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SWK 350 - Social Work Research and Assessment: The Research Process

Starting the Research Process

Although good research takes time, it doesn't have to be difficult if time is taken to prepare. Here is a brief overview of the process.

  1. Think about your topic. Identify the main concept, then outline the related keywords.
  2. Narrow your topic. Concentrate on a particular aspect and keep your focus reasonable. Try using some mind mapping exercises to help focus your topic.
  3. Determine the scope of the focus. That is, how much content will be required to reasonably cover this aspect.
  4. Select and evaluate the appropriate sources: 
    1. Reference sources (dictionaries/encyclopedias) - these are excellent tools to find the basic background information.
    2. Library catalogs - Collections of sources in different disciplines. 
    3. Electronic databases - scholarly and popular/current event collections of periodicals of increasing specificity, providing access to full-text articles and/or citation information.
    4. Internet Search Directories - Google, Yahoo!, etc.
  5. Retrieve, examine, and organize (even delete) content - synthesize your information.
  6. Evaluate - Examine your findings critically, deleting unnecessary content falling outside your scope.
  7. Repeat the process.

Thinking Critically about Thinking

Developing ideas for focused study is difficult. Trying to understand how we as individuals think may help in developing patterns of successful information retrieval and processing. Use the Elements of Thought diagram to better understand the underlying mental processes and essential questions for critical thought.

Evaluating Web Content Critically - CRAAP Test

Conducting research is a critical process, no matter how trusted the source may be. Use the following criteria for evaluating the validity of Internet content:

Primary considerations:

  • Authority & Authorship - Is there a clearly defined author of the content, and if so, what are his or her credentials? Is there an "About" section listed on the site? Can the authors be contacted?
  • Bias - Is there a pursuit of objectivity in the content that is presented?  Or is there a noticeable bias or implicit agenda on the part of the author(s) that is discernible?
  • Relevancy - Is the content current enough or even pertinent to the subject to support the claims of the authors? How often is the content updated?
  • Accuracy - Are the proposed conclusions verifiable from the data presented? Is any data and accompanying references presented? Can fact be adequately separated from opinion?  

Also known as the CRAAP Test for evaluating information, use this set of criteria to maintain a critical focus on whatever sources are used in your research.

Other considerations for evaluation:

  • What is the domain of the site's URL (.com,.edu,.org,.net,.gov)?
  • Are there numerous broken links across the site?
  • Are there advertisements on the page which may promote an agenda?
  • Does the site rely too heavily on extra, downloadable software?

Other helpful sites 

Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply & Questions to Ask - University of California, Berkeley

Evaluating Information Found on the Internet - Johns Hopkins University

Research Guides

Just a couple of titles listed in our collection related to the research process.