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What is Research

‘Research is something that anyone can do, and everyone ought to do. It is, simply, collecting information and thinking systematically about it. The word ‘research’ carries overtones of abstruse statistics and complex methods, white coats and computers. Some social research is highly specialised, but most of it is not: much of the best work is logically very straightforward. Useful research on many problems can be done with small resources, and should be a regular part of the life of any thoughtful person involved in social action’ (Connell, 1975)

 Connell, R. W. et al., (1975). How to do small surveys – a guide for students in

sociology, kindred industries and allied trades, (2nd edn). School of Social Sciences.

Flinders University.



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Ethics Related Websites and Documents

National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research 2007 –updated 2009

*Includes information on types of research which may be not need approval of an ethics committee.

National Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research

National Health and Medical Research Council

University websites can be a useful source of information about ethics and research. Some links are included below.

University of Sydney website

Guide to relevant legislation, codes and policy relevant to human ethics

University of Western Australia

Human Research Ethics Office

Melbourne University. Research Ethics

Many non government organizations are involved in research and some have their own ethics committees and processes. An example is Uniting Care Burnside in NSW

The websites of government departments involved in research may also provide useful information on ethics and research. For example the health and statutory child protection services in respective Australian states and territories. 



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Research Stages

  • Identifies topic for research
  • Develops a researchable question or questions
  • Conducts review of the literature
  • Identifies appropriate methodology and method.
  • Develops research proposal
  • Completes ethics application process
  • Develops appropriate research tools, i.e. interview questions, survey questions, focus group themes
  • Recruits participants for the research
  • Undertakes a process of research data gathering
  • Puts data in format suitable for analysis (i.e. are interviews to be transcribed, notes taken during interviews or focus groups etc).
  • Data analysis
  • Writes up data analysis
  • Develops a research report

NB. Although written as a chronological sequence of events, there is often movement back and forward between these stages. For example, the research question/s may need t be refined again after conducting the literature review. Another literature search may be required to assist in explaining some of the research findings. 



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References : conducting research  

Alston M. & Bowles W. (2012 )   Research for Social Workers: An Introduction to Methods. St Leonards: Allen & Unwin

 Fink A.  (2009) How to Conduct SurveysA Step-by-Step Guide Fourth Edition SAGE Publications, Inc  

Morris T. (2006) Social Work Research Methods, Four Alternative Methods. Thousand Oaks: Sage

Wadsworth, Y. (2011). Do it yourself social research / Yoland Wadsworth. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin.

Wadsworth, Y. (2011). Everyday evaluation on the run : the user-friendly introductory guide to effective evaluation ( 3rd ed ed.). Crows Nest, N.S.W: Allen & Unwin.

Wadsworth, Y. (2010). Building in research and evaluation : human inquiry for living systems  Hawthorn, Victoria Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Action Research Press :co- published by Allen & Unwin, 2010.

Walter, M. (Ed.). (2010). Social Research Methods (second ed.). South Melbourne, Victoria Oxford University Press

NB. Sage publishes a number of books  which provide a systematic guide to a particular research method – see Fink above for an example.



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Examples of practice/policy issues

Examples can range from researching a particular issue, which is coming up in their practice, which they do not know very much about, to researching an issue, which has been of concern across the agency or even more broadly across the sector. The focus of the literature review might be to find out more about an issue where relatively little is known (i.e. adolescents who are violent towards their parents) or about different ways of working with people experiencing the particular issue (i.e. do some programmes for young people who are aggressive work better than others).

Examples that are more specific could include

  • What research is there about strengths based approaches?
  • Why has case management become so popular, does it work?
  • Volunteer home visiting schemes as part of child protection services
  • Home visiting versus agency based visits
  • Programmes focusing on young people and  sexual assault prevention
  • Alternatively, it may be the case that there is so much literature about an issue that it is useful for both the student and the agency to have it synthesized and complied into one document. 



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Skills involved in conducting and writing a review of the literature

  • Able to identify and use the databases relevant to the topic. Depending which discipline/s have focused on the issue, this may require familiarity with a diverse range of data bases - medicine, education, psychology, law – all of which have their own idiosyncrasies and particular ways for conducting data searches.
  • Able to identify relevant search terms. For example, the database may not recognize women’s shelters rather than women’s refuges or field instruction rather than field education.
  • Conduct ‘advanced’ searches. For example, narrowing the search using combinations of search terms.
  • Keep to parameter of the topic under investigation
  • Identify key issues and gaps in the gathered literature
  • Able to summarise relevant points from the literature
  • Ability to synthesize the literature for the purposes of the particular focus of the topic

*NB. Learning to write in a literature review format –not exactly the same as writing an essay so the student will be learning how to do this

** One of the bonuses of having a student on placement conduct a literature review is that they – courtesy of their university library card- have access to the considerable resources of university libraries, including access to databases, the expertise of subject librarians and downloading journal articles free of charge. Lack of access to databases has recently been identified, as a significant issue in the NGO research sector (Goodwin and Phillips 2011) so is likely to be even more problematic for those services without a defined research or research/policy unit)

Goodwin. S & Phillips. R (2011) Researching the Researchers. Policy Research in Non Government Organisations in the Human Services Sector. Unpublished Research Report, University of Sydney.



