Defining the Research Problem; Justifying the Study; Reviewing Existing Literature
Successfully conducted research studies often provide the answers to challenges of social work practice, of obstacles in social work research, and of gaps of knowledge within the field. In order to conduct a successful research study, the research question must be clearly defined, well justified, and offer something new to the field’s knowledge base. Whether using quantitative, qualitative, or mixed-method applications to data, the research study can only be as good as the research question that guides it. This week, you focus on defining research questions, justifying studies, and reviewing existing literature.
Yegidis, B. L., Weinbach, R. W., & Myers, L. L. (2018). Research methods for social workers (8th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.
Chapter 3, “Developing Research Problems and Research Questions” (pp. 52-70)
Chapter 4, “Conducting the Literature Review and Developing Research Hypothesis” (pp. 71-99)
Bem, D. J. (2003). Writing the empirical journal article. In J.M. Darley, M. P. Zanna, & H. L. Roediger III (Eds.), The compleat academic: A practical guide for the beginning social scientist (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://writingcenter.uconn.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/593/2014/06/Writing_the_Empirical_Journal_Article_BEM1.pdf
Plummer, S.-B., Makris, S., & Brocksen S. M. (Eds.). (2014). Sessions: Case histories. Baltimore, MD: Laureate International Universities Publishing. [Vital Source e-reader].
The Johnson Family
The Johnson Family
Talia is a 19-year-old heterosexual Caucasian female, who is a junior majoring in psychology and minoring in English. She has a GPA of 3.89 and has been on the dean’s list several times over the last 3 years. She has written a couple of short articles for the university’s newspaper on current events around campus and is active in her sorority, Kappa Delta. She works part time (10–15 hours a week) at an accessory store. Talia recently moved off campus to an apartment with two close friends from her sorority. She is physically active and runs approximately three miles a day. She also goes to the university’s gym a couple of days a week for strength training. Talia does not use drugs, although she has smoked marijuana a few times in her life. She drinks a few times a week, often going out with friends one day during the week and then again on Friday and Saturday nights. When she is out with friends, Talia usually has about four to six drinks. She prefers to drink beer over hard liquor or wine, but will occasionally have a mixed drink.
Talia has no criminal history. She reports a history of anxiety in her family (on her mother’s side), and on a few occasions has experienced heart palpitations, which her mother told her was due to nervousness. This happened only a handful of times in the past and usually when Talia was “very stressed out,” so Talia had never felt the need to go to the doctor or talk to someone about it until now. Talia is currently not dating anyone. She was in a relationship for years, but it ended a few months ago. She had since been “hooking up” with a guy in one of her English classes, but does not feel it will turn into anything serious and has not seen him in several weeks.
Talia’s parents, Erin (40) and Dave (43), and her siblings, Lila (16) and Nathan (14), live 2 hours away from the university. Erin works at a salon as a hairdresser, and Dave is retired military and works for a home security company. Erin is on a low-dose antidepressant for anxiety, something she has been treated for all of her life.
Talia came to see me at the Rape Counseling Center (RCC) on campus for services after she was sexually assaulted at a fraternity party 3 weeks prior. She told me she had thought she could handle her feelings after the assault, but she had since experienced a number of emotions and behaviors she could no longer ignore. She was not sleeping, she felt sad most days, she had stopped going out with friends, and she had been unable to concentrate on schoolwork. Talia stated that the most significant issues she had faced since the assault had been recurrent anxiety attacks.
Talia learned about the RCC when she went to the hospital after the sexual assault. She went to the hospital to request that a rape kit be completed and also requested the morning-after pill and the HIV prevention protocol (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PEP). At that time, a nurse contacted me through the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) to provide Talia with support and resources. I spent several hours with Talia at the hospital while she went through the examination process. Talia shared bits and pieces of the evening with me, although she said most of the night was a blur. She said a good-looking guy named Eric was flirting with her all night and bringing her drinks. She did not want to seem ungrateful and enjoyed his company, so she drank. She also mentioned that the drinks were made with hard liquor, something that tends to make her drunk faster than beer. She said that at one point she blacked out and has no idea what happened. She woke up naked in a room alone the next morning, and she went straight to the hospital. Once Talia was done at the hospital, I gave her the contact information for RCC. I encouraged her to call if she had any questions or needed to talk with someone.
