11 24. Sharing and consuming research

Chapter outline

  1. Sharing your results (13 minute read time)
  2. Sharing with an academic audience (16 minute read time)
  3. Sharing with professional and lay audiences (8 minute read time)
  4. Consuming research as professional development (16 minute read time)
  5. The future of research is open (6 minute read time)

Content warning: examples in this chapter contain references to drug use, overdose, and gun violence.

24.1 Sharing your results

Learning Objectives

Learners will be able to…

  • Define dissemination, and apply the process of audience identification, location, and acquisition to your project
  • Identify the limits of dissemination for your project, taking into account your ethical obligations and the input of your department and IRB

At this point, we expect that you have completed your project and are ready to share your results.  This chapter will guide you through sharing your research with academic, professional, and lay audiences. Additionally, we will cover your future role as a consumer of research as part of evidence-based practice, and share techniques for integrating research into practice after you graduate. We’ll also discuss some of the barriers students face in accessing information in the practice world.

Sharing it all: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Because conducting social work research is a scholarly pursuit and because social work researchers generally aim to reach a true understanding of social processes, it is crucial that we share all aspects of our research—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Doing so helps ensure that others will understand, use, and effectively critique our work. We considered this aspect of the research process in Chapter 8, but it is worth reviewing here as well. In that chapter, we learned about the importance of sharing all aspects of our work for ethical reasons and for the purpose of replication and verification of scientific findings. In preparing to share your work with others, and in order to meet your ethical obligations as a social work researcher, challenge yourself to answer the following questions:

  • Why did I conduct this research?
  • How did I conduct this research?
  • For whom did I conduct this research?
  • What conclusions can I reasonably draw from this research?
  • Knowing what I know now, what would I do differently?
  • What are the limitations of this project?

Understanding why you conducted your research will help you be honest—with yourself and your audience—about your own personal interest, investments, or biases with respect to the work. In Chapter 2, we suggested that starting where you are is an effective way to begin a research project. While this is true, starting where you are requires that, as a researcher, you be honest with yourself and your readers about your thoughts and biases on the issue and why you have chosen to conduct this research. Being able to clearly communicate how you conducted your research is also important. This means being honest and transparent about your data collection methods, sample and sampling strategy, and data analysis.

The third question in the list is designed to help you articulate who the major stakeholders are in your research. Of course, the researcher is a stakeholder. Additional stakeholders might include funders, research participants, or others who share something in common with your research subjects (e.g., members of some community where you conducted research or members of the same social group, such as parents or athletes, upon whom you conducted your research). Stakeholders may want to briefed on the results of your study. Often, researchers will offer access to the results as a benefit of participating in a project. In addition to these more informal venues, think about what formal outlets there are for your research.

The fourth question should help you think about what you found, the often tedious steps you took to make sure you followed the scientific method, and the resulting strengths of your study. Finally, the last two questions are designed to make you think about potential weaknesses in your work and how future research might build from or improve upon your work. Presenting your research honestly requires admitting the limitations of your study but arguing why the results are important anyway. All scientific studies contain limitations and are open to questioning.


Dissemination refers to “a planned process that involves consideration of target audiences and the settings in which research findings are to be received and, where appropriate, communicating and interacting with wider policy and…service audiences in ways that will facilitate research uptake in decision-making processes and practice” (Wilson, Petticrew, Calnan, & Natareth, 2010, p. 91).[1] In other words, dissemination of research findings involves careful planning, thought, consideration of target audiences, and communication with those audiences. Writing up results from your research and having others take notice are two entirely different propositions. In fact, the general rule of thumb is that people will not take notice unless you encourage them to do so.

Disseminating your findings successfully requires determining who your audience is, where your audience is, and how to reach them. When considering who your audience is, think about who is likely to take interest in your work. Your audience might include those who do not express enthusiastic interest but might nevertheless benefit from an awareness of your research. Your research participants and those who share some characteristics in common with your participants are likely to have some interest in what you’ve discovered in the course of your research. Other scholars who study similar topics are another obvious audience for your work. Perhaps there are policymakers who should take note of your work. Organizations that do work in an area related to the topic of your research are another possibility. Finally, any and all inquisitive and engaged members of the public represent a possible audience for your work.

Where your audience is should be fairly obvious once you think about it for a little while. You know where your research participants are because you’ve studied them. You can find interested scholars on your campus (e.g., perhaps you could offer to present your findings at a campus event); at professional conferences; and via publications, such as professional organizations’ newsletters (an often-overlooked source for sharing findings in brief form) and scholarly journals. Policymakers include your state and federal representatives who, at least in theory, should be available to hear a constituent speak on matters of policy interest. Perhaps you’re already aware of organizations that do work in an area related to your research topic, but if not, a simple web search should help you identify possible organizational audiences for your work. Disseminating your findings to the public more generally could take any number of forms: a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, a blog, or even a post or two on your social media channels.

Finally, determining how to reach your audiences will vary according to which audience you wish to reach. Your strategy should be determined by the norms or rules associated with each audience. For example, editors at scholarly journals provide author submission instructions that clearly define requirements for anyone wishing to disseminate their work via a particular journal. The same is true for newspaper editorials – check your newspaper’s website for details about how to format and submit letters to the editor. If you wish to reach out to your political representatives, a call to their offices or a simple web search should tell you how to do so.

Whether you act on any or all of these suggestions is ultimately your decision. But if you’ve conducted high-quality research and you have findings that are likely to be of interest to people besides yourself, I would argue that it is your duty as a scholar and a social worker to share those findings. In sum, disseminating findings involves the following three steps:

  • Determine who your audience is
  • Identify where your audience is
  • Discover how best to reach them

Tailoring your message to your audience

Once you are able to articulate what to share, you must decide with whom to share it. While you would never alter your actual findings for different audiences, understanding who your audience is will help you frame your research in a way that is most meaningful to that audience. Certainly, the most obvious candidates with whom you’ll share your work are other social scientists. If you are conducting research for a class project, your main “audience” will probably be your professor. Perhaps you’ll also share your work with other students in the class or with family and friends.

What is more challenging, and possibly a little scary, is sharing your research with the wider world. Sharing with professional audiences is designed not only to bring your work to the attention of other social scientists and academics, but also other social workers or professionals who practice in areas related to your research. For example, scientists are probably the most interested in a study’s methods, particularly statistical tests or qualitative data analysis frameworks. Sharing your work with this audience will require you to talk about your methods and data in a different way than you would with other audiences.

