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SOCW 5313 Social Work Research and Evaluation Methods: Home

Social Research Methods

Research methods are a group of methodologies or formalized instructions on how to conduct research. Research methods provide a set of recipes for the scientist. In the social sciences, research methods are used to “tell about society” (Howard Becker, 1986). As a whole, research methods are designed so that scientists can identify patterns and relationships, test and redefine theories, make predictions, interpret culturally or historically significant events, explore diversity, give voice, and advance new theories. All research methods use a specialized language consisting of statements that explore relationships between variables.

There are two main families of research methods:

The first are qualitative methods, those based on descriptions or words and are often referred to as data enhancers. Qualitative methods usually study single subjects or small groups of people in great detail.

Quantitative methods use numeric data and are often referred to as data condensers since they may examine many subjects. Statistical inferences require quantitative methods.

More About Methods

Qualitative Methods- Research that investigates aspects of social life which are not amenable to quantitative measurement. Associated with a variety of theoretical perspectives, qualitative research uses a range of methods to focus on the meanings and interpretation of social phenomena and social processes in the particular contexts in which they occur.

Quantitative Methods- Research involving the collection of data in numerical form for quantitative analysis. The numerical data can be durations, scores, counts of incidents, ratings, or scales. Quantitative data can be collected in either controlled or naturalistic environments, in laboratories or field studies, from special populations or from samples of the general population.

The defining factor is that numbers result from the process, whether the initial data collection produced numerical values, or whether non-numerical values were subsequently converted to numbers as part of the analysis process, as in content analysis.

Mixed Methods- The combined use of both quantitative and qualitative methodologies within the same study in order to address a single research question.

Research Design and Research Method

What is the difference between Research Design and Research Method? - Research design is a plan to answer your research question.  A research method is a strategy used to implement that plan.  Research design and methods are different but closely related, because good research design ensures that the data you obtain will help you answer your research question more effectively.

Which research method should I choose? - It depends on your research goal.  It depends on what subjects (and who) you want to study.  Let's say you are interested in studying what makes people happy, or why some students are more conscious about recycling on campus.  To answer these questions, you need to make a decision about how to collect your data.  Most frequently used methods include:

  1. Observation / Participant Observation
  2. Surveys
  3. Interviews
  4. Focus Groups
  5. Experiments
  6. Secondary Data Analysis / Archival Study
  7. Mixed Methods (combination of some of the above)

One particular method could be better suited to your research goal than others, because the data you collect from different methods will be different in quality and quantity.   For instance, surveys are usually designed to produce relatively short answers, rather than the extensive responses expected in qualitative interviews.

What other factors should I consider when choosing one method over another? - Time for data collection and analysis is something you want to consider.  An observation or interview method, so-called qualitative approach, helps you collect richer information, but it takes time.  Using a survey helps you collect more data quickly, yet it may lack details.  So, you will need to consider the time you have for research and the balance between strengths and weaknesses associated with each method (e.g., qualitative vs. quantitative).