During our first meeting at the RCC, I provided basic information about our services. I let her know that everything was confidential and that I wanted to help create a safe space for her to talk. I told her that we would move along at a pace that was comfortable for her and that this was her time and we could use it as she felt best. We talked briefly about her experience at the hospital, which she described as cold and demeaning. She told me several times how thankful she was that I had been there. She said one of the reasons she called the RCC was because she felt I supported and believed her. I used the opportunity to validate her feelings and remind her that I did, in fact, believe her and that the assault was not her fault.
We talked briefly about how Talia had been feeling over the last 3 weeks. She was very concerned about her classes because she had missed a couple of assignment deadlines and was fearful of failing. She told me several times this was not like her and she was normally a very good student. I told her I could contact the professors and advocate for extensions without disclosing the specific reason Talia was receiving counseling services and would need additional time to complete her assignments. Talia thanked me and agreed that would be best. I introduced the topic of safety and explained that she might possibly see Eric on campus, something that might cause her emotional distress. We talked about strategies she could use to protect herself, and she agreed to walk with a friend while on campus for the time being. She also agreed she would avoid the gym where she had seen Eric before.
The Johnson Family
Erin Johnson: mother, 40
Dave Johnson: father, 43
Talia Johnson: daughter, 19
Lila Johnson: daughter, 16
Nathan Johnson: son, 14
During our second meeting, Talia seemed very anxious. We talked about how she had been feeling over the last week, and she indicated she was still not sleeping well at night and that she was taking long naps during the day. She had missed days at work, something she had never done before, and was in jeopardy of losing her job. Talia reported experiencing several anxiety attacks as well. She described the attack symptoms as feeling unable to breathe, accompanied by a swelling in her chest, and an overwhelming feeling that she was going to die. She said that this was happening several times a day, although mostly at night. I provided some education about trauma responses to sexual assault and the signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We went over a workbook on trauma reactions to sexual assault and reviewed the signs and symptoms checklist, identifying several that she was experiencing. We practiced breathing exercises to use when she felt anxious, and she reported feeling better. I told her it was important to identify the triggers to her anxiety so that we could find out what exactly was causing her to be anxious in a given moment. I explained that while the assault itself had brought the attacks on, it would be helpful to see what specific things (such as memories, certain times of the day, particular smells, etc.) caused her to have anxiety attacks. I gave Talia an empty journal and asked her to record the times of the episodes over the next week as well as what happened right before them. She agreed.
We met over several sessions and continued to address Talia’s anxiety symptoms and feelings of sadness. She told me she was unable to talk about what happened on the night of the rape because she felt ashamed. She said that it was too difficult for her to verbalize what happened and that the words coming out of her mouth would hurt too much. I reassured her that we would go at her pace and that she could talk about what happened when she felt comfortable. We practiced breathing and reviewed her journal log each week.
It had become clear that the evenings seemed to be the peak time for her anxiety, which I told her made sense as her assault had occurred at night. I described how sleep is often difficult for survivors of sexual assault because they fear having nightmares about what happened. She looked surprised and said she had not mentioned it, but she kept having dreams about Eric in which he was talking to her at the party. The dreams ended with him holding her hand and walking her away. She said she also thought about this during the day and could actually see it happening in her mind. We talked about the intrusive thoughts that often occur after trauma, and I tried to normalize her experience. I told her that often people try to avoid these intrusions, and I wondered if she felt she was doing anything to avoid them. She told me she had started taking a sleep aid at night. When I asked about her exercise habits, she said that right after the assault she had stopped running and going to the gym. We set a goal that she would run one to two times a week to help her with anxiety and sleeping. I also suggested that now would be a good time to start writing her feelings down because journaling is a very useful way to express feelings when it is difficult to verbalize them. Talia mentioned that she had decided not to go to the police about the sexual assault because she did not want to go through the process. I informed her that if she wanted to, she could address the assault in another way, by bringing it to the campus judicial system. She said she would think about this option.
