In This Article Social Work Research Methods

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • History of Social Work Research Methods
  • Feasibility Issues Influencing the Research Process
  • Group Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs for Evaluating Outcome
  • Single-System Designs for Evaluating Outcome
  • Program Evaluation
  • Surveys and Sampling
  • Qualitative Research Methods
  • Qualitative Data Analysis
  • Historical Research Methods
  • Meta-Analysis and Systematic Reviews
  • Research Ethics
  • Culturally Competent Research Methods
  • Teaching Social Work Research Methods

Social Work Social Work Research Methods
Allen Rubin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0008


Social work research means conducting an investigation in accordance with the scientific method. The aim of social work research is to build the social work knowledge base in order to solve practical problems in social work practice or social policy. Investigating phenomena in accordance with the scientific method requires maximal adherence to empirical principles, such as basing conclusions on observations that have been gathered in a systematic, comprehensive, and objective fashion. The resources in this entry discuss how to do that as well as how to utilize and teach research methods in social work. Other professions and disciplines commonly produce applied research that can guide social policy or social work practice. Yet no commonly accepted distinction exists at this time between social work research methods and research methods in allied fields relevant to social work. Consequently useful references pertaining to research methods in allied fields that can be applied to social work research are included in this entry.


This section includes basic textbooks that are used in courses on social work research methods. Considerable variation exists between textbooks on the broad topic of social work research methods. Some are comprehensive and delve into topics deeply and at a more advanced level than others. That variation is due in part to the different needs of instructors at the undergraduate and graduate levels of social work education. Most instructors at the undergraduate level prefer shorter and relatively simplified texts; however, some instructors teaching introductory master’s courses on research prefer such texts too. The texts in this section that might best fit their preferences are by Yegidis and Weinbach 2009 and Rubin and Babbie 2007. The remaining books might fit the needs of instructors at both levels who prefer a more comprehensive and deeper coverage of research methods. Among them Rubin and Babbie 2008 is perhaps the most extensive and is often used at the doctoral level as well as the master’s and undergraduate levels. Also extensive are Drake and Jonson-Reid 2007, Grinnell and Unrau 2007, Kreuger and Neuman 2006, and Thyer 2001. What distinguishes Drake and Jonson-Reid 2007 is its heavy inclusion of statistical and Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) content integrated with each chapter. Grinnell and Unrau 2007 and Thyer 2001 are unique in that they are edited volumes with different authors for each chapter. Kreuger and Neuman 2006 takes Neuman’s social sciences research text and adapts it to social work. The Practitioner’s Guide to Using Research for Evidence-based Practice (Rubin 2007) emphasizes the critical appraisal of research, covering basic research methods content in a relatively simplified format for instructors who want to teach research methods as part of the evidence-based practice process instead of with the aim of teaching students how to produce research.

  • Drake, Brett, and Melissa Jonson-Reid. 2007. Social work research methods: From conceptualization to dissemination. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

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    This introductory text is distinguished by its use of many evidence-based practice examples and its heavy coverage of statistical and computer analysis of data.

  • Grinnell, Richard M., and Yvonne A. Unrau, eds. 2007. Social work research and evaluation: Quantitative and qualitative approaches. 8th ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Contains chapters written by different authors, each focusing on a comprehensive range of social work research topics.

  • Kreuger, Larry W., and W. Lawrence Neuman. 2006. Social work research methods: Qualitative and quantitative applications. Boston: Pearson, Allyn, and Bacon.

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    An adaptation to social work of Neuman's social sciences research methods text. Its framework emphasizes comparing quantitative and qualitative approaches. Despite its title, quantitative methods receive more attention than qualitative methods, although it does contain considerable qualitative content.

  • Rubin, Allen. 2007. Practitioner’s guide to using research for evidence-based practice. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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    This text focuses on understanding quantitative and qualitative research methods and designs for the purpose of appraising research as part of the evidence-based practice process. It also includes chapters on instruments for assessment and monitoring practice outcomes. It can be used at the graduate or undergraduate level.

  • Rubin, Allen, and Earl R. Babbie. 2007. Essential research methods for social work. Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks Cole.

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    This is a shorter and less advanced version of Rubin and Babbie 2008. It can be used for research methods courses at the undergraduate or master's levels of social work education.

  • Rubin, Allen, and Earl R. Babbie. Research Methods for Social Work. 6th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks Cole, 2008.

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    This comprehensive text focuses on producing quantitative and qualitative research as well as utilizing such research as part of the evidence-based practice process. It is widely used for teaching research methods courses at the undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral levels of social work education.

  • Thyer, Bruce A., ed. 2001 The handbook of social work research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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    This comprehensive compendium includes twenty-nine chapters written by esteemed leaders in social work research. It covers quantitative and qualitative methods as well as general issues.

  • Yegidis, Bonnie L., and Robert W. Weinbach. 2009. Research methods for social workers. 6th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

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    This introductory paperback text covers a broad range of social work research methods and does so in a briefer fashion than most lengthier, hardcover introductory research methods texts.

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