Many outlets for sharing your research will not let you do so until your results have undergone peer review, which as you’ll remember from Chapter 3, is a formal process in which other esteemed researchers and experts ensure your work meets the standards and expectations of the professional field. Peer review is used for both conference presentations and journal publications, though not all presentations and articles are peer-reviewed. Scientists who evaluate your work will be looking to make sure that your conclusions follow logically from your data, your design minimized error and threats to validity, and your review and analysis of the literature is reasonable and thorough.

In my short career as a social work researcher, I’ve conducted two major projects.  The first was on policies for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and the service delivery systems within Medicaid.  After we completed the data analysis, we sought publication in academic journals related to our topic, like the Journal of Disability Policy Studies and Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability. In this way, our work would be shared more widely among other scholars and academics who study IDD and Medicaid policy.

Helpfully, these journals were also interdisciplinary. Why limit sharing our results to just social workers? Nurses, government administrators, client advocates, and countless others could make use of our data in their work. It is important for social workers to look outside the discipline when they share their results. Look back at your literature review and note the journal articles that commonly publish on your topic. Not only should you consider submitting your results to these journals, but you should consider subscribing to them (in print or electronically) to stay current on the literature in your topic area as part of evidence-based practice.

The second topic I’ve conducted research on is open educational resources (OER). This textbook is an example of OER, as it is a freely available resource that allows anyone to customize and redistribute the content. Along with some colleagues in the school of social work at Radford University, we set about measuring the impact of open textbooks like this one on student learning and also estimated textbook cost burden for students.  Our target audience was social work educators, so we are targeting our dissemination to social work education conferences—covered in detail in the next section—and social work education journals like the Journal of Social Work Education and the Journal of Teaching in Social Work. Hopefully, our presentations and articles will bring closer scrutiny to the issue of textbook costs and OER as an alternative to costly, commercial textbooks, access codes, and other required resources.

Constraints for dissemination of student research products

Social work research accomplishes nothing if it does not affect the communities and populations being studied. This can pose a challenge for student projects, however, if they are not reviewed and approved by their institution’s IRB.  Without IRB approval, public dissemination of research findings cannot happen. Student projects are often granted certain exceptions from the normal IRB research review process, as the results are confined to the classroom. Just like you can talk about practice situations in a practice class, you can talk about your research in a research class. To disseminate publicly and truly impact the community, you should check with your professor and IRB to make sure that any dissemination you plan to conduct falls within the agreement between the IRB and the social work faculty teaching your class.

One of the key issues in dissemination of student research projects is confidentiality. While you are unlikely to purposefully give away information about who participated in your study, it is important to note the ways in which your audience may be able to identify participants in your research study. If your study examined experiences of men in social work graduate programs, it is likely your audience would assume your participants were from your university, and since social work is a heavily female profession, they could probably identify which handful of men in your program participated in the project. Even if you were to use more general language like, “this study was conducted with MSW students at a mid-sized public university in a rural area,” your university affiliation and the characteristics of the community may make your data less confidential and more identifiable.

A similar problem exists with projects completed in collaboration with local agencies. Even if you were to present your study as conducted “at a local hospital” or something similarly vague, your peers and local audience may be able to decipher which hospital you conducted your study at. If your findings did not reflect well on the care or staff of that hospital, your study may unethically harm the community you studied. However, if these results were shared at a national conference, it may be more difficult to locate the exact hospital in which you collected your data. There are few hard-and-fast rules for balancing these issues.

Consult with your professor on the boundaries typical for student research projects at your school. They may also have specific venues at which you will disseminate your research, including student research conferences or symposia. Some schools also host university repositories which store theses. If your school requires you to write a formal thesis, you may be required or encouraged to share your work via the university repository. It’s important to note that doing so will not impact your ability to publish your work in a journal, and it will assist with presenting your findings at a conference, as interested audience members can access your full work immediately.

In spite of these constraints, we encourage you to think of ways to bring public awareness to your findings. The next few sections will discuss presentations for academic, professional, and lay audiences. Without dissemination, your research project can seem like a futile and useless endeavor. Make your project count!

Key Takeaways

  • Sharing your results starts with being honest with yourself about your project.
  • Dissemination is as important as the rest of the project combined, as it is the public representation of each component of your project.
  • There are a variety of potential audiences for your research projects, including other scholars, practitioners, clients, and community members. It’s important to identify how to reach each of them to maximize the impact of your project.
  • Student projects often have limitations that make them difficult to apply in the real world, as they must be conducted in a short time period with little money. Students must check with their department and the IRB before sharing their results with the public.


  • Identify your key audience(s): Where do they gather?  How can you share your research with them? Sketch out a dissemination plan. If you don’t share information about your project, how will anyone benefit from it?
  • Discover what limitations on dissemination are placed on your project by the faculty and the IRB at your school.
  • What limitations are there in your project that might impact how people could use your results in practice? How can you present your work honestly to others while still maximizing its impact?

24.2 Sharing with an academic audience

Learning Objectives

Learners will be able to…

  • Identify potential academic outlets for sharing your research, including conferences and journals
  • Differentiate between the types of presentations at academic conferences and which match best with student projects

The most immediate audience for your research project is your professor and your research methods class. We are not going to focus on this domain, as it is best handled by the professor at your individual institution. Check the syllabus and the prompt for this assignment, as well as any class notes the professor provided about the project. At my institution, Radford University, we require students to present their research project as part of a poster session to be rated by faculty as well as at a community event. Students are guided through the process of poster creation as part of their integrative seminar, and they are required to contextualize their findings within relevant social work theory, practice models, and social welfare policies. If you haven’t gotten clear instructions on what to do with your project once it’s done, now is the time to check in with your professor and double-check the course syllabus.

This section will cover presenting your findings to academic audiences outside of your immediate classroom. As previously stated, you must ensure that your IRB and social work department support public dissemination of your research products. Assuming this requirement has been met, let’s introduce you to the academic social work research ecosystem. Addressing an academic audience means you will be talking with people who may (a) research the same topic as you (b) teach that topic (c) plan or administer programs that teach that topic. If these aren’t important audiences for your project, you should read the following section with the purpose of understanding academic conferences as a consumer of information.

Social work education conferences

One of the many pieces of advice I received in my social work PhD program was to start attending social work research conferences. When you are in a graduate or doctoral program, the social work world can seem quite small—one department, one faculty, one academic building. Academic conferences provide you with the opportunity to see the immense scale of social work research and the innovations that are happening across the country and the world. Your first academic conference will likely be an eye-opening experience as you see the depth of research undertaken by academic researchers and researcher-practitioners in the field of social work. You will likely find a community of scholars who are doing incredible work and are supportive of your work as a researcher.