During another session weeks later, Talia came in distraught. She said she had been feeling better overall since working on her breathing and doing the journaling, but that a few things had happened that were making her more and more anxious and that her attacks were increasing again. Talia said her parents were pushing her to drop out of school and to come home. She said they had been calling and texting her often, something she found annoying but understandable. They were very upset about what had happened, although they were more upset with her that she had waited for weeks to tell them about “it.” Her father threatened to come and beat the guy up, and her mother cried. She avoided talking with them, but they had become relentless with the calls. Her mother had shown up with her sister unannounced the previous weekend and had treated Talia like she had a cold—making chicken soup and rubbing Talia’s feet. The pressure from her parents was weighing on her and upsetting her. Talia was also distressed by a friend who kept pushing her to talk about what happened. When Talia finally relented, her friend asked her why she had gone upstairs with him. Talia said this made her feel terrible, and she started to cry. This friend also told her that Eric had heard she had gone to the hospital and was telling people that she had wanted to have sex. Eric had been telling people she was “all over him” and that she had taken her own pants off. This made Talia very angry and upset.
Key to Acronyms
HIV: Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection
PEP: Post-Exposure Prophylaxis
PTSD: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
RCC: Rape Counseling Center
SART: Sexual Assault Response Team
We talked about how there are certain myths in society around sexual assault and that the victim is often blamed. We also talked about how the perpetrator often blames his or her victim to make himself or herself feel better. Talia said she has felt some sense of blame for what happened and that she should not have drunk so much. She started to cry. I gently reminded her that she was not at fault for Eric’s actions, and her drinking was not an invitation to have sex. I reminded her that he should have seen how incapacitated she was and that she could not have consented to sex. Talia continued to cry. She clearly had a number of emotions she wanted to express but was having difficulty sharing them, so I offered her some clay and asked her to use it to mold representations of different areas in her life and how she felt about them. We spent the rest of the session talking about the shapes she made and how she felt. Toward the end of the session she told me she had decided to put in a complaint with the campus judicial system about the assault. She worried that Eric would assault another woman and she would feel responsible if she did not alert the university. I offered my support and told her I would be there for her through the process.
Formulating Research Questions
Research problems can come from a variety of places. A topic can come up during a discussion with a colleague that motivates you to want to learn more about it. You may have a question for which you cannot find an answer, so you decide to conduct a research study in hopes of finding an answer. You may identify a particular gap in knowledge and be inclined to investigate that gap and close it with the results of a research study.
For this Discussion, consider how crafting a good research question is the cornerstone for designing robust studies that yield useable data. Review the Sessions episode on the Talia Johnson case. Locate two articles authored by the researcher David Lisak on the topics of the undetected rapist and predatory nature.
By Day 3
Post two potential research questions related to the Sessions episode. Consider potential ethical or political issues related to the feasibility of investigating the questions. Evaluate each question in terms of how it might:
- Contribute to development of new knowledge for social work
- Lead to more effective practice interventions
- Lead to social change
- Be useful to other researchers
Finally, explain the criteria you used to decide which sources of information should be included. Please use the resources to support your answer.
By Day 5
Respond to a colleague whose post has not yet been addressed by offering comments regarding the importance of his or her research problems and related research questions. Be sure to comment on whether the phenomenon related to the research question is measurable. Then, offer suggestions as to how the information might be attained. Please use the resources to support your post.
Alexis Adams RE: Discussion – Week 3COLLAPSE
- What percentage of reported, college-aged sexual assault victims are under the influence of drugs or alcohol during an attack?
This question is very specific and measurable. It can be appreciated that the question pertains directly to the percentage of reported sexual assaults as so many sexual assaults go unreported and therefore data cannot be collected on these incidents. One way to attain this information is by collecting self-reports from the victims. The interviewer can simply ask the person is she was under the influence of any drugs or alcohol when attacked. However, self-report is not always accurate due to reasons such as the interviewee feeling shame or guilt. Another way to collect this information is from hospital reports or analysis. However, this information can only be collected if the individual went directly to the hospital after the attack. This information is also reliant on the health care professional testing for this information. Additionally, this method may be very limited due to HIPPA restraints. The individual involved in this research would have to give permission and access to their hospital records, even then it can be difficult to collect this information.
- Does socioeconomic status impact the probability a person will commit a sexual assault in college?
