Research Methods in Social Work - Theory of Social Work

Research methods in social work

The bachelor of social work should carry out this kind of professional activity, as research. This activity is aimed at studying the features of social life, culture, well-being, the behavior of different age, ethnic, social and class groups, analyzing the specifics of their sociocultural space, social infrastructure, finding ways to improve the effectiveness of social work in general and social protection in particular. To this end, the bachelor's research work involves the use of various methods of solving research problems, comprehensive analysis, structuring, evaluation of social information, highlighting the main in it, diagnosing, forecasting, designing and modeling social processes and phenomena in the system of social protection of the population. The bachelor must be able to carry out partnership in the activities of research teams conducting research in various areas of social work, as well as independently determine the scientific and practical value of the tasks to be accomplished, make practical recommendations on the use of research results, prepare presentations of these results in the form of reports, abstracts, publications. As a result, the systematic use of the results of scientific research in ensuring the effective operation of social workers, the professional support of the well-being of various sections of the population, their physical, mental and social health should be achieved. For this, a bachelor must master general scientific and special research methods in social work.

In addition, for the prevention of circumstances that determine the need for a citizen in social services, an examination of the conditions of his life, the determination of the causes that affect the deterioration of these conditions; analysis of state statistical reporting data, and conducting (if necessary) selective sociological surveys. Therefore, the specialist in social work should be familiar with the methods of observation, analysis of documents, questionnaires and other research methods.

Every study begins with a problem . As a rule, studies are undertaken to test new hypotheses or theories, because the former can not explain the newly discovered data. So there is a problem situation , which objectively indicates the emergence of difficulties in understanding and explaining reality. This difficulty must be resolved in a certain way for a more adequate explanation of new facts.

When posing the problem, it is clearly indicated what the contradiction between the new facts and the old ways of explaining them is, why these explanations are inadequate, incomplete or insufficiently substantiated. Only after this difficulty is clearly understood and precisely formulated in the form of a specific research objective, the development of the problem begins. In each case, it is determined taking into account the specific conditions prevailing in this or that branch of science, depends on the level of its theoretical maturity, the availability of research developments, the state of the empirical and experimental base, the needs of practice, etc.

Modern methodology uses many methods and techniques of knowledge. The Method as a procedure consisting of a sequence of defined operations, the application of which leads to either reaching the goal or approximating it, eliminates random actions by blindly searching through various possibilities and numerous random trials and errors.

Any scientific research is based on facts, but these facts are so diverse that without their analysis, classification and generalization, it is impossible not only to foresee trends in the development of phenomena and processes of real life, but also to simply understand them. First, facts are a mapping of objectively existing phenomena and events; Second, they can be correctly interpreted and understood only within the framework of theoretical knowledge.

The empirical level of scientific knowledge is related to the direct study of objects and phenomena of reality through observation, experiment and other ways of gathering information.

The theoretical level of knowledge differs from the empirical in that in it the essential is separated from the nonessential, necessary from the accidental. The theoretical level is based on the rational (logical) stage of cognition. This involves the use of abstract methods of research, such as the formation of concepts, the construction of models, theories, etc.

What theoretical methods of cognition can apply in their work bachelor of social work?

Universal method of knowledge is understood as the unity of the ideological and methodological positions of the subject in various activities. The essence of this method is that the process of identifying and understanding facts, events and phenomena is based on reflecting in the consciousness of the researcher the objective dialectics of social reality. At the same time, any phenomenon or event is considered in the state of its formation and development, which excludes subjectivity in the selection and interpretation of facts, bias and one-sidedness.

The scientific abstraction method consists of abstracting, in the process of cognition from outside, and isolating the underlying essence of the problem.

The analysis method allows the phenomenon under study, to mentally divide the process into its component parts and examine each separately. The results of the analysis are considered holistically and by synthesis recreate a single picture of the social phenomenon or process.

Using induction , the transition from the study of individual facts to general positions and conclusions is provided. Deduction allows you to move from the most general conclusions to relatively private ones.

The historical method not only makes it possible to identify the patterns of occurrence, formation and development of phenomena in the context of historical time, but also helps by decomposing the problem into components, determining their sequence, priority .

Other general theoretical methods applicable in the process of research activity of a specialist in social work include methods ascending from the simple to the complex, the unity of the general and the particular, the unity of qualitative and quantitative analysis.

Since empirical and theoretical studies represent different levels of a single, holistic process of scientific knowledge, they can not be opposed to each other, but must be realized in a relationship.

It is not accidentally widely used in social work sociological research is a process in which the theoretical, methodological and empirical levels of cognition of social reality are presented in unity.

The first stage of sociological research begins with the development of its theoretical concept. The main task at the same time is the development of theoretical and methodological concepts about the object and subject of analysis (that is, about the society and its problems, about the social group, the individual, the social process, the phenomenon, etc.). On the basis of the theory, basic concepts are developed that describe the essential characteristics and interactions of the object and the subject of research.