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Issues to consider when presenting research

  • Who it the audience?
  • What is the key take home message –the most important single point you want people to remember – regardless of how tired, stressed or preoccupied, they might be!
  • What do they want to know –always good to find this out beforehand where possible and tailor presentation to best meet their interests?
  • What is the most useful strategy for communicating the research to this particular audience? Again asking the intended audience is a good starting point. 
  • What is your reason for wanting to communicate the research to this audience?  This is not always simply about communicating findings. You may need the co-operation and interest of other agencies because they work with the client group that is the focus of your research. They may be able to assist in recruiting potential participants or advice you on aspects of the research method, such as whether interview or survey questions will make sense to the target group. Moreover, the process of translating research into practice stands a much greater chance of success if practitioners have felt involved in the project from the beginning. 



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Case Examples

Scenario 1

The student is undertaking a research focused field placement. Their primary task has been conducting interviews with the research participants. During supervision meetings, the student has been able to reflect on the ethical principles underpinning their interview practice. For example, that to be in a position to give informed consent the participant was provided with written information about the research study was given the opportunity to ask question prior to participating and the option of withdrawing from the research. The student has also been able to critically discuss the relationship between the ethical requirements of human research ethics committees (for example that participants be provided with written information about the research) and relevant sections of the AASW Code of Ethics 

Scenario 2

The student is undertaking a direct practice focused placement in a domestic violence agency. As part of the placement, they have been asked to undertake a review of the literature on working with victims of domestic violence who also experience mental health issues. The student has selected an article about an empirical research study and during supervision has been able to discuss the key ethical issues the researchers would have needed to address in both conducting the research and reporting the findings. 



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Case Examples

Scenario 1

The student’s primary task has been conducting interviews with research participants and has had some involvement with the preliminary analysis of the interview data. After providing feedback on a pilot interview conducted by the student, the field educator asks the student to listen to one of their first interviews and focusing on the interviewer to provide a short written assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the interview. The field educator also listens to the interview and during supervision; they discuss their respective assessments, including areas of agreement and disagreement. Towards the end of the placement, the student is asked to transcribe another interview and provide the field educator with the transcript and e thematic analysis of the interview.


Scenario 2 

The student’s field placement is in a rural youth service. The primary research task has been to produce a set of researchable questions on the issue of young people and sexual assault prevention, which the agency plans to use as the basis of a grant submission. The student initially met with the practitioners to understand the practice context of the issue and then undertook a review of the literature to identify key themes and gaps and points of disagreement. The student with input from the practitioners developed a set of researchable questions based on the literature and the practice context of the agency.

The student produced a document consisting of a succinct overview of practice context of the agency, the review of the literature and the research questions devised. It is clear from the document that the questions flow logically from the literature reviewed and addresses the practice context of the agency.



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Case Examples

Examples of gathering evidence for Applying Research in Practice

This student is undertaking their field education in a family support agency in which direct practice is the primary focus of the placement. Though the student’s main task is casework, they have also been asked to undertake a review of the literature on strengths based approaches in this field of practice. In consultation with the practitioners, the student has narrowed the focus of the topic and devised a series of questions to guide the literature review. These questions include, definitions of the term ‘strengths based’, the history of this approach, the efficacy of strengths based models, contested issues, gaps in the literature and the primary discipline involved in research in this approach to practice.

The student has been asked to produce a document of no more than 2,000 words, which clearly addresses the research questions devised. In addition, the student has been asked to provide short verbal progress updates at the fortnightly team meetings.

During the process of conducting the literature, review the field educator and student have been discussing the issue of evidence-based practice, during supervision meetings. The field educator had provided the student with relevant readings on the issue of evidence based practice in social work (or perhaps asked the student to locate relevant readings) and asked them to consider the pros and cons of this approach, in the context of the practice issue they are currently researching. During supervision, the student has been able to articulate their position on evidence based social work using the issue of ‘strengths based’ approaches to illustrate their answer.



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Ideas for communicating research to others

Within the agency
  • Short progress updates at team meetings
  • Initial explanation to team of research topic/reason for research etc.
  • If agency requires monthly reports from staff the report could include a short overview/update of research project. This means the research is communicated board, upper management etc and others that student and or field educator may have little contact with.
  • Insert small piece in the agency’s newsletter. Some agencies will be part of the larger national organization or network of services which often have newsletters as well, so you could think about inserting a piece there as well.  Again you don’t have to wait until the research is completed to be letting people know about it is happening.
  • Put details on organizations website (ie as a planned project, work in progress, completed project- whichever suits your purpose.
  • Some agencies hold regular internal professional development sessions (inviting guest speakers etc) so it might be appropriate to present something here. Could be  a more formal presentation or a more relaxed workshop style presentation(depending on type of research).
  • Ask student to draft a summary for the annual report (doesn’t matter if the project is not complete when the placement finishes or annual report is due – field educator can always add to it in case of the former or provide an update in the next year’s annual report.
  • Some agencies ‘launch’ a research report-if substantial piece of research. Need to factor time involved in organizing such an event plus the cost ( printing reports, editing, catering etc).
Beyond the agency
  • Interagency meetings –usually have a section where each agency gives an update, so could be included here. Alternatively some have guest speakers –so you could also arrange to present at one of these.
  • Newsletters of peak bodies or as a link on their website
  •  The AASW newsletter  or the state branch newsletters. Need to think in advance about cut off dates.
  • Get an ISSN or
  • ISBN This  means a copy of your research can be deposited in the National library and will come up in library and data base searches.
  • Could the research be presented at the student’s university?
  • There are a number of national research centres and clearing houses which may interested in knowing about your research. For example the Australian Clearing House for Youth Studies has a monthly newsletter Youth Field Express which contains news about current research projects, programmes and reports relevant to the youth services sector. Another example is the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault
  • Don’t forget to include the participant group when thinking about communicating the research. For example offer to send them a copy of the report. Are there ways they could be invited to presentations without compromising their confidentiality?