This question is somewhat measurable. Again, the data could only be collected on individuals who have committed sexual assault and actually been caught or identified for their actions. This question again would be based on self-report or other forms of documentation that address the socioeconomic status of an offender. However, it is unsure if this information would provide relevancy to the field of social work as many other factors could contribute to the likelihood that someone commits a crime. Does knowing a person’s socioeconomic status alone make them more likely to commit this crime? Or is it that environmental factors or learned survival skills of those from poorer backgrounds contribute to this behavior? For instance, a person from a poor socioeconomic background could have limited access to a good education and also not be able to spend quality time with their mother due to her having to work multiple jobs. All of these factors together could lead to this person having limited information about consent. Therefore, it is unclear if the actual socioeconomic status of the person increases the probability or the contributing environmental factors to being of this status play in part?
How has the perpetrator’s relationship with peers been an indicator of sexual violence?
What common experiences exist in the young adulthood stage of acquaintance-rape victims?
Addressing and conducting research on the two questions will contribute to the development of new knowledge about how the perpetrator came to commit illegal acts of violence, the role of social intelligence of the perpetrator, and determining the commonality of experiences during young adulthood. Understanding the behaviors and mentality of the perpetrator and associated peers can lead to the development of more effective interventions. Statistically common, rapist can be repeat offenders, a thorough investigation of social networks by questioning acquaintances that frequent the same bars, parties, fraternities, and other social venues, researchers may reveal previous victims (Lisak & Miller, 2002). Identifying motivational factors and clarifying patterns that lead to sexual violence can aid social workers in formulating interventions to protect potential victims while modifying behaviors of criminal. Research has shown that the date rapist can be undetected , often serial sexual perpetrators, that are never criminalized, therefore making it hard to identify and provide education (Lisak, 2004). Cultivating preventive educational courses for individuals at all chronological/developmental stages of life can decrease criminal transgressions, aid potential victims on social and cognitive skills, while influencing preventive participation of witnesses.
Despite the pain the perpetrator has caused or the allegations suspected, this individual is entitled to confidentiality. Social workers are mandated to provide services, promote self-determination, and uphold the dignity and worth of clients against personal opinions and beliefs. The proposed questions require the researcher to dig into the perpetrators social history and gather data. Social workers are mandated with duty to warn potential victims. Social workers are ethical bound to protect confidentiality of the client (perpetrator) unless court ordered and at this time limited information is shared based on the request. Another ethical issue is that the proposition of the questions may appear to favor the issues of the perpetrator over the victim and insinuate that the attacker has influencing factors. As a social worker it is important to examine both ends of sexual violence, hence, understanding the perpetrator is essential and does not influence shaming of the victim.
Criterion validity is used for predicting future behaviors by predicting how a measure predicts the outcome for another measure (or behavior) (Yegidis, Weinbach, & Myers, 2018). This can be used to understand the sexuality and behaviors of perpetrators by using variables in comparison. The criteria used is clarity as it encourages the researcher to gain insight to locate specific relevant information (Bem, 2003). This writer searched for articles that were relevant to sexual assault , repeat offenses, and assaults in college. It is essential when forming questions that the researcher conduct studies that can provide additional information and assist with the formulation of interventions.
Assignment: Quantitative and Qualitative Research Questions
According to Creswell (2009), quantitative research is a “means for testing objective theories by examining the relationship among variables that can be measured and analyzed using statistical procedures.” Qualitative research, Creswell posits, is a “means for exploring and understanding the meaning individuals or groups ascribe to social or human problems.”
Consider the phenomenon of pain. Ethics committees and institutional review boards do not allow researchers to inflict equal doses of pain on subjects to examine their physiological response. In quantitative research, pain can be measured physiologically by blood pressure, changes in blood chemistry, muscle contractions, and pain scales (which are still subjective, but at least quantifiable). Researchers using a qualitative perspective may ask participants about their experience of being in physical pain, whether being in pain has changed them in any way, or what they have learned from experiencing physical pain.
For this Assignment, consider differences in how you might frame a research question in order to explore it using quantitative or qualitative research methods.
By Day 7
Submit a 2-page paper that highlights one of the research questions you shared in your Discussion post. Design a quantitative research question related to this problem and a qualitative research question related to the same problem. Please use the resources to support your answer.
Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.