Social Work Measurement, Scales, and Indices
David F. Gillespie
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 September 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0013


Social work develops and uses measures of social and psychological phenomena. These measures are designed to represent concepts or constructs. The constructs most relevant to social work are generally latent variables. In other words, most of the phenomena studied by social work researchers and treated by practitioners are not directly observable. Examples of phenomena not directly observable include self-esteem, depression, stress, closeness, commitment, effectiveness, and many others. These phenomena must be inferred from observations collected on some behavior that is assumed to operationally define the unobservable characteristic of interest. An operational definition is most useful when it delineates boundaries of behavior and distinct points between those boundaries. Typically, measures—scales, indices, and tests—of unique items are developed to measure a particular dimension of social or psychological phenomena. Special considerations must be taken into account for cross-cultural measures. Data are gathered and statistical models are employed to determine the extent to which the scale, or measurement instrument, has functioned as intended. Measures that function as intended are published for use by practitioners.


The books in this section are written for beginners. They describe key elements and basic principles of measurement. Kelley 1999 focuses on qualitative, quantitative, and quality measures for practitioners. Kurpius and Stafford 2006 provides a basic introduction to measurement concepts. Silverlake 1999 gives guidelines and exercises to enhance practitioner skills in using measures.

  • Kelley, Lynn D. 1999. Measurement made accessible. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This book is focused on practitioners who use measures. It has examples and exercises and covers qualitative, quantitative, and quality improvement methods.

  • Kurpius, Sharon E. Robinson, and Mary E. Stafford. 2006. Testing and measurement: A user-friendly guide. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This book provides a clear description of the essential components of measurement. Information on measurement concepts is reinforced with both numerical and pictorial models.

  • Silverlake, Ann Corwin. 1999. Comprehending test manuals: A guide and workbook. Los Angeles: Pyrczak.

    E-mail Citation »

    This book is oriented toward practitioners, offering guidelines and exercises designed to improve skills in using measures.

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