Grading gems: appraising the quality of research for social work and social care

Brian Taylor, Martin Dempster, Michael Donnelly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


The impetus towards basing practice and policy decisions more explicitly on sound research requires tools to facilitate the systematic appraisal of the quality of research encompassing a diverse range of methods and designs. Five exemplar tools were developed and assessed in terms of their usefulness in selecting studies for inclusion in a systematic review. The widely used ‘hierarchy of evidence’ was adapted and used to appraise internal validity. Four tools were then developed to appraise the external validity dimensions of generalisability (two scales) and methods of data collection (two scales). Methods of combining the scores generated by each tool were explored. Qualitative and quantitative studies were appraised not separated into two spheres but by using complementary tools developed to appraise different aspects of rigour.
There was a high level of agreement between researchers in applying the tools to 22 studies on decision-making by professionals about the long-term care of older people. The scales for internal validity and generalisability discriminated between the qualities of studies appropriately. The two tools to appraise data collection gave diverse results. Excluding studies that scored in the lowest category on any scale appeared to be the scoring system that was most justifiable. This approach is presented to stimulate debate about the practical application of the evidence-based initiative to social work and social care. This study may assist in developing clearer definitions and common language about appraising rigour that should further the process of selecting robust research for synthesis to inform practice and policy decisions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)335-354
Number of pages20
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 Mar 2007


  • Appraisal of research, systematic review, evidence based practice.


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