If you feel like academic conferences are only for senior faculty members with much more experience and expertise than you, I encourage you to reconsider that idea. Impostor syndrome never goes away, even for experienced researchers, so you may as well start dealing with it now by ignoring the voice in your head that tells you that you don’t belong in room full of big-wigs. Student posters make faculty members happy, as they demonstrate the hard work of our students and our program. Don’t be afraid to share what you accomplished! You may develop connections with researchers and practitioners to collaborate with in the future.

Table 24.1 provides a short overview of each academic social work research conference. Information in this chart was correct as of Summer 2020. Due dates often shift from year to year, so be sure to consult the website for each conference for the most current information or join the organization’s mailing list. Websites for the international conferences listed below sometimes change from year to year and may be out of date past 2020. Social work faculty have collaboratively created a list of conferences from 2019-2021 that may also be of assistance.

Table 24.1: Academic conferences in social work
Association & Conference Website When is it? Proposals are due Who attends?

Council on Social Work Education’s Annual Program Meeting (APM)

https://cswe.org/Events-Meetings October or
February Professors, students, administrators, academic and other formal researchers.

This is the largest conference in social work.


Society for Social Work and Research Annual Conference

https://secure.sswr.org/ January April Professors, students, and researchers.

This conference focuses on heavily on research rigor.


Association of Baccalaureate Program Directors Annual Conference

https://www.bpdonline.org/ March July Professors, students, administrators, mostly from BSW programs.

This conference focuses on teaching and pedagogy.

International Federation of Social Work (IFSW)

Social Work and Social Development Conference (SWSD)


(held every two years)

July November Professors & researchers from international social work schools.

This conference and SWESD used to be the same.

The International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW)

Social Work Education and Social Development Conference (SWESD)


(held every two years)

July December Professors & researchers from international social work schools.

This conference and SWSD used to be the same.

Our Lady of the Lake University Worden School of Social Service

Social Work Distance Education Conference (SWDE)

http://www.ollusa.edu/swde/ April April Professors & administrators from distance education (online) social work programs.

This conference is one of many sponsored by specific schools of social work.

Influencing Social Policy (ISP)

MACRO Conference
(formerly Policy 2.0)

https://influencingsocialpolicy.org/ May February Professors & policy practitioners.

This conference focuses on policy studies, research, and pedagogy.

Types of conference presentations

Academic conferences use a few different presentation types to direct the interaction of participants and speakers. Some are more formal, like oral presentations. Others are more interactive, like workshops and roundtable presentations. Generally, most MSW students will choose to present a poster, though I have seen engaging and impactful student presentations of all types.

An oral presentation is probably what you think of when you think of a conference presentation. A person at the front of a room with some slides, talking about the results of a study. It is very similar to the presentations you would give inside of a classroom. Your university or social work department likely has a PowerPoint template they would like you to use when presenting at a conference. Doing so allows others to see where your work is from and allows your department and university to brand the research presented at conferences.

When preparing an oral presentation, it is very important to get details well in advance about the expected length of your presentation, and whether any visual aids such as video or slideshows are expected by your audience. At conferences, the typical oral presentation is usually expected to last between 20 to 40 minutes, though it will vary by conference. While this may sound like a tortuously lengthy amount of time, you’ll be amazed by how easily time can fly the first time you present formally. Researchers, myself included, can get so caught up explaining minute details that we don’t have enough time to thoroughly address the key conclusions of the study. To avoid this all-too-common occurrence, it is crucial that you repeatedly practice your presentation in advance—and time yourself.

One stumbling block in oral presentations of research work is spending too much time on the literature review. Keep in mind that with limited time, audience members will be more interested in hearing about your original work than a long list of previous studies to introduce your own research. While in scholarly written reports you must discuss the studies that have come before yours, in a presentation of your work, the key is to use what precious time you have to highlight your findings. Whatever you do in your oral presentation, do not read your paper verbatim. Nothing will bore an audience more quickly. Highlight only the key points of your study. These generally include your research question, your methodological approach, your major findings, and a few final takeaway messages.

This advice is also true for workshops. Workshops are interactive, hands-on presentations which teach the audience members new skills, so spending too much time in the literature and not on practical tools would be inappropriate. Often, workshops are structured to allow audience members to role-play with a new resource or to conduct group discussions or projects, modeling what would happen in a practice situation. Workshops are a good idea for student projects whose implications can be put into practice by educators or students. They also require careful planning insofar as selecting activities with which to engage your audience.

In less formal roundtable presentations of your work, the aim is usually to help stimulate a conversation about a topic. You’ll be expected to structure the conversation by providing discussion questions, background information, or practice examples. Roundtables are unlikely to use slideshows, but handouts are often used by presenters. Roundtables can be especially useful when your research is in an early stage of development. Perhaps you’ve conducted a pilot study and you’d like to talk through some of your findings and get some ideas about where to take the study next. A roundtable is an excellent place to get suggestions and to also get a preview of the objections reviewers may raise with respect to your conclusions or your approach. Roundtables are also suitable places to network and meet other scholars who share a common interest with you.

Panel presentations are also discussion-based but are more formal than roundtables. Panels are usually composed of experts on an issue. Each will give a brief statement of their expertise and opinion about a topic and participate in a conversation based on statements or prepared discussion questions. Panels often leave more time for audience engagement. Panelists often create an outline of key talking points to use and engage with the work of their fellow panelists, who often come from different perspectives or participate in projects related to the same topic.

Finally, in a poster presentation, you visually present your work. Just as you wouldn’t read a paper verbatim in a formal presentation, avoid at all costs printing and pasting your paper onto a poster board. Instead, think about how to tell the “story” of your work in graphs, charts, tables, and other images. Bulleted points are also fine, as long as the poster isn’t so wordy that it would be difficult for someone walking by very slowly to grasp your major argument and findings. Your university of social work department likely has a template they wish for you to use for poster presentations, so consult with your professor. Most poster presentations are e-posters, and you will stand in front of a television screen with up to three very large powerpoint slides you can cycle back and forth between. Poster presentations are often scheduled simultaneously, and people will spend time moving from poster to poster during each session. Some conferences still use paper posters. If this is the case at the conference you plan to attend, consult with your university’s printing office or a local printing shop for assistance with printing large-format color posters. Posters are generally between three and five feet in width and height.

Posters, like roundtables, can be quite helpful at the early stages of a research project because they are designed to encourage the audience to engage you in conversation about your research. Don’t feel that you must share every detail of your work in a poster; the point is to share highlights and then converse with your audience to get their feedback, hear their questions, and provide additional details about your research.

Submitting a proposal

Depending on the conference, there may be a specific call for proposals (CFP) for students or only one CFP for both students and non-student researchers . If your research project was completed in collaboration with other researchers, be sure to reach out to them before you submit. It is best to have as many research team members present for a presentation as possible, but it may not be practical for all team members to join. Conference proposals and presentations should be included in the planned workflow of any project, and submissions should be approved by all relevant team members.