The first stage ends with the development of a toolkit (for example, a questionnaire) that allows you to collect empirical material of interest to the researcher.

The second stage of sociological research is the pooling and use of the empirical data obtained to construct a new theory, or, as is usually required in social work, to prepare a scientific report and take organizational, scientifically justified solutions to the problem studied.


Research Scheme includes:

1) development of the program, work plan and supporting documents;

2) collection of empirical data (the so-called field stage);

3) processing and analysis of obtained empirical information.

The research program is a document that provides theoretical justification for methodological approaches, methodology and techniques for studying the object and subject of analysis.

The Methodological section of the program begins with the formulation of the research problem, defining the object and the subject research. The result of the analysis of the problem situation is the formulation of the research topic, which contains the indications of its object and object.

The subject area of ​​a particular study should have space and time constraints.

The next methodological section of the research program is to determine its goals and objectives.

Next is the interpretation of the basic concepts presented in the problem situation and subject area of ​​the study. In the course of the interpretation, it is necessary to single out all the concepts that are found in the theoretical part of the program, to give them a clear definition on the basis of scientific, reference literature.

The procedure for further transforming concepts into a research tool (for example, into a questionnaire) is called operationalization. Translate the language of science into questions addressed to ordinary people - a complex procedure that requires multilateral knowledge, since there are great differences in scientific terms and in everyday language. Sometimes the respondent does not even know the meaning of this or that concept. Therefore, operationalization is one of the most crucial stages in the development of the theoretical and methodological foundations of empirical research.

The basic rule of using concepts is the stability of their interpretation at all stages of the research. Since many people, and sometimes several organizations, can participate in it, it is necessary that all participants equally interpret the concepts and do not put their own interpretations into them. Otherwise, serious distortions in the information received, and even the ineffectiveness of the study as a whole, are possible.

It is extremely important to define the general population on the basis of which the sample population of the people to be studied is formed. The aggregate is the totality of all mentally possible objects of interest to the researcher. Selective population (sample) - the totality of the results of a limited number of observations of the general population. The sample should be representative, i.e. adequately reflect the properties and proportions of the general population.

After clarifying the concepts and the sample set, you can proceed to the next stage of the program - the development of hypotheses of research. Hypothesis is a reasonable scientific assumption about directly not observed links, relationships, causes, etc., leading to one or other phenomena. As a result of the study, the hypothesis must be argued, conclusively proven or refuted.

The depth of the hypotheses is determined by type of research (intelligence, descriptive, analytical).

The end of the process of formulating hypotheses gives the possibility of developing tools. In parallel with the toolkit, a work plan for the study and other supporting documents are developed, including instructions for conducting the field stage.

What empirical methods can a bachelor of social work use in his research?

Observation is one of the general scientific methods of research, which consists of collecting primary information by recording events and the conditions in which they occurred.

Unlike ordinary random observations, scientific observation has a purposeful, systematic, organized character. The researcher consciously, guided by a certain hypothesis or task, chooses and evaluates events. The results of the observation suggest a certain theoretical interpretation.

There are the following types of observation.

or refusal in it). Unformalized observation, as a rule, is not strictly planned in advance, the seen is fixed "as is" in free form. Nevertheless, while observing is subject to a specific goal, it serves to test hypotheses.

Enabled observation occurs when the researcher directly participates in the observed events, works in the team that studies, etc. With non-inclusion observation, the researcher does not interfere with the observed processes, events. The included observation allows for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon under investigation, but there is no "view from the side", with the observation not included, the opposite situation develops.

The included observation is open or hidden. During open observations, people know that their behavior is being investigated. Sometimes this leads to the fact that they behave unnaturally, they try to change their behavior, hide something or embellish, etc. Hidden observation, during which people do not know that they are being watched, is free from this shortcoming, but can lead to ethical or even legal problems (if people watching , it becomes known about the hidden observation).

Observations conducted in the natural environment are called field. If the observation is in a specially created environment, it is called laboratory.

Observations are also subdivided into visual and instrumental (using a video camera, camera, etc.) .

To reduce distortions arising in the course of observation, techniques such as monitoring of surveillance, re-observation, exclusion from the record of the researcher of evaluation terms, complex observation using various types of observation, comparison of observation data with information obtained by other methods,

Another general scientific method of research is the experiment . If the observation occurs under conditions that the researcher can not dispose of, then in the experiment, it is in a certain degree able to interfere with the course of the processes in order to obtain more reliable results. In the experiment, the researcher can be isolated from the nonessential factors of the phenomena studied, or change the conditions under which they occur. This turns the experiment into a very effective research method.

The planning and carrying out of the experiment, the interpretation and evaluation of its results depend to a large extent on the theoretical premises.

