What is research?
To understand how a research-minded perspective can help you in your
work it is worth first of all being reminded of what research actually
Research can be broadly defined as:
a form of systematic enquiry that contributes
There are many ways to classify or categorise research, e.g. by academic
discipline, method of data collection or purpose. More often research
is separated into pure or academic research and applied research. This
polarisation can be unhelpful, particularly in social work and social
care research where the relationship between research, practice and
theory development (new knowledge) is a more dynamic one with each dimension
usefully informing the others.
Social work and social care research has been greatly influenced by
other professional and disciplinary developments. Current debates about
the nature and purpose of social work research are now focusing on its
distinctive contribution to the scope of social scientific research,
whilst recognizing its interdisciplinarity. The Theorising
Social Work Research Seminar Series at
Social Care Online is a valuable resource to explore these issues
in more depth. A contrasting perspective is provided by Geraldine Macdonald
in a SCIE report on Using
systematic reviews to improve social care (pdf file).
You may also hear or read of other types of research or research-related
activities. These include:
- Evaluative research
- Action research
- Rapid participatory appraisal
- Case study research
- Experimental research.
- Community profiling
- Systematic reviews
- Quantitative research
- Qualitative research
- Scientific research
- Field studies
It would take a long time to deconstruct all the different terminology
related to research. The reading list for this resource provides a range
of existing sources that attend to this in detail. Social work, however,
has not been alone in debating definitions and exploring how research
should adapt to a changing world. The following quote comes from The
Science and Environmental Health Network debating what social work research
often refers to as ‘user involvement’ in research:
The requirements are a "systemic, synthetic and humanistic approach"
which incorporates a dialogue between stakeholders and scientists about
the shape and structure of the scientific study. This demands that scientists
tolerate the initial confused phases and ambiguity, and engage in, essentially
an inductive process to establish the kind of scientific framework in
which the research will be carried out.
Raffensperger, C.(1996). Article IV. Defining Good Science: A New Approach
to the Environment and Public Health. Public Interest Science
A core of common research skills and principles should be used in any
good quality research, whatever label it has. Central to these are the
need to be:
- able to communicate findings effectively
- assertive– sometimes researchers have to report things others
may not want to hear!
At the end of the day all research is a process of enquiry. Research
findings offer a way of enhancing your existing knowledge, understanding
or skill, or of uncovering something new.