Bielby was enlisted by plaintiffs to conduct an analysis of Walmart’s personnel policies in order to support their claim that Walmart engages in gender discriminatory practices. Bielby’s analysis shows that Walmart’s compensation and promotion decisions may indeed have been vulnerable to gender bias. In June 2011, the United States Supreme Court decided against allowing the case to proceed as a class-action lawsuit (Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 2011). While a class-action suit was not pursued in this case, consider the impact that such a suit against one of our nation’s largest employers could have had on companies, their employees, and even consumers around the country.
A social worker might learn about this lawsuit through popular media, news media websites or television programs. Social science knowledge allows a social worker to apply a critical eye towards new information, regardless of the source. Unfortunately, popular media does not always report on scientific findings accurately. A social worker armed with scientific knowledge would be able to search for, read, and interpret the original study as well as other information that might challenge or support the study. As social work graduate students, you should be comfortable in your information literacy abilities, and your advocacy and practice should be grounded in these skills. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 of this textbook focus on , or how to understand what we already know about a topic and contribute to that body of knowledge.
When social workers consume research, they are usually doing so to inform their practice. Clinical social workers are required by a state licensing board to complete continuing education classes in order to remain informed on the latest information in their field. On the macro side, social workers at public policy think tanks consume information to inform advocacy and public awareness campaigns. Regardless of the role of the social worker, practice must be informed by research.
Consuming research is the first component of (EBP). Drisko and Grady (2015) present EBP as a process composed of “four equally weighted parts: 1) current client needs and situation, (2) the best relevant research evidence, (3) client values and preferences, and (4) the clinician’s expertise” (p. 275). It is not simply “doing what the literature says,” but is rather a process by which practitioners examine the literature, client, self, and context to inform interventions with clients and systems (McNeese & Thyer, 2004). It is a collaboration between social worker, client, and context. As we discussed in Section 1.2, the patterns discovered by scientific research are not applicable to all situations. Instead, we rely on our critical thinking skills to apply scientific knowledge to real-world situations.
The bedrock of EBP is a proper assessment of the client or client system. Once we have a solid understanding of what the issue is, we can evaluate the literature to determine whether there are any interventions that have been shown to treat the issue, and if so, which have been shown to be the most effective. You will learn those skills in the next few chapters. Once we know what our options are, we should be upfront with clients about each option, what the interventions look like, and what the expected outcome will be. Once we have client feedback, we use our expertise and practice wisdom to make an informed decision about how to move forward.
If this sounds familiar, it’s the same approach a doctor, physical therapist, or other health professional would use. This highlights a common critique of EBP: it is too focused on micro-level, clinical social work practice. Not every social worker is a clinical social worker. While there is a large body of literature on EBP for clinical practice, the same concepts apply to other social work roles as well. A social work manager should endeavor to be familiar with evidence-based management styles, and a social work policy advocate should argue for evidence-based policies.
In agency-based social work practice, EBP can take on a different role due to the complexities of the grant funding process. Funders naturally require agencies to demonstrate that their practice is effective. Agencies are almost always required to document that they are achieving the outcomes they intended. However, funders sometimes require agencies to choose from a limited list of interventions determined to be evidence-based practices. Not included in this model are clinical expertise and client values, which are key components of EBP and the therapeutic process. According to some funders, EBP is not a process conducted by a practitioner but instead consists of a list of interventions. Similar dynamics are at play in private clinical practice, in which insurance companies may specify the modality of therapy offered. For example, insurance companies may favor short-term, solution-focused therapy which minimizes cost. But what happens when someone has an idea for a new kind of intervention? How do new approaches get “on the list” of EBPs of grant funders?
Social workers as research producers
Innovation in social work is incredibly important. Social workers work on wicked problems for their careers. For those of you who have practice experience, you may have had an idea of how to better approach a practice situation. That is another reason you are here in a research methods class. You (really!) will have bright ideas about what to do in practice. Sam Tsemberis relates an “Aha!” moment from his practice in this Ted talk on homelessness. While a faculty member at the New York University School of Medicine, he noticed a problem with people cycling in and out of the local psychiatric hospital wards. Clients would arrive in psychiatric crisis, stabilize under medical supervision in the hospital, and end up back at the hospital in psychiatric crisis shortly after discharge.
When he asked the clients what their issues were, they said they were unable to participate in homelessness programs because they were not always compliant with medication for their mental health diagnosis and they continued to use drugs and alcohol. The housing supports offered by the city government required abstinence and medication compliance before one was deemed “ready” for housing. For these clients, the problem was a homelessness service system that was unable to meet clients where they were–ready for housing, but not ready for abstinence and psychiatric medication. As a result, chronically homeless clients were cycling in and out of psychiatric crises, moving back and forth from the hospital to the street.