There are such types of experiment as mental (model), being the main one for modeling social processes on the computer, and full-scale, in which people participate. Natural experiments are divided into laboratory (conducted in specially created conditions) and field (performed in a natural environment for the test subjects) .

Carrying out experiments in social work requires careful preparation, since the experiment itself and its results directly affect the fate of people.

One of the most objective methods of research in social work is the analysis of documents - sources containing information about social life, about social objects (individuals, organizations, etc.). The objectivity of the method lies primarily in the fact that the documents are created not for the sake of the aims of this or that researcher, but exist independently of his intention to conduct scientific research with the involvement of documents.

Analyzed documents can be official (state or departmental statistics documents, agency report, etc.) and unofficial (private letters, diaries, etc.). Documents are also divided into personal (passport, letter to friend, etc.) and impersonal (organization statistics and etc.). In the form of fixation, written documents (in the form of text), statistical (expressed in digital form), iconographic (film, photo), phonetic (audio).

Methods of document analysis - traditional qualitative analysis (interpretation of the document content by the researcher) and a formalized quantitative method of document analysis ( content analysis ). The weakness of the traditional analysis is some subjectivity of the researcher when interpreting the contents of the document. When content analysis of documents or media materials is used, it is counted how the semantic units (for example, the social belonging of the characters of the text, the quality of the individual, the order of listing social events, the positive or negative assessment of social phenomena by people, are reflected in the information array (text, audio, etc.) and so on).

Very convenient and informative, and therefore widespread is the method of research, such as sociological survey.

The following types of survey are distinguished: questioning, interviewing, questioning of expert experts on the problem under study (carried out in the form of questionnaires or interviewing).

Questionnaire - a survey conducted using a questionnaire, which the respondent (respondent) fills in himself. The questionnaire can be conducted in both individual and group forms, by distributing questionnaires to a group of respondents, which significantly shortens the time of the survey, increases the efficiency of data acquisition.

The creation of the questionnaire is preceded by a lengthy stage in the development of the research program, since by using questionnaire questions it is necessary to solve the problems and test the hypotheses of the study.

Of great importance is the correctness of the questions. They should not interfere with the prestige of the interviewee, touch on long-past, minor events that a person does not remember well, touch the intimate aspects of his life, touching the honor and dignity of the respondent, exposing him in an unfavorable light to the researcher. If it is not possible to ask a question of interest to the researcher in a direct form, you can refer to an indirect question, for example: "Are there people who do this, do you approve of their behavior?".

There are certain rules for compiling questionnaires and conducting a survey.

Any questionnaire should begin with the introduction - referrals to the respondent. It briefly describes the purpose of the study, called the organization conducting the survey, indicates the nature of the use of the results, the method of filling out the questionnaire. If this is not a questionnaire for experts, then, as a rule, it is anonymous, so it is better to mention immediately that it is not necessary to indicate the name and the name. This will increase the frankness of the answers.

Then, the main part of the questionnaire , which includes blocks of questions, the content of which should allow to solve the tasks and to test the research hypotheses. In form, questions can be closed (with ready-made answers), open (without answers, with allotted blank lines for filling in by the respondent) and semi-closed (after the ready answers, they leave a place to indicate their own opinion of the respondent). It is recommended to start the questionnaire with simple questions designed to interest the interviewee, arrange it to fill out the questionnaire. The most difficult questions should be placed in the middle of the questionnaire, alternating them with simpler ones. Completing the main part of the questionnaire, you should re-state lighter questions.

Do not forget that respondents may not know something, do not remember, that's why you should provide answers in closed questions "I do not know", "I'm not sure", "it's hard to say".

Completes the questionnaire socio-demographic block of questions, dedicated to sex, age, marital status, social status, personal residence, etc. (the so-called passport). It is necessary to carefully monitor the completeness of the answers to these questions, otherwise the questionnaire is subject to culling during processing.

As a rule, the respondent should not be required to fill out a well-designed questionnaire for more than 30 minutes. In the future, as a rule, the psychological threshold of fatigue comes and attention to the questionnaire decreases.

The quality of the questionnaire (as, indeed, any toolkit) is usually checked with the help of a pilot (trial) study conducted on a small group of people, as well as expert-related experts with experience in conducting research well versed in the problem under study.

Interviewing - is another type of poll. Unlike the questionnaire, the interviewer himself asks questions and fixes the respondents' answers. In the group form, interviews are usually not conducted, and this increases the timing of the interview. However, when interviewing, you do not need to replicate the questionnaire, which allows you to reduce costs. Nevertheless, the training of interviewers requires a deeper approach. The subjective influence of the interviewer on respondents is higher than that of the surveyor. If the interview is not formalized (when the interviewer reads out the questions, answers and fixes the opinion of the interviewee on a special interview form), but proceeds in a more loose form (sometimes in the form of a conversation) get detailed information, clarify certain views of the respondent and in other ways reveal additional information about the object and subject of the research.