Conferences also vary in their requirements for submission, with some requiring only a few hundred words while others requiring a few pages of text. Usually, a research proposal can be easily adapted into a conference proposal with some minor tweaks. Be sure to follow the guidelines set out in the call for proposals, as reviewers will penalize you for straying outside of them. Proposal submissions are usually handled through an online submission system, and it is a good idea to write your proposal drafts in an external document and copy and paste them into the submission system. This way, you can use the spelling and grammar checking in your Word processor and the commenting and track changes feature in collaboration with any other research team members.

Submitting to a conference usually requires the author to indicate that they are planning to attend the conference. Presenters will have to pay a registration fee and often a membership fee to the association sponsoring the conference in order to present their work. Conferences often offer discounted student rates, and many further discount registration and membership fees for students who volunteer at the conference. Registration fees are cost barriers for students and faculty, though the money from conferences provides funding for important professional organizations.

To cover these expenses, ask your professor about grant opportunities within the university, community, or with professional organizations that support graduate student research dissemination. Unfortunately, with grant funds comes the complicated process of travel and reimbursement policies from universities. Many universities have contracts with travel agencies or restrictions on lodging, transportation, and other costs commonly incurred during conference travel. These requirements can be a pain and may require you to pay up front for various costs and get reimbursed by the institution, which is not possible for many students who are already economically strained from tuition and fees.  These further perpetuate a cycle in which conferences privilege the knowledge of the well-off and well-positioned. I encourage you to pursue these supports for your research regardless, as there are ways to minimize the impact of these inequitable barriers. But it is important to be up front about them.

Writing a journal article

Presentations at academic conferences are a good outlet for student projects. Not only are you exposed to a wide range of other research from students, faculty, and researchers in the field, but presentations are relatively easy to get accepted in comparison to journal articles. Journals are more restrictive about what they will publish, as they have limited space for articles in the issues they publish each year. However, that should not stop you from submitting! One of the best experiences I had in my MSW program was submitting my thesis work as a journal article, which was a requirement to graduate. Even though my submission was ultimately given a “revise and resubmit” response from the reviewers, preparing a journal article felt different than preparing a paper for class. Everything felt more “real,” like the paper would be read by more than just my professors.

If writing a journal article sounds like a lot of work, you would be correct. I do have some good news, though. As part of your research methods course, you have completed about 40% of your article already! Empirical journal articles, as we discussed in Chapter 2, have five sections–Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, Conclusion. Your research proposal covers the first two sections, the introduction and methods. While you will need to change the tense of your methods section from what you will do in your study to what you did do in your study, the majority of the content in your proposal can stay the same. Using the advice in Chapter 16 and Chapter 22, you should be able to write a coherent results section, though you may need to consult additional sources to cover more advanced data analysis techniques. All that is left is to contextualize your findings in the literature for your discussion section and discuss the key conclusions and implications of your study.

It is beyond the scope of this textbook to provide you a detailed guide to writing an academic journal article. There are number of books and guides available for help, though I haven’t found any that I would recommend over others. Wendy Belcher, author of Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success, offers her worksheets for writing a journal article for free on her website.

Instead of reviewing the steps of writing a journal article, let’s focus on identifying the right journal to submit to. The first decision you will need to make is whether to submit to a journal that is specifically dedicated to students, such as the Columbia Social Work Review, or for special calls in journals for student research. Submitting an article to one of these venues means you will be competing against other students, and unfortunately, some researchers may be reluctant to cite work found in a student-authored journal.

If, on the other hand, you want to submit your article as any other researcher would, look at journals that often publish on your topic. Perhaps you want to publish in a journal that is cited often in your references. Your article will be in competition with articles from seasoned researchers. We suggest working with a faculty mentor who can help you fine-tune your article for publication. You may also want to reach out to other scholars who publish in your topic area and ask for assistance. They may suggest additional literature you did not find or offer edits to your content to better meet the expectations of journal reviewers. Once you submit a journal article, you will either receive a rejection or a “revise and resubmit”.  With the latter, the journal may accept your article if you make the suggested revisions. 

As with conference presentations, if you have research collaborators, writing a journal article should be a collaborative endeavor. While you will need to find a journal that publishes in your area, note as well that journals are reluctant to publish highly similar articles. Your study should add something new to the journal’s output as well as the literature more broadly. Each journal will have specific instructions on format, citation style, length, and other considerations. Be sure to attend to each and every detail. Incorrectly constructed and submitted articles are easy to reject.

While writing a journal article may seem impractical or unnecessary, I would encourage you to reconsider that. A publication in an academic journal is an excellent highlight on your resume, particularly if you are planning to continue into doctoral study or work as a social work researcher or policy/program analyst after graduation. If you made your project something important to you, your community, and the literature on your topic, it should be worthy of publication.

Do not let impostor syndrome stand in the way of your growth as a scholar.

Key Takeaways

  • Student projects make for strong poster presentations, roundtables, and other forms of conference presentations.
  • Impostor syndrome can get in the way of preparing your work for public consumption at a conference or in a journal.
  • Both journals and conferences have specific rules for authors who want to submit and long timelines between submission and an acceptance or rejection.


  • Create a short list of potential conferences in social work as well as your area of interest in which you could present your research. Find the date and time for their next meeting as well as this year’s or last year’s call for proposals. Identify for which type of presentation you would submit a proposal.
  • Create a short list of potential journals you could publish your results in. Consult with a faculty member on what steps might be needed to turn your research report into a publishable manuscript in one of these journals.


24.3 Sharing with professional and lay audiences

Learning Objectives

Learners will be able to…

  • Identify audiences for your project beyond academia
  • Discover opportunities for engaging the public about your research findings

Researchers should not limit themselves to sharing with academic audiences alone. Social work research exists to inform practice, and so sharing the results of your project with practitioners, clients, and other stakeholders is a necessary part of the research workflow. At minimum, engaging non-academic audiences means eliminating barriers to accessing your research products. Sharing conference presentations and papers in open access repositories democratizes access to knowledge. Your average clients and agency workers do not have money to pay for a journal article or registration fee for a conference. More than likely, to reach a practitioner or client group, you will need to share your work in multiple ways.

Practice-focused conferences

If your project is relevant to direct social work practice, consider sharing it at the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) conference in your state or at their annual national conference. Additionally, societies for clinical social work within states may provide opportunities to share your research, if it has clinical applications. If your work is more relevant to social workers leading human service agencies, consider sharing it at the annual Social Work Management conference. Even emerging areas within social work will have conferences, such as the Alliance for Social Workers in Sports.

