Research for Social Work Practice – Assignment Guidance 2020-21: A Critical Research Report
Analysing your selected paper and structuring your critical research report
Where to begin…
At the beginning of your report, please provide the full reference for the journal article you have selected so that we can easily locate it.
Write-up your report using the following main section headings of Introduction, Analysis, ‘The Bigger Picture’, Conclusion, and References. Feel free to use subheadings if it helps you to structure your work.
1. Introduction (roughly 400 words)
Why did you choose this topic? Why is it important and why does it interest you? Here would be a good place to highlight the links with your practice, background or personal experience or experiences on placement, if relevant. What area of social work did you choose to focus on? Why are decisions in this area of social work difficult to make? Think, for example, of common social work dilemmas such as care/control, risk/liberty, equality/fairness.
How did you go about finding the paper you have selected for analysis – how easy or difficult was it to find one you were happy with?
Which key words did you use in your search of the literature relating to your topic and which databases did you search? Briefly describe the search process you undertook.
Say briefly how the rest of your report will be structured.
2. Analysis of your journal article
To critically analyse your journal article, think about your answers to the questions I have set out below. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list; you may well have other questions you want to ask, while some of these questions may not be so relevant for your selected paper. The list of subheadings below is intended as a helpful guide, not a prescription for what you ‘must’ do. I have not specified word counts for the subheadings because this may vary according to your selected paper. For example, the ethical implications of some research are greater than others. Equally, do not worry if your selected paper does not conform to the format below in terms of all the issues I mention. Whatever the structure of your selected paper, go through your analysis in a logical way asking critical questions along the lines suggested.
Remember that being ‘critical’ does not necessarily mean ‘be negative’. The purpose of this assignment is for you to analyse an article that you find interesting and useful, so your evaluation is likely to be quite positive. Being ‘critical’ means asking searching questions, not necessarily finding something negative to say, just for the sake of it.
The following are the kinds of issues that you should discuss in the ‘analysis’ section of your report:
Introductory sections of the article you are analysing
Think about the title of your selected paper and why the authors chose the wording they did. What information does the title convey about the research and how it was done? How important was the title in your selection of this paper?
If there are key words listed, you might like to comment on these. Were any of them in the list of key words that you used in your search?
The abstract of your selected paper should provide an accurate summary of the paper. Did you read the abstract before selecting your paper? Did it help you decide?
The introduction of your selected paper: Sometimes this first section is called ‘background’ or ‘literature review’. Here, the authors should ideally provide a context for their study and specify its aims. This section will often explain what is already known from previous research and where the gaps are, to justify the study presented in the paper. Do the authors say why they undertook their research and why they thought it was important? Is the section long and detailed, or short and concise? What claim do the authors make about their own research considering this background? Consider if the paper has drawn on other subject areas or disciplines such as social policy, sociology, psychology, or health. Draw attention to these in your discussion and discuss briefly what the strength is of using these. What (if any) are the main theoretical approaches or issues that the paper addresses?
Research questions or problem
Most research involves addressing a research question or a research aim. See if you can locate this in your selected paper. There may be an explicit research question like, “The research question was: what are the experiences of foster children in foster placements?” But sometimes it will be set out more as a statement without a question mark. So the authors may say something like, “The aim of the research was to explore the experiences of foster children in foster placements”. Try to tease out the research question or aims of the research that is reported in your selected paper.
Next, consider the research methods the researchers have used to answer their research questions or meet their aims. Remember the wide range of methods we have covered on the module, including: unstructured interviews; semi-structured interviews; focus groups; questionnaires; surveys; experiments. State what methods of data collection were used by the researchers in your selected paper and explain why they seemed a good fit with the nature of the questions the research was seeking to answer. Show your wider knowledge about the method, and its strength and weaknesses. For example, why might they have used semi-structured rather than structured interviews? Comment on the validity and reliability of the research. This is a chance to refer to the research methods literature on the reading list and really showcase your knowledge and reading.
This is also where you can show off your understanding of ontology and epistemology, because you can talk about the nature of the social world assumed in the research – broadly, does it assume the world is ‘real’ (so it can be measured) or ‘constructed’ (so it is about perspectives)? You can talk about the assumptions that underlie the research in terms of how social reality can be known (epistemology) which links to the choice of method directly.