In social work, deep can be very useful in interviews - a casual conversation between the respondent and the interviewer who acts in this situation as a professional researcher who imitates the role of an equal interlocutor, Reasonable goals and objectives.

Consider the types of in-depth interviews.

Narrative interviews (English narrative - narrative, narrative) is a free narrative about the life of the narrator without any interference from the interviewer. It is assumed that in the course of such an interview, in the memory of the respondent, those episodes and moments that represent the greatest subjective significance are emerging in the first place. After a narrative interview, it is possible to replenish the necessary information by raising additional questions.

Semi-structured the interview is conducted according to a preliminary general plan with a list of thematic blocks of research interest, as well as highlighting aspects for which more detailed information is needed. The formulation of questions is open; the preparation of answers to them takes place during the interview. It is important that the questions of the interviewer are organically integrated into the free flow of the conversation in the form of clarifications. If this can not be done, it's better not to interrupt the interlocutor, but ask questions of interest at the end of the conversation.

Biographical is a semi-structured version of the interview. In it, the thematic blocks correspond to the sequence of the individual's life cycles: "childhood", "youth", "study", "marriage", "children", " etc. The interviewer only directs the conversation on a certain topic and skilfully brings the conversation to the next block, when, in his opinion, the story about this or that period of life is exhausted.

Leitmotivny interview, on the contrary, focuses the conversation on tracking the dynamics of the same aspect of the individual's vital activity throughout his biographical path. For example, if the researcher is interested in the relationship between parents and children at different stages in the development of the family, then in the course of the conversation in going to each next period of life history, the interviewer will have in mind exactly this aspect and ask relevant questions.

Focused interview is aimed at learning as much as possible about just one life situation. Based on this, the interviewer's questions are aimed at deepening into a certain topic.


Interactive interview differs from the narrative and semi-structured but the form of the interviewer-respondent relationship. If the task of previous types of interview is to listen carefully to the interlocutor with a minimum of comments by the interviewer, in this case both the researcher and the participant take an equally active position. Opinions of the researcher, sometimes not coinciding with the statements of the respondent, can force the latter to clarify his position or change it under the influence of the dialogue that has taken place.

The listed types of in-depth interviews, as well as included monitoring and analysis of personal documents, are used as qualitative research methods. These methods are widely used in social sciences and are used primarily to study individual , the subjective aspect of social practice - the real experience of the behavior of specific people in specific circumstances. But through the analysis of the individual aspect, wider social problems are being investigated (for example, when studying individual experience of overcoming disability, drug addiction, etc., the way in which these problems are reflected in a wider circle of people is studied).

In studies, quantitative and qualitative methods are often combined. In combined use, qualitative research is usually part of a larger project and is conducted by one researcher or a small group.

The tactics of conducting distinguish such varieties of qualitative methods as case study, life history (biographical method), family history (for several generations), etc. Conclusions and results of such studies are often of local applied nature and are aimed at developing concrete practical advice.

The results of quantitative research are processed, usually on a computer, using special programs (for example, using the SPSS package - one of the most common statistical processing systems for social data). Methods are used such as the construction and analysis of one-dimensional and two-dimensional frequency tables; analysis of the relationship between qualitative and quantitative variables; constructing regression models; search for latent variables; obtaining multidimensional groupings using cluster analysis.

The findings of the research require an interpretation that consists in turning sociological information not just into numerical indicators, but into specific characteristics of the object of research. It is the research tasks that allow us to argue and concretize the information obtained. In these data it is necessary to make meaningful sense, to correlate them with the studied problem.

It is very important to check the hypotheses put forward. In the pilot study, the hypothesis is checked by the relationship with the obtained numerical value. In a descriptive study that gives an idea of ​​the state of the problem under study, one must rely on the knowledge and scientific experience of the researcher, his ability to find weighty arguments in support of the explanations advanced by him. For additional reasoning, you can use the information obtained by other researchers of this problem, rely on the opinions of experts.

The causes of these or other phenomena and processes reveal an analytical study. The proof of hypotheses in the analytical study is based on the analysis of the relationships between the characteristics of the research object and the causes (quantitative and qualitative) that stimulate a change in its state. As a result of this analysis, it is determined which factors significantly influence this change, which are not significant, which ones do not influence at all (although they were treated differently in the development of hypotheses).

In solving specific problems, the researcher has the right to choose the most appropriate method, to determine and justify the model for explaining the obtained data, to analyze (and overcome) its limitations, to analyze the mathematical-statistical sense of the results obtained, to present them in tabular or graphical form. Ultimately, the specialist should propose an appropriate theoretical interpretation of the empirical data obtained, develop scientifically sound practical recommendations for solving the social problem studied.

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