The solution that Sam Tsemberis implemented and popularized is called Housing First, and is an approach to homelessness prevention that starts by, you guessed it, providing people with housing first and foremost. Tsemberis’s model addresses chronic homelessness in people with co-occurring disorders (those who have a diagnosis of a substance use and mental health disorder). The Housing First model states that housing is a human right: clients should not be denied their right to housing based on substance use or mental health diagnoses.
In Housing First programs, clients are provided housing as soon as possible. The Housing First agency provides wraparound treatment from an interdisciplinary team, including social workers, nurses, psychiatrists, and former clients who are in recovery. Over the past few decades, this program has gone from a single program in New York City to the program of choice for federal, state, and local governments seeking to address homelessness in their communities.
The main idea behind Housing First is that once clients have a residence of their own, they are better able to engage in mental health and substance use treatment. While this approach may seem logical to you, it is the opposite of the traditional homelessness treatment model. The traditional approach began with the client abstaining from drug and alcohol use and taking prescribed medication. Only after clients achieved these goals were they offered group housing. If the client remained sober and medication compliant, they could then graduate towards less restrictive individual housing.
Conducting and disseminating research allows practitioners to establish an evidence base for their innovation or intervention, and to argue that it is more effective than the alternatives, and should therefore be implemented more broadly. For example, by comparing clients who were served through Housing First with those receiving traditional services, Tsemberis could establish that Housing First was more effective at keeping people housed and at addressing mental health and substance use goals. Starting first with smaller studies and graduating to larger ones, Housing First built a reputation as an effective approach to addressing homelessness. When President Bush created the Collaborative Initiative to Help End Chronic Homelessness in 2003, Housing First was used in a majority of the interventions and its effectiveness was demonstrated on a national scale. In 2007, it was acknowledged as an evidence-based practice in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) EBP resource center.
We suggest browsing around the SAMHSA EBP Resource Center and looking for interventions on topics that interest you. Other sources of evidence-based practices include the Cochrane Reviews digital library and Campbell Collaboration. In the next few chapters, we will talk more about how to search for and locate literature about clinical interventions. The use of systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and randomized controlled trials are particularly important in this regard.
So why share the story of Housing First? Well, we want you to think about what you hope to contribute to our knowledge of social work practice. What is your bright idea and how can it change the world? Practitioners innovate all the time, often incorporating those innovations into their agency’s approach and mission. Using scientific research methods, agency-based social workers can demonstrate to policymakers and other social workers that their innovations should be more widely used. Without this wellspring of new ideas, social services would not be able to adapt to the changing needs of their communities. Social workers in agency-based practice may also participate in research projects taking place at their agency. Partnerships between schools of social work and agencies are a common way of testing and implementing innovations in social work. In such a case, all parties receive an advantage: clinicians receive specialized training, clients receive additional services, agencies gain prestige, and researchers can illustrate the effectiveness of an intervention.
Evidence-based practice highlights the unique perspective that social work brings to research. Social work both “holds” and critiques evidence. With regard to the former, “holding” evidence refers to the fact that the field of social work values scientific information. The Housing First example demonstrates how this interplay between valuing and critiquing science works–first by critiquing existing research and conducting research to establish a new approach to a problem. It also demonstrates the importance of listening to your target population and privileging their understanding and perception of the issue. While their understanding is not the result of scientific inquiry, it is deeply informed through years of direct experience with the issue and embedded within the relevant cultural and historical context. Although science often searches for the “one true answer,” social work researchers must remain humble about the degree to which we can really know, and must begin to engage with other ways of knowing that may originate from clients and communities.
See the video below for an example of how “one true answer” about a population can often oversimplify things and overstate how much we know about how to intervene in a given situation.
Cultural Humility: People, Principles and Practices – Part 1 of 4 by Vivian Chavez is adapted under a Creative Commons license: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) http://creativecommons.org/licenses/b…
While you may not become a scientist in the sense of wearing a lab coat and using a microscope, social workers must understand science in order to engage in ethical practice. In this section, we reviewed ways in which research is a part of social work practice, including:
- Determining the best intervention for a client or system
- Ensuring existing services are accomplishing their goals
- Satisfying requirements to receive funding from private agencies and government grants
- Testing a new idea and demonstrating that it should be more widely implemented
Using a social work practice situation that you have experienced, walk through the four steps of the evidence-based practice process and how they informed your decision-making. Reflect on some of the difficulties applying EBP in the real world.
