A Scoping Review of Doctoral Scholarship in Canada: Implications for the Discipline
Method: A database was created from a search of Canadian social work dissertations published between 2001-2011 using the ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Database (PQDT). To verify the sample, doctoral program directors were contacted and independently confirmed the sample names and dissertation titles by year. Full text dissertations were retrieved for review. Data pertaining to 12 research methodology variables (e.g., quantitative/qualitative/mixed method, presence/absence of hypothesis, primary or secondary data source, sample size, etc.) was extracted from each dissertation. Inter-rater reliability for a random selection of 1/3 of the cases was 0.82. Conflicts were resolved through consensus.
Results: Of the 296 dissertations identified to have been published between 2001 and 2011, 249 were found in full text format on PQDT (84%). Of those 249, 163 used qualitative methods (65%), 41 used quantitative methods (16%) and 45 used mixed methods (18%). The following methods were employed in the qualitative and mixed methods theses: 23% qualitative description, 22% grounded theory, 11% phenomenology, 5% ethnographies, and 3% case studies. A large proportion of qualitative methodologies (26%) could not be easily classified into one of the major qualitative methodologies. A minority of the entire sample (33%) examined a social work intervention, defined as an action taken by a social worker or other agent to maintain or improve the well-being of a community, family, or individual. Substantive areas covered a broad spectrum of topics reflective of social work’s diversity. Child welfare and social work education were the most common substantive areas (8%) followed by interpersonal violence (7%).
Conclusions and Implications: The results from this first known scoping review of doctoral scholarship indicate that qualitative methodology is the most prevalent in Canada. Qualitative methodologies were inconsistently operationalized across studies. On one hand, the predominance of qualitative methodologies suggests that social work researchers are contributing to depth of understanding related to critical social processes and problems. Alternatively, and based on the limited number of intervention studies, the results raise serious concerns about social work researchers’ ability to generate diverse forms of knowledge that inform evidence-based policies and practices.