Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Reviews of recent research literature – 9
Article Type: Books Reviews From: Online Information Review, Volume 39, Issue 1
The literature of research, including theory, method and methodology, has become a substantial subset of the publishing industry in its traditional, electronic and hybrid forms. In this occasional series of reviews we focus on recent titles that address the many issues of research. The intention is to inform both established researchers and students of research. Our assessment of each title is indicated by the number of stars (five being the highest recommendation).
Best Practices in Data Cleaning: A Complete Guide to Everything You Need to Do Before and After Collecting Your Data
Jason W. Osborne
Thousand Oaks, CA
Price not reported soft cover
Doing Discourse Research An Introduction for Social Scientists
Reiner Keller. Translated by Bryan Jenner
£25.00 soft cover
Focus Groups A Practical Guide for Applied Research
Richard A. Krueger and Mary Anne Casey
Thousand Oaks, CA
Price not reported spiral bound
Research Methods in Information
Alison Jane Pickard
American Library AssociationNealSchuman
US$85.00 (US$76.50 ALA members) soft cover
Social Network Analysis
£36.00 soft cover
Review DOI 10.1108/OIR-12-2014-0296
Most of us must have encountered this sort of problem: quantitative data once collected are found to be flawed because someone in a research team failed to ensure that the data to be collected would meet their goals, and thus allow testing of the hypotheses underlying the research. In Best Practices in Data Cleaning Jason Osborne’s intent is to show us the importance of testing assumptions before collecting data using specific instruments, as well as screening and cleaning data prior to analysis. To ignore either is to allow unnecessary flaws to creep into the final analysis and, therefore, the findings.
Osborne tackles this topic by addressing what he calls the “myths” in our research practice. To address these myths he organises the book into three sections: Best Practices as You Prepare for Data Collection (three chapters), Best Practices in Data Cleaning and Screening (five chapters) and Advanced Topics in Data Cleaning (four chapters). Parts 1 and 2 are the most useful and coherent, with Part 3 an uncomfortable mix of two myth-debunking chapters, a brief catch-all chapter dealing with cleaning of repeated measures data and a final, equally brief chapter on a vision of rational quantitative methodology. These last two chapters could be jettisoned with any real loss of meaningful content.
Within these parts, what are the myths in research practice? As Osborne has it, they are the myths of robustness (Chapter 1), of adequate power (Chapter 2), of representativeness (Chapter 3), of equality (Chapters 4 and 7), of perfect data (Chapter 5), of emptiness (Chapter 6), of distributional irrelevance (Chapter 8), of perfect measurement (Chapter 9), of the motivated participant (Chapter 10) and of categorisation (Chapter 11). Throughout the author engages in debate with authors whose views are dissimilar from his, argues convincingly in favour of his views (pp. 76-80 are a good example) and overall is most persuasive on the need for data cleaning in all situations.
The chapters are not at all daunting but in fact presented in a clear, straightforward, often ancedotal style, whilst conveying the core information thoroughly enough for the intended audience. Further, Osborne succeeds in being approachable and engaging in his writing: “If you have an interesting example of results and conclusions that changed after revisiting a data set and testing assumptions, I would love to hear from you […]” The chapter structure enhances this approach, with definitions of key terms, excellent use of tables and figures, research scenarios, recommended best practices, “further enrichment” exercises and explanatory notes. A Student Study Site is available at: www.sagepub.com/osborne. Clearly aimed at a student audience, Osborne is recommended reading for this cohort.
In Doing Discourse Research author Reiner Keller (Professor of Sociology, University of Augsburg) introduces the complex field of discourse analysis and discourse research (DR). For those unfamiliar with DR (and that will be most of us in the information sciences), this is a process in which language characteristics and use are examined for content, consistency, ideology and motive – a kind of “text analysis” and beyond to visual and aural media and physical artefacts bounded by firm methodological controls. It is not a simple approach, and reading this work exposes the largely continental (German) origins of Diskursforschung (the work was first published in Germany in 2007). So we start from a mindset that assumes considerable theoretical discourse prior to any practical discussion – and Professor Keller does not disappoint.
The first 67 pages of the work (two chapters) discuss the nature of DR, its terminology, its history and evolution, theoretical underpinnings and foundations and an overview of approaches. Chapters 3-6 then get down to the actual business of DR, with chapters on The Research Process (Chapter 3), Doing Discourse Research (Chapter 4), The Detialed Analysis of Data (Chapter 5) and From Detailed Analysis to Overall Results (Chapter 6). These chapters are considered to be “introductory” by the author, and such supports as definitions of terms, a list of questions to be asked in DR, examples and so on show the author’s attempt to be student-friendly. These chapters do provide basic principles of DR and well-grounded DR strategies within the social sciences. But the reality remains that the writing requires more than one or two readings for the average student new to DR. The final page-long “chapter” is just a brief summary of the preceding chapters.
If there were an accompanying website with full examples of the use and application of DR (as with many SAGE publications), and perhaps a second edition written in more user-friendly English, this would singificantly improve the impact of this work. In its present form, however, it lacks the textual vibrancy and attractive user aids expected by younger anglophone readers, especially when dealing with such a complex topic as DR.
The 5th edition of Focus Groups: A Practical Guide for Applied Research is as different in style and intent as possible from the preceding work. From its outward appearance (spiral bound for ease of use) to the relaxed language of the 14 chapters, this is clearly a working tool for students and practitioners of the focus group method of data collection. That is to say, the emphasis is entirely on practice, with virtually no reference to theoretical aspects of focus groups.