- Talk with a social worker about how he or she produces and consumes research as part of practice. Reflect on your personal career goals and how research will fit into your future practice.
1.4 Social work research
Learners will be able to…
- Differentiate between formal and informal research roles
- Describe common barriers to engaging with social work research
- Identify alternative ways of thinking about research methods
Formal and informal research roles
I’ve been teaching research methods for six years and have found that many students struggle to see the connection between research and social work practice. First of all, it’s important to mention that social work researchers exist! The authors of this textbook are social work researchers across university, government, and non-profit institutions. Matt and Cory are researchers at universities, focusing on disability policy, wellness & mental health, and intimate partner violence. Dalia is a behavioral health researcher at RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, where she studies the opioid epidemic. Kate is a researcher at the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission in Virginia, where she studies policies related to criminal justice. The career path for social workers in formal research roles is bright and diverse, as we each bring a unique perspective with our ethical and theoretical orientation.
Formal research results in written products like journal articles, government reports, or policy briefs. To get a sense of formal research roles in social work, consider asking a professor about their research. You can also browse around the top journals in social work: Trauma, Violence & Abuse, Child Maltreatment, Child Abuse & Neglect, Social Service Review, Family Relations, Journal of Social Policy, Social Policy & Administration, Research on Social Work Practice, Health & Social Care in the Community, Health & Social Work, British Journal of Social Work, Child & Family Social Work, International Journal of Social Welfare, Qualitative Social Work, Children & Youth Services Review, Social Work, Social Work in Health Care, Journal of Social Work Practice, International Social Work, Affilia Journal of Women and Social Work, and Clinical Social Work Journal. Additionally, the websites to most government agencies, foundations, think tanks, and advocacy groups contain formal research often conducted by social workers.
But let’s be clear, studies show that most social work students are not interested in becoming social work researchers who publish journal articles or research reports (DeCarlo et al., 2019; Earley, 2014). Once you enter post-graduate practice, you will need to apply your formal research skills to the informal research conducted by practitioners and agencies every day. Every time you are asking who, what, when, where and why, you are conducting informal research. Informal research can be more involved. Social workers may be surprised when they are asked to engage in research projects such as needs assessments, community scans, program and policy evaluations, and single system designs, to name a few. Macro-oriented students may have to conduct research on programs and policies as part of advocacy or administration. I cannot tell you the number former students who have contacted me looking for research resources or wanting to “pick my brain” about research they are doing as part of their employment.
Research for action
Regardless of whether a social worker conducts formal research that results in journal articles or informal research that is used within an agency, all social work research is distinctive in that it is active (Engel & Schutt, 2016).We want our results to be used to effect social change. Sometimes this means using findings to change how clients receive services. Sometimes it means using findings to show the benefits of programs or policies. Sometimes it means using findings to speak with those oppressed and marginalized persons who have been left out of the policy creation process. Additionally, it can mean using research as the mode with which to engage a constituency to address a social justice issue. All of these research activities differ; however, the one consistent ingredient is that these activities move us towards social and economic justice.
Student anxieties and beliefs about research
Unfortunately, students generally arrive in research methods classes with a mixture of dread, fear, and frustration. If you attend any given social work education conference, there is probably a presentation on how to better engage students in research. There is an entire body of academic research that verifies what any research professor knows to be true. Honestly, this is why the authors of this textbook started this project. We want to make research more enjoyable and engaging for students. Generally, we have found some common myths and misconceptions get in the way of student success in research. Let’s see if any of these match with what you are thinking.
I’m never going to use this crap!
Students who tell me that research methods is not useful to them are saying something important. As a student scholar, your most valuable asset is your time. You give your time to the subjects you consider important to you and for your career. Because most social workers don’t become researchers or practitioner-researchers, students may feel that a research methods class is a waste of time. Our discussion of evidence-based practice and the ways in which social workers use research in practice brought home the idea that social workers play an important role in creating and disseminating new knowledge about social services.
On a more immediate level, learning about research methods and completing an individual research project allow students to focus in on a specific topic. This class is an invitation to conduct an independent study on a social work topic of interest to you. In this book, you will learn how to understand and apply the scientific method to that topic. Not only that, but the skills you learn in literature search and review will help you in every class in your MSW program.
Research is only for super-smart people
Research methods involves a lot of terminology that may be entirely new to social work students. Other domains of social work, such as practice, are easier to apply your intuition towards. You understand how to be an empathetic person, and your experiences in life can help guide you through a practice situation or even a theoretical or conceptual question. Research may seem like a totally new area in which you have no previous experience. In research methods there can be “wrong” answers. Depending on your research question, some approaches to data analysis or measurement, for example, may not help you find the correct answer.
