Social work research utilises a variety of methods to extend understandings of individuals and groups within a society, and sometimes across cultures (Morris, 2005). Research methods are based on scientific enquiry that can be represented by a scientific method. This is a set of procedures used to investigate a research question to acquire new knowledge about the world, or to correct and integrate previous knowledge, using observable and measurable data, which is subject to the laws of reasoning and logic (Morris, 2005). Research methods are employed to control for extraneous variables that may influence the results of measurements, and to guard against investigator bias, or the subjective bias of the participant (Morris, 2005).
This paper will present an outline of research method issues that enable the social work researcher to investigate prevention and intervention strategies for individual and community health and welfare. The paper aims to identify reasons why the social work researcher should critically reflect on research findings that result from their studies. Firstly, two important methodological issues shall be highlighted in regards to reliability and validity of a study. Second, the advantages and disadvantages of qualitative and quantitative research methods shall be provided, as well as providing an example of each method type. Next, ethical and power issues relevant to social work research shall be discussed. Finally, a conclusion shall synthesise the main points of the paper that indicate the importance of research methods to the social work researcher.
Research methods have a variety of important issues that need to be considered in general. Two dominant issues are: 1) recruitment of the sample; and 2) measurement material. Within social work research, a sample represents a larger population of people with similar characteristics (Russell Bernard, 2004). The sample is a sub-group of people from the target population, or the entire group of possible participants that could take part in the research. A sub-group (sample) is recruited because it is usually unlikely that all eligible respondents of a target population can be included in the study, due to location, economics or time etc (Russell Bernard, 2004). If a sample is truly representative of the target population, then results from the data gathered from the sample can be generalized to that population, as they all share similar characteristics it is assumed that the results will be applicable to the population from which the sample is recruited from (Russell Bernard, 2004).
A probability sample increases the chances that a sample will be representative of its population (Russell Bernard, 2004). This is a sample that utilizes a random selection process from within the population. Firstly, all possible respondents within a population must have an equal chance of being recruited. Various forms of random sampling exist, simple methods include choosing numbers from a hat, and more complex methods utilize random number tables or computer software. In contrast, non-probabilistic sampling does not rely on random recruitment of a sample (Russell Bernard, 2004). However, the sample can still be representative of the target population; however the degree of representation is likely to be much lower than a sample recruited on the principles of probability. Within social wo