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About this book

This handy book is a one-stop introduction to research and evaluation for social workers. Including unique project examples, exercises, discussion points and extensive signposting to further reading, and drawing on the author's many years of teaching experience, it is essential reading for students who may be unfamiliar with research methods.

Table of Contents

1. From Social Work Skills to Research Skills: What is ‘Being Research Minded’?

Abstract
Are you a social worker? Are you ‘research minded’? What exactly do we mean by ‘research minded’? Research always starts with questions (or so we are told). If you want to explore a topic you are interested in, you will perhaps ask yourself first what has already been written about the topic? Why, when, or where has something, or may something, happen/have happened? And how is this topic relevant to me? Equally important, however, is how am I going to investigate my chosen topic? This process of thinking will lead you to consider more broadly the concepts of knowledge, information and evidence. To quote the eighteenth-century author Samuel Johnson: Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it. (my italics) Johnson, as a learned man, realised that no one could know absolutely everything; even if you think you are an expert in one topic, there will be many others that are partly or perhaps completely outside of your experience and you will have to seek information about them.
Linda Bell

2. Understanding Published Research and Research Design: Scoping and Summarising

Abstract
At the start of this book we tried to briefly identify different types of media associated with the information which researchers need to establish their work. In this chapter we will be mainly looking at how to scope and summarise published research; so before we explore this we need to say a little more about the different types of published or unpublished media you may need to use when conducting any form of enquiry. Researchers today may use a wide variety of existing media/material when conducting research. Social workers may also use a variety of such media in their professional work. These forms of published or unpublished media need to be identified clearly if the knowledge they contain is to be used effectively in various forms of enquiry or research of relevance to social work. These media can include (in addition to published research in academic journals): articles in magazines or professional publications such as Community Care (containing material of a professional nature that is not necessarily based on primary research findings)
Linda Bell

3. Dealing With Ethics and Maintaining Professional Values During Research

Abstract
When starting to think about how we can carry out research, ethical aspects soon emerge. For social workers who are used to thinking about ethics and values in their professional practice, this should not come as a surprise, and much has been written over the years on the topic of ethics and values in social work and other professions (see e.g. Bell and Hafford-Letchfield (eds), 2015; Banks, 2010; 2004; 2012; Banks and Gallagher, 2009; Bisman, 2004). For example, Banks (2004) suggests the term ‘professional ethics’ means: the norms and standards of behaviour of members of specific occupational groups and the ethical issues and dilemmas that arise in their practice. (p. 3) Some authors have suggested that social work is essentially a ‘moral’ endeavour (see e.g. Clark, 2006 or Chu, Tsui, and Yan, 2009), which should encourage you to think in terms of some overlap between professional and ‘personal’ forms of ethics.
Linda Bell

4. Talking and Listening: Using ‘Qualitative’ Methods to Develop Relationship Based Approaches to Research

Abstract
This chapter will discuss, using research examples, how to make best use of various qualitative research approaches and methods that involve directly communicating with others in various contexts: these include your colleagues, managers or other powerful individuals, users of social work or related services and different professionals. You will remember from Chapter 2 (see Figure 2.3, Chapter 2) that if starting from an ‘interpretive’ or ‘constructionist’ research perspective, we are interested in knowledge coming from everyday concepts and meanings which, we believe, people either hold or have constructed (how important this idea of construction is depends on our view of reality (or ‘ontology’). Human experience is therefore seen, by researchers taking this kind of (qualitative) approach, as a process of interpretation rather than just the sensory, material apprehension of ‘facts’. As well as using a ‘generic’ approach to using constructionist or interpretive framework(s) for qualitative research, social work and health researchers may use more specific qualitative approaches, which we will discuss below.
Linda Bell

5. Working with Documentary Sources and Analysing Qualitative Data in Social Work Research

Abstract
In this chapter we will first consider how to use different kinds of documents in social work or health research, and this will be followed by advice and discussion about analysis of qualitative research data. Many researchers, including those doing research relating to social work, and especially those carrying out ethnography or developing case studies, find they need to make use of different kinds of records or documents as part of their research project, as we have already seen in the previous chapter (see Ferguson, 2016). These documents will vary, from published or printed material produced by an organisation, to client/service user records or diaries which may be ‘solicited’ from research participants (see Bell, 2012) including either service users or professionals (see Weinberg et al., 2003). We can also include visual material, such as photographs (see Chapter 8) or existing statistical materials (see also Chapter 6). If you are thinking of using these kinds of documents to generate research data as part of your research design and methods, you need to consider the following questions (Figure 5.1).
Linda Bell

