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Social Work

Peer Reviewed Articles

A peer reviewed article is a scholarly article that is rigorously reviewed by 3-5 scholars in the same field. The process of review ensures the quality of research presented in the article.

Peer reviewed articles can include:

  • original research (empirical studies)
  • review articles
  • systematic reviews
  • meta-analyses

You can filter your results to peer-review when searching for articles. PowerSearch results have check box that allows users to narrow results to only peer-reviewed articles. Usually databases have a peer-review check box or limiter that you can select, too. 

Identifying Empirical Research Articles

Look for the IMRaD layout in the article, or something similar, to help identify empirical research.

  • Introduction: why the article was written, research question or questions, hypothesis, literature review

  • Methods: the overall research design and implementation, description of sample, instruments used, how the authors measured their experiment

  • Results: output of the author's measurements, usually includes statistics of the author's findings

  • Discussion: the author's interpretation and conclusions about the results, limitations of study, suggestions for further research

Refer to the Forms of Evidence on this page to determine the quality of evidence gathered by a particular study.

Finding Empirical Research

When searching, try using terms that relate to the method used in empirical research in addition to keywords related to your topic, such as: (generalized anxiety AND treatment*) AND (randomized clinical trial* OR clinical trial*). You can also try using terms related to the type of instrument used, such as: (generalized anxiety AND intervention*) AND (survey OR questionnaire).

Forms of Evidence

Research studies come in many different forms. Experts in the field of evidence-based social work practice often rank types of research studies according to their reliability. Reliability is the consistency and stability of a measurement instrument across time and subjects. These rankings often take the form of an an evidence hierarchy.

An Evidence Hierarchy

In the preface to A Guide to Treatments that Work, Nathan and Gorman (2015) outline a hierarchy of research articles. Articles based on type 1 studies represent the most reliable form of evidence. 

  • Type 1 studies include randomized clinical trials.
  • Type 2 studies include clinical trials, but some aspects of the type 1 study may be missing (for example, the assignment may not be randomized).
  • Type 3 studies are open treatment studies aimed at getting pilot data. These are subject to bias. Type 3 studies can include case controlled studies.
  • Type 4 studies are reviews with secondary data analysis. This can include a meta-analysis.
  • Type 5 studies are reviews without secondary data analysis.  This can include literature reviews.
  • Type 6 studies include case studies, essays, and opinion papers.

Nathan, P.E. & Gorman, J.M. (2015). A guide to treatments that work. Oxford: Oxford University Press.