You may also want to identify conferences that are in other disciplines or are transdisciplinary in orientation. For example, I presented the results of my research project on Medicaid waiver programs for people with disabilities at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities conference, which is attended by a diverse audience including interdisciplinary disabilities scholars, people with disabilities, advocates, and public administrators. Seek out information on national, state-wide, or regional conferences on your topic area.

In addition to presentations, you may consider sharing your results in a trade publications such as the New Social Worker magazine or the NASW News newsletter. As less formal outlets, they are more approachable for your lay practitioner and can link to more thorough documentation of your project. Other outlets for reaching a professional audience include creating continuing education classes around your topic and submitting them for approval with local and national licensing boards, or creating in-service trainings to be administered at local agencies or government offices.

Presentations to stakeholders

While it is important to let professionals know about the results of your research, it is important to identify stakeholders who would also benefit from knowing the study results. Stakeholders, as you’ll remember from previous chapters, are individuals or groups who have an interest in the outcome of the study you conduct. Instead of the formal presentations or journal articles you may use to engage academics or fellow researchers, stakeholders will expect a presentation that is engaging, understandable, and immediately relevant to their lives and practice. Informal presentations are no less rigorous than formal presentations, but they do not follow a strict format.

For example, in my project on policy for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, our team partnered with the National Resource Center on Participant-Directed Services (NRCPDS) to deliver a webinar summarizing our project findings. NRCPDS gathered a diverse audience of administrators, advocates, and service providers, and our results reached those who needed to hear about our study. Because these individuals were practitioners, their foremost concern was how to apply the results of our study in practice. They were also immensely knowledgeable about our topic, so representing conclusions with the humility required of a social scientist is prudent.

Hypothetically, I could have also addressed people with disabilities through the National Disability Rights Network. In this research project, people with IDD are my target population—the people for whom I want my study to have an impact. Providing these individuals with access to information about the programs designed to support them will support their self-advocacy for better and more responsive programs. Individuals in a state with relatively few benefits can point to programs from other states that have more robust programs as models for policymakers.

I stated earlier that scientists and academics may be the most interested in your study’s methods. That is only partially true. Advocates from your target population experience the issues you study every day. Because of that, they are immensely knowledgeable and will closely scrutinize your methods and results to make sure they accurately represent what happens in the real world. Indeed, this local and lived knowledge is why community-engaged research incorporates client and community perspectives in the creation of research projects. This stage of dissemination will look quite different for community-engaged projects, as stakeholders can better guide your dissemination to community members.

In addition to practitioners and clients, grant funders are an important stakeholder in research dissemination. Specifically, your grant funder will want you to discuss how your results fit with the goals of the grant program. They may also emphasize cost-benefit or cost-efficacy models, in which you demonstrate how money was spent and how the program creates a net positive effect from the funder’s investment. It is important to use your program evaluation skills to properly meet the expectations for methodological rigor of a grant funder, though these should be distilled into a succinct executive summary or elevator pitch describing your project’s impact.

In addition to funders, policymakers are often a key audience for social work research. Almost all social work research projects have policy implications, and outreach to policymakers should be integrated into the dissemination plan for research. Common policy practice skills apply, including targeting your efforts at different levels of government, key bureaus, or committee members and chairs to maximize impact. Messages to policymakers should be relevant and particularized to their jurisdiction and should make a concise and trustworthy case for policy change.

Presentations to the general public

While there are a seemingly infinite number of informal audiences, there is one more that is worth mentioning—the general public. I often say to my students that social work involves working in the areas of the social world that others do not want to see. Part of our job as social workers is to shine a light towards areas of social injustice and raise the consciousness of the public as a whole.

Researchers commonly share their results with popular media outlets to reach a broader audience with their study’s conclusions. University relations offices can sometimes make these connections for researchers, while on smaller campuses, professors may reach out to local journalists directly to talk about their work. Researchers may also consider publishing their results in a blog post or via social media. These require a public presence for authors, and it is a good idea for student and faculty researchers to build a personal website through which people can engage with your work.

Engaging with the public differs from engaging with academic or professional audiences. As noted elsewhere, knowing your audience is crucial when preparing a research report. What are they likely to want to hear about? What portions of the research do you feel are crucial to share, regardless of the audience? What level of knowledge do they have about your topic? Answering these questions will help you determine how to shape any written reports you plan to produce. In fact, some outlets answer these questions for you, as in the case of newspaper editorials where rules of style, presentation, and length will dictate the shape of your written report.

Whoever your audience, don’t forget what it is that you are reporting: social scientific evidence. Take seriously your role as a social scientist and your place among peers in your discipline. Present your findings as clearly and as honestly as you possibly can; cite appropriately the scholars whose work your project builds on, even while you raise questions about their work; and aim to engage your readers in a discussion about your work and about avenues for further inquiry. Even if you won’t ever meet your readers face-to-face, imagine what they might ask you upon reading your report, sketch out your response, and provide some of those details in your written report.

Public social work scholarship

In this chapter so far, we reviewed how you might share the results of your project outside of the classroom. A recent section in the Journal of the Society for Social Work Research was dedicated to “public interest scholarship,” and reading through it might give you some innovative ideas for how to disseminate your work to the public. You’ll also encounter the ethical arguments for why public engagement is a necessary part of being a social work scholar. We encourage students to pursue public scholarship, outside of the grades in a classroom, because social work is a necessarily public and applied research discipline. Social work research exists to inform action to address social issues, and disseminating findings is a key component of ensuring competent practice and fostering social change. As you think about dissemination for your project, consider the following questions:

  • What academic and research conferences are relevant to your topic?
  • Which journals publish in your topic area? Which journals appeared often in your literature review?
  • What interdisciplinary conferences and meetings are relevant to your topic?
  • What stakeholders would find your research conclusions relevant?
  • Who is your target population? What media do they consume?
  • What popular media would find your research relevant or interesting? Can you trust them to report your results responsibly?
  • How can I make my scholarship openly accessible to all audiences, regardless of ability to pay or professional status?


Key Takeaways

  • Social workers should make their research findings applicable to audiences beyond academia and tailor their message to what each audience would most want to know.
  • Public interest scholarship involves moving beyond papers and presentations to find new ways of engaging audiences.


  • Identify three potential community sites that could make use of the findings in your research project. How might you get their attention and in what format might you disseminate your research findings to them? Remember, not everyone is going to take an hour out of their day to listen to an oral presentation.
  • Create a dissemination plan that incorporates your classroom, program, community, as well as broader academic and client audiences.

