This introductory chapter first sets out the purpose of the book, which is to serve as a concise practical guide for the informed and responsible use of structural equation modeling (SEM). It is designed for social work faculty, researchers, and doctoral students who view themselves more as substantive experts than statistical experts, but who need to use SEM in their research. It is designed for social workers who desire a degree of analytical skill but have neither the time for coursework nor the patience to glean from the immense SEM literature the specifics needed to carry out an SEM analysis. The chapter then discusses what is SEM, the role of theory in SEM, the kinds of data that can or should be analyzed with SEM, and the research questions best answered by SEM.
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