6. It’s all about Attitude: Ways of Capturing and Understanding Measurable Data

Abstract
Social work students I have worked with are often unsure about how to develop research questions based around ‘positivistic’ research approaches and also to understand why a ‘quantitative’ approach might fit their project and their identified research question(s) (see e.g. Bell and Clancy, 2013). This lack of appreciation of the uses of ‘quantitative’ research methods is not only an issue in social work research but extends more widely across the social sciences to include students and researchers themselves: many researchers (for example Morgenshtern et al., 2011; Murtonen, 2005; Williams et al., 2008) have identified that those working in this broad ‘social research’ field, including social workers, may have problems with making good use of quantitative methods. In this chapter, I will be drawing, as before, upon a few relevant project examples, so as to illustrate some ways of using quantitative methods for data collection and analysis as part of social work and social work education research projects.
Linda Bell

7. Mixing it Up: How to Combine Research Approaches Without Getting Into a Muddle

Abstract
It should already be clear from earlier chapters in this book that many researchers, especially those involved in professional practice such as social workers, are often using ‘mixed’ methods in their projects. This often seems to be for pragmatic reasons, with researchers being driven more by ‘getting research done’, albeit appropriately, rather than by adherence to a particular methodological line (such as closely following the ‘scientific method’ in order to do research that is considered rigorous). Despite the continuing presence of discussions about ‘qualitative’ and ‘quantitative’ research (including it has to be said, in this book), there is also a lot of methodological and other research-based literature suggesting that having a rigid divide between ‘qualitative’ and ‘quantitative’ methods and/or approaches is unhelpful; this is especially so in applied or practicebased research, including that carried out by social workers or health professionals (see e.g. McKeganey, 1995, on research on addictions). You will also remember in Chapter 1, when discussing the role of research questions, we considered Bryman’s study (2007) in which he interviewed a number of researchers who were already using mixed methods.
Linda Bell

8. Can You Innovate? Developing Arts-Based and Visual Methods for Social Work Research

Abstract
Arts-based and visual methods are undergoing a renaissance in research methods generally, and social work research is no exception (see e.g. Bryant, 2015). This chapter will suggest examples of research and illustrate research techniques that can be used in these innovative contexts, including how they can be used in terms of co-production with colleagues and/or service users (as previously discussed in relation to Project S in Chapter 7). I will be drawing in this chapter upon some recent research and knowledge transfer examples relevant to social work or health. Firstly, we need to briefly outline some key underlying aspects of visual and arts-based research and research methods, and I will suggest further reading that will introduce you to these fields as developed within the social sciences and also cultural studies. Searching relevant research methods literature shows that researchers such as Sarah Pink (2012), an anthropologist, and Gillian Rose (2007) have done extensive work on the varied possibilities of using visual research methods in the social sciences.
Linda Bell

9. What’s Out there? Using the Internet and Social Media for Research

Abstract
Throughout this book we have been drawing upon Internet sources; such is the ubiquitous nature of our current relationships with ‘the Web’. We can hardly remember, no doubt, what it was like to have to rely only on paper sources for all our information and for our methods of carrying out various forms of enquiry. Increasingly however, new(er) technology has been catching up with us and suggesting ever more complex ways of conducting those enquiries. As we noted in Chapter 1, increasing use of social media means that in some circumstances our data and communication in general is becoming much more about instant response, sometimes through short, decontextualised comments which are challenging to analyse (e.g. Twitter/tweets). This in turn can generate many methodological as well as ethical issues when trying to be ‘research minded’ in these shifting contexts. In this chapter, I will discuss and try to demonstrate ways in which online techniques can be useful for social work research, for example for survey work or other interviewing purposes; or for drawing upon visual or written materials such as e-mails or online forums.
Linda Bell

10. Becoming a Social Work Researcher: Building Confidence as Well as Skills

Abstract
In this final chapter, I want to encourage you to develop your research skills to the ‘next level’ and to consolidate what you have learnt from this book and from the projects and other research and evaluative examples we have discussed. This is intended to help you to think about developing your own project work and also to enable you to appreciate the value of existing research and evaluation: we can and should all learn from each other when conducting research relevant to social work. I will make some suggestions in this chapter about how to produce an effective research proposal (or protocol) that you can use to develop towards a master’s level or doctoral dissertation, or if you are applying to do funded practitioner research. As we have seen throughout this book, research mindedness depends upon many things. You need to consider how you access and evaluate media, information, publications and all the other varied sources we considered in Chapter 2.
Linda Bell
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