The empirical status of social work dissertation research: Characteristics, trends and implications for the field

Brandy R. Maynard, Michael G. Vaughn, Christine M. Sarteschi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


The quality and composition of a profession's body of knowledge bear significantly on the status, credibility and praxis of a profession. To assess the social work profession's capacity to build and advance knowledge, the present study examined characteristics and trends of social work doctoral dissertation research. A random sample of 593 social work dissertation abstracts from dissertations published in ProQuest Dissertations and Abstracts between 1998 and 2008 from US member schools of the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education (GADE) comprised the sample for this study. Data related to study design, methods, data sources, practice domains, participants, topics and international focus were extracted and analysed. The broad variety of research topics and participants chosen by doctoral candidates to study reflect traditional social work focal concerns. Observational research designs were used in the vast majority of dissertations, with only 7 per cent of doctoral candidates employing an experimental design. Quantitative analysis was utilised more than twice as frequently as qualitative methods. An upward trend in the use of secondary data was observed across the ten-year time frame. The findings of this study provide interesting and important insights into the characteristics and trends of doctoral education and research and have significant implications for doctoral training and social work research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267-289
Number of pages23
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Mar

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors are grateful for support from the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk and the Institute of Education Sciences (grant # R324B080008). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Meadows Center or the Institute of Education Sciences.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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