24.4 Consuming research as professional development

Learning Objectives

Learners will be able to…

  • Construct a model of professional development and lifelong learning that draws from both informal and formal learning opportunities
  • Identify and engage with knowledge streams that are relevant to your area of practice

At the beginning of the semester, I usually ask my students to raise their hand if they plan to become a social work researcher or a social work practitioner. You can guess how that goes. Most of you will not become social work researchers. But you will use what you’ve learned in the class during your practice. Returning to the concepts from Chapter 1 on evidence-based practice, you will need research skills to conduct research on the impact of policies and interventions on clients and communities. You’ll also need to consume research in order to stay up to date on the latest innovations and developments in your area of practice, regardless of whether you are a clinician, a manager, or a policy practitioner.

Remember, research is a tool for social justice. It uses the scientific method to dismantle stereotypes and identify strengths and needs for groups. Interpretive and critical research has the added benefit of giving a voice to marginalized or oppressed groups. Consuming research may involve staying attuned to the local, state, and national news items on policies and events that may impact vulnerable communities, and engaging in public scholarship, agency-based services, community organizing, or political social work to address them. Evaluating your own programs, as well as the programs and policies that govern your communities and social welfare services, can give voice to the least powerful at those organizations. Indeed, social work research can establish that there is a need for services in a given area or demonstrate how services can be better targeted or funded.

Let’s talk a little more personally about research and education post-graduation. Maybe you came into school with the expectation that you would learn everything you need to know in order to practice social work. Now that you’re in your program, you’ve probably realized that while your graduate education will provide a foundation of social work knowledge, you will have to engage in a lifelong process of learning about the communities and issues you address in practice. For clinicians, you are probably looking for more applied trainings in therapeutic interventions. For managers and policy practitioners, perhaps you are looking for training in administration, supervision, and program planning.

Ask your supervisors how they stay up to date on research evidence for their practice. Chances are, they have a number of networks and platforms they use to stay in touch with the scientific advancements in their specialty area . Research engagement for practitioners falls under the broader umbrella of professional development, or the “uptake of formal and informal learning opportunities that deepen and extend…professional competence, including knowledge, beliefs, motivation, and self-regulatory skills” (Richter, Kunter, Klusmann, Lüdtke, & Baumert, 2014)[2] This informal/formal distinction will structure the rest of this section.

Informal professional development

Evidence-based practice, in a deeper sense, is a commitment to lifelong education. That doesn’t mean you will need to be in a classroom forever, or even that you will attend formal academic or professional conferences. It means you nurture your desire to grow intellectually and learn more about your practice and the issues that impact the communities you work with. For social workers, this means setting up knowledge streams through which you receive and consume information about the world. Think about how you currently receive information about your community, practice area, and the broader world. Perhaps you watch television news shows or follow a news organization on social media.

Informal professional development is built around two things: the drive for lifelong learning and knowledge streams that provide trustworthy information. Once you identify which sources you can trust and which provide consistently relevant information, you can spend an evening on the couch reading through what you find to be interesting. No one keeps track of informal development, and you certainly don’t get paid for it. The reward is internal, feeding the part of you that wants to learn more and knowing that your clients and community will benefit by you committing to lifelong learning.

You are a part of a community of practitioners working in your practice domain, so dipping into the professional news stream allows you to benefit from what others create, collect, and share. Probably the easiest stream to dip into is email. Wait, keep reading! No one likes more junk mail, but dedicating part of your inbox to professional development can be helpful (especially if you assign it a special folder so it doesn’t clog up your normal inbox). Once every few days, you can take a peek at your professional development email folder and scan news items to see areas of urgent concern or file away longer readings for a rainy day. For many, getting useful emails begins by subscribing to the email list for the local chapter of NASW. If you are in an area of specialization—clinical social work, political social work, domestic and sexual violence—there are likely advocacy or professional organizations on the national and state level that also send regular email newsletters. These may also list announcements for jobs, grants, conferences, policy changes, or research articles of interest, so signing up can benefit you in other ways, as well.

We’ve already talked about conference travel. To the extent conference travel is not sponsored by your employer and does not count towards formal professional development requirements (e.g., clinical licensure), learning at conferences falls under informal professional development. We also spoke about journal articles. Based on the skills you learned back in Chapter 3, you should be adept at finding literature relevant to a given practice situation. Unfortunately, you will likely lose access to the academic databases like EBSCOhost, JSTOR, and others once you graduate. The reality is that over half of your university library’s budget goes towards subscriptions to academic databases and journals (Enis, 2018).[3] You should consider subscribing to journals in the area of your specialty. However, it is not feasible to subscribe to all of the journals that cover your topic and the communities with whom you work.

Instead of subscribing to the print edition of a lot of journals, join email lists for each journal relevant to your area of practice so you can browse the titles and abstracts of new publications in your areas of interest. You can also use Google Scholar to set up alerts for topics of interest to you and get an email each week or each month with a collection of potentially relevant articles to browse. If you find an article that you would benefit from reading, there are a few options to get access to it for free. The first is to search for the full-text on Google Scholar. The best-case scenario is that the article is open access, so you can read it for free. Unfortunately, most articles cost at least $25 to access, sometimes much more. If the author has embraced open sharing practices but published in a traditional journal, they may have deposited their article in an institutional repository at their university, in a disciplinary database, or on their personal website. We will cover these practices in greater detail in section 24.5, and it is important to note that journal article paywalls replicate and exacerbate existing inequities in the social work practice world.

Assuming the article is not open access, you have a few options for getting a free copy of a journal article.

  1. Do a traditional Google search and see if there is a PDF copy available via a university, professional, or for-profit repository (more information on for-profit platforms below).
  2. Email the author using their contact information on the university website and ask for a free copy of the article. It’s totally legal for them to share one with you! Assuming the professor checks their email and isn’t a total jerk, they’ll probably be happy that someone is reading their work. It’s definitely made my day a few times to share my publications this way.
  3. Search your local public library and see if they can access the article for you via inter-library loan.
  4. Ask a student or professor affiliated with a university to share a copy with you.
  5. Visit a university library in-person and use the computers they provide to the public to access the article.
  6. Use the #icanhazpdf hashtag and post on Twitter asking for the article. An academic with some time on their hands may share a copy with you.

As you look around for articles on the internet for articles, you likely have come across services for-profit repositories like Academia.edu, ResearchGate, and the Social Science Research Network (SSRN). Authors often share their work via these platforms. When you do a normal Google search for articles on your topic, links to the full-text on these may appear. Often, these services require you to create an account before accessing articles, though access is usually free after signing up. Much like social media platforms that are free to use, these platforms stay in business by monetizing information about their users. That may sound scary, but there is a tradeoff for using free services run by for-profit entities. If you are not paying with money, you are paying with information about yourself. Don’t share anything with free platforms that you don’t want included in an advertising and marketing profile about yourself, and consider using privacy extensions like uBlock and Privacy Badger to minimize how companies track your browsing and personal information.