Following an introductory overview chapter, the authors then take the reader through the various stages of focus group research: planning, questioning, participants, moderating skills, analysis and reporting. There are “bonus” chapters on styles of focus group research and on interviewing special groups: young people, international and cross-cultural groups, telephone and internet interviewing. Each chapter is a model of good presentation: examples, tips, cautions, tables and figures are used to good effect; detailed appendices provide, for instance, clear examples of questions to ask and responsibilities of moderators. In addition the authors write clearly and present both the good and the bad based on their own experience: criticisms of focus groups (pp. 14-16), dealing with the unexpected when moderating a focus group (pp. 127-128) and tips when analysing focus group results (pp. 156-161) are just three examples of their honest approach to the method.
Highlights for this reviewer include the discussion of styles of focus group research (Chapter 8) in which a clear distinction is made between market research and all other types, putting to rest the common view that what is done in marketing is the way for all of us. Also, the discussion of internet focus group interviewing (Chapter 11) is long overdue in focus group texts – here we have a good beginning that must be extended in the next edition. Finally, Chapter 10’s focus on cross-cultural interviewing seems increasingly relevant in today’s multicultural gloabal society, and the disucssion here is, in my experience, spot on.
Weaknesses? Of course there are: (1) the lack of a well-developed theoretical perspective is understandable but probably ill-advised in view of the fact that students using this book need a strong theoretical grounding in focus group research, not just nuts-and-bolts discussion detached from theory; (2) the thorny issue of ethics in focus group research is addressed on pp. 34-35, but this really just raises issues with little in the way of resolution; (3) the brevity of some sections makes it difficult to draw much of value from the discussion; (4) the lack of end-of-chapter bibliographic references and an extremely limited bibliography both detract from the credibility of the text and fail to provide readers with suggestions for further study; (5) the references (38) provided in the bibliography (pp. 246-247) lack currency and probably were not updated from the fourth edition.
Overall, however, this is a good starting point for those totally new to focus group research and is quite suitable for a student audience, but it should be used in conjunction with other texts that address focus group theory.
The second edition of Pickard’s Research Methods in Information is an improvement on the first edition, in particular because it gives much greater attention to qualitative research in terms of methodology/methods and data analysis, as well as mixed methods/methodology. Furthermore, there are new chapters by additional contributors on research data management and on the use of existing data. Also newly included is treatment of online research methods and techniques (a full volume could be devoted to this). So it is fair to say that the text has been thoroughly revised, although many of the references are not updated to newer editions or newer works.
The book is structured to take the reader step-wise though the full research process, from starting the process to presenting the results. There are five parts: Starting the Research Process (seven chapters), Research Methods (nine chapters), Data Collection Techniques (six chapters), Data Analysis and Research Presentation (three chapters), Glossary and References. A strength of the work is its attempt to cover the entire spectrum of research relevant to the LIS community, and Pickard does so very competently – there is something here on most aspects of most research methods and techniques. Especially commendable is the treatment of research ethics (Chapter 7). But in some instances the discussion is just a teaser, and serious researchers will want to supplement the work with more detailed treatments of specific methods (a perfect example is Chapter 21 on focus groups, which should be used alongside Krueger and Casey’s book reviewed above).
Perhaps the major drawback to Pickard is the same as Krueger and Casey – the cursory treatment of theoretical foundations, which is especially important in a book aimed at a profession noted for its aversion to theory. Even though the work is primarily a practical guide to conducting research, it is essential that practitioners understand the theoretical foundations of what they are doing; this should be considered in the third edition. With this and other cirticisms in mind, this work has a clear role in guiding students and practitioners through the research process. But perhaps use it with one of the major research tomes, such as Bryman’s Social Research Methods (3rd ed., Oxford, 2008).
Finally, in his third edition of Social Network Analysis John Scott retains the intent of the first edition: “[…] to simplify the techniques of social network analysis in order to make it accessible to those with a limited mathematical background”. To the extent that Scott succeeds in this aim (and he does so admirably), this gives his work a unique place in the literature on research and research methods.
The nine chapters open with an introduction to social network analysis (SNA) and overview of the remaining chapters (pp. 9-10). Individual chapters then address the history of SNA (fascinating insights here); data collection in SNA; sociograms, graph theory and density; centrality and centralization; subgroups in social networks; network dynamics and statistical approaches to network dynamics (at seven pages far too brief); and finally displays of relational data, including visual displays of network structures.
This bald statement of content cannot do justice to the depth and richness of Scott’s carefully nuanced discussion of SNA in all its complexity. He makes it clear that SNA is not for the faint-hearted, and in this does us a particular service – anyone looking for an “easy ride” in undertaking research will not be tempted to try SNA as a result of reading this book. At the same time, however, SNA clearly has a place in how we understand and interpret data, and this is obvious throughout the work; SNA is also something that we can understand and learn to apply effectively in our research – this is also made obvious in the book. Of particular value is discussion of the methodological issues in INA, often clarified with excellent cases from work by sociologists, anthropologists and psychologists. A particularly remarkable example of this is Scott’s discussion of Barry Wellman’s work on community structure and identity in the East York area of Toronto (pp. 78-82). This is presented to show the “power and utility of density analysis”, and anyone reading this but still not grasping the power of SNA in helping to understand personal networks, social relations and chains of connection is probably beyond redemption.
One other item of content deserves mention: computational aids for the analysis of network data. Scott chooses to discuss the two most widely used computer programs for SNA, UCINET and PAJEK. Both are discussed at appropriate points throughout the book, and a careful reader will have a good grasp of what each program can and cannot do as a result. However, as, by the author’s own admission, the book is not meant to be read from cover to cover but rather treated as a handbook, the fact that discussion of these two programs is not gathered into a single chapter is a major drawback.
Thorough notes and a reasonably comprehensive bibliography conclude the work, which is essential reading for anyone interested in or actually using SNA.
G.E. Gorman, Asia-New Zealand Informatics Associates