The fear is entirely understandable. Research is not straightforward. As Figure 1.1 shows, it is a process that is non-linear, involving multiple revisions, wrong turns, and dead ends before you figure out the best question and research approach. You may have to go back to chapters after having read them or even peek ahead at chapters your class hasn’t covered yet.
Moreover, research is something you learn by doing…and stumbling a few times. It’s an iterative process, or one that requires many tries to get right. There isn’t a shortcut for learning research, but if you follow along with the exercises in this book, you can break down a student research project and accomplish it piece by piece. No one just knows research. It’s something you pick up by doing it, reflecting on the experiences and results, redoing your work, and revising it in consultation with your professor and peers. Research involves exploration, risk taking, and a willingness to say, “Let’s see what we will find!”
Research is designed to suck the joy from my life
We’ve talked already about the arcane research terminology, so I won’t go into it again here. But students sometimes perceive research methods as boring. Practice knowledge and even theory are fun to learn because they are easy to apply and provide insights into the world around you. Research just seems like its own weirdly shaped and ill-fitting puzzle piece.
I completely understand where this perspective comes from and hope there are a few things you will take away from this course that aren’t boring to you. In the first section of this textbook, you will learn how to take any topic and learn what is known about it. It may seem trivial, but this is actually a superpower. Your social work education will teach you basic knowledge that can be applied to nearly all social work practice situations as well as some applied material applicable to specific social work practice situations. However, no education will provide you with everything you need to know. And certainly, no professor can tell you what will be discovered over the next few decades of your practice. Our work on literature reviews in the next few chapters will help you increase your skills and knowledge to become a strong social work student and practitioner. Following that, our exploration of research methods will help you understand how theories, practice models, and techniques you learn in other classes are created and tested scientifically. Like a colorful puzzle, you’ll see how all of the pieces fit together.
Get out of your own way
Together, these misconceptions and myths can create a self-fulfilling prophecy for students. If you believe research is boring, you won’t find it interesting. If you believe research is hard, you will struggle more with assignments. If you believe research is useless, you won’t see its utility. If you’re afraid that you will make mistakes, then you won’t want to try. While we certainly acknowledge that students aren’t going to love research as much as we do (we spent over a year writing this book, so we like it a lot!), we suggest reframing how you think about research using the following touchstones:
- All social workers rely on social science research to engage in competent practice.
- No one already knows research. It’s something I’ll learn through practice. And it’s challenging for everyone, not just me.
- Research is relevant to me because it allows me to figure out what is known about any topic I want to study.
- If the topic I choose to study is important to me, I will be more interested in exploring research to help me understand it further.
Students should be intentional about managing any anxiety coming from a research project. Here are some suggestions:
- Talk to your professor if you are feeling lost. We like students!
- Talk to a librarian if you are having trouble finding information about your topic.
- Seek support from your peers or mentors.
The structure of this textbook
The textbook is divided into five parts. In the first part (Chapters 1-4), we will review how to orient your research proposal to a specific question you want to answer and review the literature to see what we know about it. Student research projects come with special limitations, as you don’t have many resources, so our chapters are designed to help you think through those limitations and think of a project that is doable. In the second part (Chapters 5-8), we will bring in theory, causality, ethics to help you conceptualize your research project and what you hope to achieve. By the end of the second part, you will create a quantitative and qualitative research question. Parts 3 and 4 will walk you through how to conduct quantitative and qualitative research, respectively. These parts run through how to recruit people to participate in your study, what to ask them, and how to interpret the results of what they say. Finally, the last part of the textbook reviews how to connect research and practice. For some, that will mean completing program evaluations as part of agency-based practice. For others, it will mean consuming research as part of continuing education as a practitioner. We hope you enjoy reading this book as much as we enjoyed writing it!
If you are still figuring out how to navigate the book using your internet browser, consider watching our tutorial [LINK NEEDED]. Also, the exercises in each chapter offer you an opportunity to apply what you wrote to your own research project, so consider completing these as you read.
- Social workers engage in formal and informal research production as part of practice.
- If you feel anxious, bored, or overwhelmed by research, you are not alone!
- Becoming more familiar with research methods will help you become a better scholar and social work practitioner.
- With your peers, explore your feelings towards your research methods classes. Describe some themes that come up during your conversations. Identify which issues can be addressed by your professor and which can be addressed by students.
- Browse social work journals and identify an article of interest to you. Look up the author’s biography or curriculum vitae on their personal website or the website of their university.