If you find an author who publishes a lot on your topic and has shared their work on a given platform, considering following that author on Researchgate or Academia.edu (whichever platform they use) so you can receive updates when they publish new work. You can also browse older editions of their work and see who they follow, tapping you into their community of practice. Social media platforms provide a great opportunity to follow scholars that are important to you. I suggest using a separate professional account on each platform, creating a clear boundary between what you share with friends and family and what you share with professional networks. Aside from the ethical considerations, it is nice to have a compartmentalized social media feed that is dedicated to professional development. Specifically, Twitter has been a consistent source of outstanding professional development opportunities for me as a social work educator. Twitter’s flat nature means you can interact directly with people interested in the same topics through commenting and retweeting. See this amazing social work pedagogy book which was written using networks developed on Twitter. You can also branch out from the few authors you know and build a feed of social media news by looking at people you follow and following similar people and organizations as they do. Many authors also have personal websites you can visit and may offer email updates when they have news to share.

Building a professional development social media stream goes beyond following individual authors. Odds are that organizations in your service area have social media accounts that provide news and updates. Additionally, national and state advocacy groups make excellent additions to your social media stream. They will direct you to new research. My favorite example is @myharmreduction, Dr. Sheila Vakharia, on Twitter. She is the Deputy Director of the Department of Research and Academic Engagement at the Drug Policy Alliance, so her job is to be a public intellectual—sharing new research, conversing with other scholars and the general public. I follow that organization on Twitter, as well, and followed practitioners and administrators at harm reduction agencies in the new city I moved to. Find the organizations that work on issues you care about, whether they are client advocacy groups, policy think-tanks, etc. Following your local newspaper and television news organizations on Twitter can also keep you up to date on community events that might impact your practice. Beyond this, you can set up Google News alerts for news topics relevant to your area of practice. My wife has recently started a job serving survivors of gun violence. She has a news alert for gun violence within her service area, so she can know which schools to engage in case they do not have existing relationships with the administration and would not have otherwise heard about the violent incident.

There are many ways to consume information while in practice. This section reviewed a few of them, and you should spend some time over the break between semesters exploring how to set up effective streams of information for informal professional development. Think about what you feel like you want to spend your life learning more about or what you might want to learn more about for next year’s field placement.

At its most basic, informal professional development involves engaging with the following streams:

  • Email lists
  • For-profit research article sharing platforms
  • Social media platforms

And following these sources of information:

  • Faculty and practitioners who publish research
  • Public scholars and intellectuals
  • Academic journals
  • Social work organizations
  • Advocacy organizations
  • Community organizations
  • Local news

Formal professional development

While informal professional development follows your interests wherever they take you, formal professional development is much more structured. For those of you who are planning to seek social work licensure, you will have to accrue a minimum amount of continuing education units (CEUs) to keep your license active. CEUs are available from a number of different sources. You can find them online from for-profit vendors, and you may be able to find ones that overlap with your area of interest. Your local university’s social work program likely offers some CEUs for social workers in practice. CEUs are also usually available for professionals who attend academic or professional conferences. Mandatory CEUs are usually dedicated towards less interesting topics like policy compliance and liability, and may not encourage authentic engagement with lifelong learning, as in informal professional development. Some states offer licenses with specifications, for example, in substance abuse practice. If you plan to specialize your practice and seek additional licensure or certification, consult with your state board of licensing on the CEUs required for that level of practice.

Unfortunately, formal professional development is often structured by ability to pay. In-person trainings require practitioners to take off of work, pay an admissions fee, and find childcare in order to learn more about their practice area. Social work agencies, to some degree, build in the cost of training their employees into their operating budgets and will sponsor some of their employee’s development costs. Of course, the variation in employer contributions reflects and reifies the existing inequities between resource-poor organizations and those that are better funded. Social work students on the job market should consider whether the organizations they apply for will pay for things like clinical supervision towards licensure, specialized training in therapeutic modalities, conference attendance, and professional membership dues. While it is unlikely that all of these costs will be absorbed by your employer, covering some of them is a signal that your agency values the growth of their employees and are dedicated to the improvement of their programs.

Another source of formal training associated with employers are in-service trainings. Rather than seeking out external venues for research engagement, your agency or other agencies in the community may bring in trainers to educate you on new research or train you in a specific therapeutic technique. For example, my home state of Virginia regularly hosts naloxone trainings to reverse overdoses. Anyone who attends the training is given naloxone and educated on how to revive someone who has overdose on opiates. This is a relatively short training, like a CPR certification. Practitioners can become a naloxone trainer by attending a “train the trainer” training, allowing them to train community members.

Your agency may also require you to be trained or certified in a specific modality through a formal organization. For example, if your agency is planning to start a program related to counseling of child survivors of trauma, they may send you to a trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy training to be certified in that modality. Certification courses are often offered online or in hybrid format to allow practitioners to fit them in around their schedule. Certifications and trainings are also structured by what government and private funders require as part of their grants. In the best case, your grant may require that your agency invest in training in an evidence-based treatment modality and build those costs into the grant’s budget. In the worst case, a government or private sponsor may declare that only specific evidence-based treatments will be allowed and not provide enough money for agencies to train employees, an unfunded mandate.

Your MSW education will provide you with the basic knowledge you need to engage in formal professional development. Using what you know about the basics of theory and practice, for example, you can engage in more specific training on clinical interventions and evidence-based practices relevant to your area of practice. While we have focused mostly on clinical social work in this section, the same ideas apply for formal professional development in macro and management social work positions. There are training organizations that can provide certifications in risk management or advocacy related to a specific topic, and your agency or funder may require you to undergo specific training courses as part of your agency’s accreditation or the management of grant funds.

In summary, formal professional development is comprised of the things you would put on a resume. They are formal courses, certifications, and trainings approved by universities, licensing boards, or other organizations that indicate you have achieved a level of competence and mastery of a skill or domain of practice. Using the networks you cultivate in your informal professional development and those from your agency, you will be able to build your resume and acquire the training you need to excel in your current position and beyond.

Key Takeaways

  • Professional development is the education that practitioners receive after graduation. It is an important part of evidence-based practice and the spread of innovation in social work.
  • Informal professional development involves engaging with trustworthy and reliable sources of knowledge across platforms, usually email, article repositories, and social media.
  • Formal professional development is required for clinical social workers and many other practice specialties. Consider the development opportunities and supports of any potential social work employer.


