An empirical assessment of writing and research proficiency in HBCU social work students


Lack of proficiency in writing and research among social work students has increasingly concerned social work educators and practitioners. Given the significance of written communication with clients and emphasis on evidence-based practice in the field of social work, it is critical to assess students’ competence in both writing and research. However, deficit-based approaches to assessing writing and research competence have disadvantaged students at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). This pilot study aims to assess writing and research proficiency of HBCU master’s of social work (MSW) students through empirical analysis of their capstone papers and surveys from educators to provide implications for developing a writing and research manual for social work programs at HBCUs. Ten capstone papers were randomly selected and qualitatively analyzed; nine faculty and one field supervisor completed the survey, and their respondents were analyzed using cross-case analysis. Analyses of the capstone papers identified two themes for writing and research domains, respectively: (1) weakness in developing statements and lack of knowledge of writing style and (2) plagiarism and lack of understanding of research structure. Moreover, analyses of the surveys revealed four themes regarding assessment of writing and research skills among students struggling with basic writing mechanics, indicating that HBCU MSW students may have potential and capacity for learning, as evidenced by their ideas and critical thinking skills. These findings suggest both teaching- and research-oriented programs could employ the proposed writing and research assessment manual, as well as a writing and research lab/center for improving writing and research skills among their students.

Publication Title

Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment