What you can learn about research in social work in an MSW program

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In the current professional environment, it’s always beneficial to have an understanding of research. In most fields, certain projects will require background research, or even more in-depth statistical or theoretical analysis. This means students inside and outside of the social work field can benefit from expanding these skills.

What’s more, according to current data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, half of all jobs today require employees to have at least basic technology skills, and this will grow to 77 percent within the next decade. This means that as today’s students prepare to enter the professional workforce, they must understand not only key research concepts, but also how to utilize advanced technological tools to support their pursuits.

In the Rutgers Online Master of Social Work, students will explore and expand their capabilities for both research and technology use during their foundational curriculum. Today, we’ll take a closer look at Course 505: Methods of Social Work Research I, including the types of research concepts included and how technology skills fit in.

The role of research in social work

According to the Social Work Policy Institute, research plays an incredibly important role for social workers and their clients. Not only does research serve to inform and support overall social work professional practice, but social work professionals also utilize research processes for an array of other initiatives. This includes to identify and assess the needs of clients and patient, as well as the resources available to address these needs.

Social work professionals also engage in research after services and support have been administered to get a better idea of the overall effectiveness of treatment. In this way, should a certain process or approach work well for an individual with a specific need, this positive evaluation may encourage the social work professional to utilize this strategy with other clients with similar needs.

Social workers not only research types of care, support, and treatment strategies, but the costs involved in these methods as well. Cost evaluations are critical for ensuring that the social worker’s organization remains on budget and can provide needed resources for patients.

Research is also utilized in the social work field to support a better understanding of advancing professional care strategies as they relate to changing contexts of practice, the Social Work Policy Institute pointed out.

In addition, social work professionals will complete research initiatives on current and changing social work policy and legislation. Research might show the overall impact of new policies or laws, or the improvements they can bring to individuals in need in certain areas or communities.

Overall, research is a critical pursuit in nearly any industry, but serves several key purposes for social work professionals. It can support knowledge in the industry and enable improved services and resources for patients and clients.

Course 505: Social Work Research I

All students in the Rutgers Online Master of Social Work program will take Course 505, Methods of Social Work Research I, included in the Generalist curriculum. Often, this course is taken with other foundational courses during the students’ first year.

This course provides students with an introductory understanding of empirical research, and the ways to apply this knowledge and results to their professional social work practice. It leverages a problem-solution style to support students’ learning and enables them to successfully participate in research roles like:

  • Consumer research
  • Evaluation of practice
  • Producer of research


By the end of this course, students should have a full comprehension of the entire research process, encompassing steps like:

  • Posing a thoughtful research question to begin and support the process
  • Completing a literary review and thinking critically about the information and takeaways included in readings
  • Pinpointing and understanding different types of research variables that might affect the outcome of the process, including issues related to ethics, politics, gender, and more
  • Understanding and accounting for research challenges like measurement issues
  • Constructing a research questionnaire
  • Data collection and sampling
  • Analyzing data results and communicating research findings


As noted in the course syllabus, other main concepts covered in this course encompass:

  • The role of research concepts and theory in overall social work practice
  • Operationalization and research design
  • Data collection, processing, and analysis
  • Introductory computer skills and report writing


In this way, course 505 not only teaches students the necessary skills for forming and carrying out research, but also supports this with computer capabilities. More work today is completed through technological tools than ever before, and chances are good that students will take part in research, analysis, and communicating results through digital tools and platforms. Supporting the study of research processes and methods with computer and technology skills is a significant benefit for students and will better prepare them for their field internship practice, as well as their professional career following graduation.

Goals of this course

By the end of the course, MSW students will be able to demonstrate their skills in areas like:

  • Ethical and professional behavior: Students will learn how to make decisions while incorporating ethical considerations like the NASW Code of Ethics. They will also be able to weigh current relevant laws and regulations in their decision-making, and do so in a professional manner.
  • Diversity: Students will work to understand the importance of diversity, and the ways in which these differences can impact an individual’s experiences.
  • Practice-informed research and research-informed practice: A key tenet of professional social work practice, students will be able to utilize their hands-on practice experiences to support their research efforts, and to leverage research findings to better enable their social work practice.
  • Assess and evaluate: By course completion, student social work professionals will be able to assess the needs of individual clients, as well as families, groups, and communities. In addition, they will be able to evaluate the methods used to address the needs of individuals, families, groups, and communities from a professional perspective.


Building out skills with specialized curriculum: Methods of Social Work Research II

Rutgers Online MSW students will take part in required course 595: Methods of Social Work Research II. This course focuses on quantitative and qualitative research methods and evaluation, and involves students participating in small, group research projects that encompasses the different phases of research and the use of computer technology.

To find out more about the types of research skills and concepts you could learn through the online Master of Social Work program, check out our website and connect with us today.



Recommended Readings:

Online MSW: What you’ll learn

The importance of cultural competence in social work



Rutgers MSW

Rutgers MSW Online Program

Rutgers MSW Syllabi


Microsoft IT Academy/Bureau of Labor Statistics