Explain key technical terms even if they seem obvious and make sure you look these up in appropriate research methods textbooks in the library. Avoid using technical terms loosely, as if everyone understands what they mean. Briefly define them so that we can see that you know what they mean.
Did the authors discuss getting ethical approval for their research? Comment on the specific ethical issues that their project might have raised and how they dealt with them.
Analysis of data
Do the authors give details about data analysis? Make sure you describe the kind of data they collected. This might be interview data in the form of transcripts, or multiple answers to a structured questionnaire. How much detail did they give about how the data were analysed? Would you have liked to read more, or do you feel they gave enough detail to ‘show the workings’? Again, this is a chance for you to refer to the research methods literature. For example, how do qualitative researchers develop ‘themes’ from the data they collect in their research?
Give particular attention to the following and make sure you discuss them in your analysis:
There should be a substantial findings or results section of the paper which summarises what the researchers found. In a qualitative paper these will often be set out as themes or organised under a similar heading. In a quantitative paper there may be tables or graphs that are then explained in the main text. Either way, make sure that you can summarise the findings/results in your own words in your assignment.
Relevance for practice
What is the relevance of the findings presented in your selected paper for social work practice? Often, the authors will refer to this themselves in their own discussion or conclusion but try to think beyond what they say and express your own views about it. Remember that you were asked to select a paper based on your professional interests, so you should be able to address this issue in some detail. Relate this to what else you might have learned on the programme. Does it complement it, or perhaps fill a gap? You can refer here to other sources of research or theory to support the points you want to make. Do not be tempted to fall back on your own opinion, cite references in the usual way.
How might the evidence presented in your selected paper contribute to social work decision-making? It might be that it could have a direct influence, or it may be that the influence is indirect, such as by having an impact on the professional attitudes or values that are the backdrop to decision-making. Tease these factors out in your critique of your paper, and again use references to support your points.
Carefully consider the implications of the research for understanding inequalities and discrimination. Are there any gaps in the matters addressed in the paper? If so, how might these have been addressed? What about the use of language? In an older paper, the language might be outdated and considered discriminatory in the contemporary context. Show that you are aware of this and discuss the issue critically. How far does this detract from the value of the paper, if at all?
3. Section on ‘the bigger picture’ concerning the topic you are focusing on (roughly 400 words)
As well as analysing your selected journal article, you need to show that you have some understanding of the ‘bigger picture’ concerning your topic. This means finding information about the scale, prevalence, extent, or rate of the issue. For example, if your chosen journal article is about domestic abuse, you need to provide some relevant facts and figures about domestic abuse in the UK. You could use any credible source for these facts and figures, such as government websites, or a charity such as Refuge. There may also be information about relevant statistics in your selected journal article, when the authors provide background information.
You need to find a table, chart or graph that presents relevant statistics about your topic and cut and paste this into your assignment. You should then write a short section about it, to show that you understand what the data presented in the table, graph or chart mean. Using our example of domestic abuse, you could use a graph which appears to show that reported rates of domestic abuse increased during the lockdown for Covid-19.
As you can see from the assessment criteria below, this aspect of the assignment is worth 10% of your mark, so it represents a small proportion of your mark overall
together and summarise briefly the main points from your analysis and your consideration of the ‘bigger
• To get a good mark you will need to draw on TWO types of literature. One is the literature that relates to your chosen topic. For example, if your topic is dementia, then there is clearly a very large literature across many disciplines that addresses this topic in different ways. If you narrow your focus to, say, people with dementia living in care homes, then you can see how the range of literature narrows. Experiment with making your topic broader or more narrow until it seems manageable. Use this literature to inform your analysis of your paper and show your wider knowledge of your topic. For example, you could refer to older or more recent developments to set your paper in context. These developments might be in research, politics, social policy, or elsewhere.
The second type of literature is the research methods literature that explains the theoretical context and the meaning of technical terminology that researchers use. This literature will help you write in an informed and critical way about the underpinning philosophy, study design and the methods used in your selected paper. For example, does the research in your selected article assume that the social world is ‘socially constructed’ or ‘real’ and measurable? You can find many useful resources about research methods on Moodle, including links to e-books on our reading list. There are also more resources available remotely from the library.
Research for Social Work Practice – Assignment Guidance 2020-21: A Critical Research Report