- adult-back-view-data-1181345 © Christina Morillo is licensed under a CC0 (Creative Commons Zero) license
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- 10129104436_d509c66ff5_o © Karla is licensed under a CC BY (Attribution) license
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- Cheung, J. C. S. (2016). Researching practice wisdom in social work. Journal of Social Intervention: Theory and Practice, 25(3), 24-38. ↵
- For more on the CSWE accreditation standards see https://www.cswe.org/CSWE/media/AccredidationPDFs/2015-epas-and-glossary_1.pdf and the EPAS index in this book. ↵
- See: https://climate.nasa.gov/faq/17/do-scientists-agree-on-climate-change/ ↵
- See: http://www.igmchicago.org/surveys/import-duties ↵
- Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent. British medical journal, 342, 64-66. ↵
- Mahoney, A., Karatzias, T., & Hutton, P. (2019). A systematic review and meta-analysis of group treatments for adults with symptoms associated with complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Journal of affective disorders, 243, 305-321. ↵
- American Psychiatric Association. (2017). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC ↵
- Barsky, A. (2015). DSM-5 and the ethics of diagnosis. New social worker. Retrieved from: https://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/ethics-articles/dsm-5-and-ethics-of-diagnosis/ ↵
- Nogueira, B. L., Mari, J. D. J., & Razzouk, D. (2015). Culture-bound syndromes in Spanish speaking Latin America: the case of Nervios, Susto and Ataques de Nervios. Archives of Clinical Psychiatry (São Paulo), 42(6), 171-178. ↵
- Eika, L., Mogstad, M., & Zafar, B. (2019). Educational assortative mating and household income inequality. Journal of Political Economy, 127(6), 2795-2835. ↵
- Jenkins, P. J., & Kroll-Smith, S. (Eds.). (1996). Witnessing for sociology: Sociologists in court. Westport, CT: Praeger. ↵
- Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. (2011). The American Sociological Association (ASA) subsequently filed an amicus brief in support of what would be the class of individuals claiming gender discrimination. You can read the brief at http://asanet.org/images/press/docs/pdf/Amicus_Brief_Wal-Mart_vDukes_et_al.pdf. For other recent amicus briefs filed by the ASA, see http://asanet.org/about/amicus_briefs.cfm. ↵
- Want to know more about the suit against Walmart or about Bielby’s analysis for the case? Check out the following source: Hart, M., & Secunda, P. M. (2009). A matter of context: Social framework evidence in employment discrimination class actions. Fordham Law Review, 78, 37-70. (2009). A matter of context: Social framework evidence in employment discrimination class action. Fordham Law Review, 78, 37–70. Retrieved from: http://www.fordhamlawreview.org/assets/pdfs/Vol_78/Hart_Secunda_October_2009.pdf ↵
- Drisko, J. W., & Grady, M. D. (2015). Evidence-based practice in social work: A contemporary perspective. Clinical Social Work Journal, 43(3), 274-282. ↵
- McNeece, C. A., & Thyer, B. A. (2004). Evidence-based practice and social work. Journal of evidence-based social work, 1(1), 7-25. ↵
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2007). Pathways' housing first program. Retrieved from:https://www.samhsa.gov/homelessness-programs-resources/hpr-resources/housing-first-supports-recovery ↵
- DeCarlo, M. P., Schoppelrey, S., Crenshaw, C., Secret, M. C., & Stewart, M. (2020, January 1). Open educational resources and graduate social work students: Cost, outcomes, use, and perceptions. https://doi.org/10.31235/osf.io/k4ytd; Earley, M. A. (2014). A synthesis of the literature on research methods education. Teaching in Higher Education, 19(3), 242-253. ↵
- Engel, R. J. & Schutt, R. K. (2016) The practice of research in social work (4th edition). Washington, DC: Sage Publications ↵
examining the smallest levels of interaction, usually individuals
examining interaction between groups and within communities
examining social structures and institutions
a “gut feeling” about what to do based on previous experience
“learning by doing” that guides social work intervention and increases over time
predictable flaws in thinking
observing and analyzing information in a way that agrees with what you already think is true and excludes other alternatives
a way of knowing that attempts to systematically collect and categorize facts or truths
the science of humanity, social interactions, and social structures
claims about the world that appear scientific but are incompatible with the values and practices of science
information about the social world gathered and analyzed through scientific observation or experimentation
the methods researchers use to examine empirical data
a single truth, observed without bias, that is universally applicable
one truth among many, bound within a social and cultural context
"a set of abilities requiring individuals to 'recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information" (American Library Association, 2020)
a process composed of "four equally weighted parts: 1) current client needs and situation, (2) the best relevant research evidence, (3) client values and preferences, and (4) the clinician’s expertise" (Drisko & Grady, 2015, p. 275)