Functions of Theories in Social Work Research

Functions of Theories in Social Work Research

The main purpose of theories in social work research is to for the development of effective conclusions and interventions since they determine the nature of solutions to problems identified by social workers during research. They also guide the development of research and research questions that help in determining if there is any support for assumptions made during the research (Turner, 2017). Theories are core to social work research for a variety of reasons. Firstly, major theories such as Marxism, Functionalism, and Symbolic Interactionism complement critical changes of paradigms within social work research. Secondly, theories allow social researchers to generate new questions supported by diverse “viewpoints”. Research and theory go hand-in-hand to advance social work research. The noble mission of social researchers is to make sure that people have the best understanding of a social problem and knowing how to make the best use of knowledge with available means (Stam, 2020).  In the process of reaching the best, the theory is important in guiding and supporting social research. It could be said that research is needed to verify and, if possible, make improvements to theory. After all, a theory represents what people know or what they do not know at the time.

When social workers can approach or assist in managing a person or situation, they can turn a broad picture into a specific “plan of action.” When working with people, they work with a variety of demographics, and typically they may want to focus on one area, however, since people are complicated, and life circumstances vary, and social work knowledge varies (Stam, 2020).  A social worker needs to be kept up on theories, and how society, policies, people, and cultures have been used, implement, and viewed and knows what works and what does not work in research. In the past, humanitarian efforts, in studying “social experiments” or labeled to find out “human nature” used horrible methods that ethically cannot be re-duplicated, due to the ethical treatment and fallouts. Without theories to explain the assumptions from these experiments, people would still be practicing inhuman tactics in the name of “helping mankind.”

This knowledge of how theories support social work research will significantly affect my practice in social work. The understanding of the importance of theories will help me create an opportunity to remain fluid, open to possibilities, of persuasion. I will use theories to build facts, to fit the needs for desired results (Turner, 2017). As social workers, we are entitled to use the most up-to-date, ethical guidelines formed by the institution or community we represent. As a social worker, I have to make sense of seemingly disparate pieces of information and make decisions that can have profound effects on people’s lives. We study the importance of theories in social work research so that we can tell coherent stories about the information we receive, explain what’s going on to other professionals, predict how someone might respond or react, and have the tools to critically appraise the theories that other people are using to do the same. Hopefully, this understanding will also provide me some insight into the underlying mechanisms that drive the phenomenon.











Stam, H. J. (2020). On the importance of theory and contagion. Theory & Psychology, 30(6), 878-884.

Turner, F. J. (Ed.). (2017). Social work treatment: Interlocking theoretical approaches (First Edition). London: Oxford University Press.


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