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Social Work Research Guide

From Topic to Question

In chapter 2 of Research Methods for Social Workers: An Introduction, the authors describe the criteria for determining whether you have a good research question. There are four elements to consider when evaluating your research question:

  1. Relevant
  2. Researchable
  3. Feasible
  4. Ethical and culturally sensitive


A relevant research question is one whose answers will have an impact on policies, theories, or practices related to the social work profession. Other factors determining the relevance include the organization who funds the research, the program that houses it, and the research team that undertakes it.


Generally, questions that involve moral or faith-based decisions are outside of the realm of research. A researchable question is appropriate for scientific inquiry, where it is possible to collect viable and reliable data to answer the question.


What are the resources available to you to conduct this research? The scope of the research study might be limited because of your resources, or lack thereof. Could you practically do what you have planned?

Ethical and Cultural Acceptability

The way your research question is phrased as well as the way the study is eventually conducted have the potential to cause harm. As you begin your research for the literature review, you will become more aware of what came before on a similar topic, including anything that study missed. 

If you are struggling to develop a good research question talk to your professor or contact me! 

QuickSearch is a tool that searches across many of the resources available to you at SHU Library. With one search box, you can search keywords for your topic and the results will include books, eBooks, peer-reviewed articles, as well as newspapers, magazines and other media (like streaming video).

QuickSearch is a good place to start your research for your topic. With the results you get a general idea of what is available about the topic and you have the ability to start reading through the research. 

You can use the search box below to test it out.


For more information about using QuickSearch, watch the video below. 

Google is a natural place to start for all of use when looking for information. It's easy to use and generally gives you the answers you want or need. 

When it comes to academic research though, it might not be the best option. Typing in "palliative care" gives you more than 26 million results with no easy way to narrow them down or to know what is reputable, scholarly and peer-reviewed. Don't get me wrong, you could probably figure all that out with a Google search, but how much time would you end up spending to do so?

A better option is to do a search in Google Scholar. This will search through scholarly books, research articles, open access and subscription journals. So it narrows down to the resources you need to consult (are required to consult) in research in the Social Work field.

Google Scholar Search

The biggest drawback is that you might not get full-text access to all of the citations, articles and books available in a Google Scholar search. Check out the Research Tools at SHU page in this guide to find out about Citation Linker and Journal Finder, which can help connect you to the resources you find in a Google Scholar search.

The pitfalls of Google

Google dominates our lives in so many ways. They are the most used search engine (about 65% of the market). Doesn't everyone use Chrome and have a Gmail account? Google knows a lot about us, but we don't know everything about them.

How does Google decide on the search results and the order they display? 

Many factors influence this:

  • Your search history
  • Your location
  • What other people are searching
  • Money: ads and sponsored content

It is important to be aware of these issues, not only when searching for an assignment, but even when you need some information for your personal life. These factors can sway your search results.

Sometimes this is okay. If you are looking for information about a place to eat lunch, you want to get results that are closest to you, not in a totally different state. 

Here is a very informative and complex infographic about this issue: