Research-Oriented Genres

Among the most challenging genres are those that try to do more than just achieve a practice-oriented goal (as in practice-oriented genres) or change a policy (as in advocacy-oriented genres). Research-oriented genres try to make new contributions to “what we know” about human behavior, society, social problems, and our work in these realms as social workers. Rather than just applying evidence-based practices, we will be trying to collect the evidence to show that a practice works, or collect data to learn more about how a social problem turns out the way it does. The standards for reasoning, specificity, and precision are higher in this genre set.



Audiences for research genres vary as much as in the other genre sets, but generally speaking, they include researchers, and those with the knowledge and authority to allow data-collection projects to go forward. These are usually highly educated people, and will expect us to know and use more technical terms with more facility than in other genres. They also have to be convinced not only that a problem is important, and that we have an idea that should be able to help with that problem, but also that undertaking a new project will contribute new information, above and beyond what scholarly studies have already chosen. This means that the pre-writing process of planning, reading, note-taking, and outlining is even more important for these genres than in the others. Starting off on the wrong foot can produce an argument that the audience will immediately reject—for instance, we do not want to show the audience that our new data-collection project merely repeats something that other researchers have already demonstrated, and we do not want to let the audience think that we have no feasible plan to carry out our data-collection process, or that doing so would be unethical.



Depending on what kind of task a research genre needs to accomplish, the argument may vary. If we are trying to convince a group or person with authority to let us proceed (or stop us) that our new data-collection project is a good idea—and this is what we do in a research proposal—then we will need to argue that this new data-collection project will add useful knowledge to the existing knowledge base. If we are reporting the results of a project—as in an academic journal article—then we will need to convince the audience not only that the project has produced results, but that the results are useful in changing social work practice, or research. If we are conducting research to assess the effectiveness of an intervention on one client (as in a single-system research design, or SSRD), or if we are assessing the effectiveness of an organization’s activities (as in a program evaluation) we will need to argue, first, that there was good reason to do the project the way we did, and second, that the results show us something useful about the specific case.



In making the argument that a project should go forward, or that a specific intervention was appropriate to a specific case, research-oriented projects should always rely first upon empirical research as reported in academic journal articles or books, and second upon reliable public data (such as data from the US Census Bureau, or comparable government departments). This part of the argument is almost always included in any research-oriented genre.

By contrast, in making the argument that a specific project produced useful and interesting results, a research-oriented paper should always rely upon the data collected by the writer him/herself. This part of the argument, of course, only comes into play if the genre reports the results of a project already completed, as in an academic journal article, an SSRD, or a program evaluation. Because a research proposal is proposing a new data collection project that has not yet begun, it has no data of its own to report as yet. Different genres may have different conventions for how we write about this evidence, depending upon the kind of writing we are doing:

Hybrid research-oriented writing

Most journal articles will need to report not only on the existing knowledge about a topic—from scholarly sources and reliable public data. They will also need to refer to things that the researchers did, most commonly in the methods, results, and discussion sections. APA recommends using “I” or “we” when referring to things researchers did themselves, to avoid ambiguity. However, some assignments will specify that the methods section should use passive voice instead, writing “the data were collected” rather than “we collected the data.” If the instructions do not clarify, it is always worth asking!

Theoretical research-oriented writing

In genres proposing new research, or discussing only theories (as in theory comparisons), the argument should rely exclusively on peer-reviewed academic journal articles, academic books, and reliable public data. Because the audiences are almost always people who make decisions based on evidence (rather than, for example, politicians, who can be swayed by emotion), it is important to avoid anecdotal information or “telling stories.” Instead, make clear claims, and support the claims with strong evidence.