  • Think about what you still want to learn more about after you graduate. Research formal professional development opportunities and certifications that will teach you what you want.
  • Create a professional social media account and start building a social media stream for professional development. Research email lists relevant to your area of practice by browsing the web and asking existing practitioners. Create a folder in your email account (or a separate professional email account) for these subscriptions.

24.5 The future of research is open

Learning Objectives

Learners will be able to…

  • Define open access and open science and describe how they impact social justice
  • Reflect on the ways in which lack of access to scientific data and methods impacts social work practice and research

This textbook is free and openly licensed for a reason. As a writing team, our project models the vision for knowledge sharing and production we want to see in the world. The future of social work research should be as open as possible–enabling access and transformational engagement with knowledge needed to fulfill the mission of our profession. In this concluding section, we will discuss open access and open science as the building blocks of a more equitable and inclusive social work research arena.

Open access & open science

Embracing open practices can facilitate the creation of practitioner-researchers. Open access brings the promise of immediate, free access to research evidence contained in journal articles. Practically speaking, all but the most recent research can be archived in a repository like Socarxiv or a university repository under publisher’s open access policy (Pendell, 2019).[4] Self-archiving, as a practice, would provide immediate public access to print-ready copies of journal articles. Open access is an ethical mandate, and one that can be almost entirely fulfilled with minimal effort by researchers today under existing open access policies of traditional journals as well as open access journals. All researchers would need to do is deposit a manuscript for each article they have published or plan to publish in the future.

Under the Open Science Framework (OSF), papers in SocArXiv can point directly to a project site created by the researchers to house data, instruments, and methods. Ideally, this project page would house auditable research data, instruments, and procedures. This is the promise of open science—replication, verifiability, and collaboration. OSF projects are designed to house all but the most sensitive class of data and resources in a cloud storage that can be privately shared among collaborators or publicly available. Researchers choose which components of their project, if any, should be publicly available as the project transitions towards dissemination.

Integrating openness into the practice of social work research requires a revision of the timeline for publication. The general rule is “as open as possible, as closed as necessary.” Openness is certainly not of greater value than confidentiality, anonymity, and the protection of research participants and clients. However, working within existing ethical boundaries, there are many possibilities for open sharing.

An open research project workflow integrates some of the following tasks into its processes:

  1. Registering hypotheses and procedures in a publicly accessible database in advance (e.g., preregistering on OSF)
  2. Creating project documents and using storage practices that protect confidential information and clearly differentiate between content that is appropriate for public view and that which must remain with the research team
  3. Providing clear documentation that facilitates auditing, reproduction, and public engagement by other researchers
  4. Using open copyright licenses (e.g., Creative Commons licenses) so that other researchers can build on your work by creating adapted or derivative resources, in addition to accessing it for free
  5. Sharing a preprint of a journal article prior to publication in an open archive, and updating it with any peer review comments after publication (while adhering to any embargo periods required by the publisher)
  6. Facilitating a community discussion using social media, collaborative annotation, and other open platforms through public interest scholarship
  7. Archiving conference presentations, reports, and other products that translate research for different audiences

It is worth considering how open science practices may be used to integrate science and social work in a more meaningful way. First and foremost, it would eliminate the paywalls that render most research relevant to social workers inaccessible. At the same time, agency-based data is also inaccessible to both researchers and other practitioners. It is shared with grant funders, board members, and administrators, but not in a way that invites secondary analysis. Given that most schools of social work continue to use expensive statistical software such as SPSS and SAS, rather than free, open source software like R, the production of social work research knowledge remains structured by ability to pay. Using open practices, social work agency-based practitioners can create and share information about outcomes and processes, engage in immediate dialogue with the research literature, and collaborate on joint implementation projects.

In this way, open practices also have the potential to further bridge the gap between academic and practice realms. As another example, the core team behind this textbook are social work researchers, both in academia and in non-profit or government research institutions. This authorship structure is intentional. It introduces the role of researcher to students as a visible arena of social work practice, and it helps our materials be relevant outside the classroom to real social work research practitioners. Sharing resources and data openly facilitates this collaboration across academia and practice realms. Open licenses are an invitation to collaborate, to build off the work of colleagues.

Collaboration and cooperation are not guaranteed, though. Open licenses are not a silver bullet and they require participation and stewardship by community members. Even if open practices were perfectly adopted overnight—granting access to the knowledge textbooks, journal articles, evidence-based interventions, and research data to anyone, regardless of ability to pay—the culture that drives people to share their work emerges from the actions of practitioners. Social workers, as public intellectuals and scholars, must reach behind traditional boundaries to make social work research more accessible to all people and safe from forces of surveillance and privatization.

We hope that our work in this textbook has laid a foundation for the integration of research roles into your current or future social work practice. We aimed to demystify research, alleviate research anxiety, and engage students in an authentic research project relevant to their lives and future practice. We hope that your project has provided you the opportunity to build research skills that you will integrate into your life. Finally, we hope you can accept the role of lifelong scholar, dedicated to creating and engaging with knowledge relevant to your practice and life. You have the power to create knowledge and use it to transform the world. Understanding social work research means you can help people understand the lives of your clients and communities and how best to help them, fighting the many stigmas and oppressions our clients face every day.

Key Takeaways

  • Open research practices have the potential to ensure access to all scientific research for anyone, regardless of ability to pay.
  • Researchers should build open practices into existing research workflows, allowing their work to be accessed, replicated, audited, and transformed by other scholars.


  • Look at your data and methods. Determine which elements can be ethically shared with the public and which have to remain confidential. Apply the maxim: “as open as possible, as closed as necessary.” Familiarize yourself with the rules for sharing of research data created by your IRB as well as any applicable laws like FERPA and HIPAA.


  1. Wilson, P. M., Petticrew, M., Calnan, M. W., & Natareth, I. (2010). Disseminating research findings: What should researchers do? A systematic scoping review of conceptual frameworks. Implementation Science5, 91.
  2. Richter, D., Kunter, M., Klusmann, U., Lüdtke, O., & Baumert, J. (2014). Professional development across the teaching career: Teachers’ uptake of formal and informal learning opportunities. In Teachers’ Professional Development (pp. 97-121). Brill Sense.
  3. Enis, M. (2018, March 3). LJ Study: Electronic Resources Continue Steady Gains in Academic Libraries. Retrieved from: https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=lj-study-electronic-resources-continue-steady-gains
  4. Pendell, K. (2018). Behind the Wall. Advances in Social Work18(4), 1041-1052.


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Graduate research methods in social work Copyright © 2020 by Matthew DeCarlo, Cory Cummings, Kate Agnelli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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