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Reviews of recent research literature – 4
Article Type: Reviews of recent research literature – 4 From: Online Information Review, Volume 36, Issue 4
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. The reviewer’s assessment of each title is indicated by the number of stars (five being the highest recommendation). All titles in this instalment of Reviews of Recent Research Literature are textbooks in new editions, and we seek to provide helpful comparisons of all of them.
Making Sense of the Social World: Methods of Investigation. 4th ed.Daniel F. Chambliss and Russell K. SchuttSAGE PublicationsThousand Oaks, CA2013 ISBN 9781452217710325 pp.price not reported, soft coverAssessment ****
Research Methods, Design and Analysis, 11th ed.Larry B. Christensen, R. Burke Johnson and Lisa A. TurnerPearson Education/Allyn and BaconBoston, MA2011ISBN 13: 9780205701650539 pp.price not reported, hard coverAssessment **
Social Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches, 7th ed.W. Lawrence NeumanPearson Education/Allyn and BaconBoston, MA2011ISBN 13: 9780205615964631 pp.price not reported, hard coverAssessment ***
A Student’s Guide to Methodology: Justifying Enquiry, 3rd ed.Peter Clough and Cathy NutbrownSAGE PublicationsLondon2012ISBN 13: 9781446208625269 pp.price not reported, soft coverAssessment ****
The first of the new textbooks, Making Sense of the Social World: Methods of Investigation, is by two academics with a clear view of what beginning students need to know about research, and how the present generation of students learns – through online resources and examples. From the outset it is clear that the authors write in a very unpretentious manner, and they speak directly to their audience throughout – a technique worthy of emulation.
The front matter clearly outlines the arrangement and content of the 12 chapters, as well as highlighting the seven new features in this edition. Each chapter is replete with effective learning devices, including a simple outline of contents at the beginning, reader questions along the way, clear “exhibits” (tables and diagrams), “links” (audio, journal, research/social impact, encyclopaedia), highlighted definitions, summary of key terms and highlights, and concluding exercises. Many of these learning aids are available for students at www.sagepub.com/chambliss4e, which adds significantly to the pedagogical value of this work.
The early chapters present the background to social science research: how it enables us to understand and deal with the social world, the basic stages of research, and ethical considerations. To be commended is the chapter on ethics early in the work; this is an area often given the “once over lightly” treatment in research texts, but here the authors carefully take the reader through the range of ethical principles involved in social research. As well, ethical considerations are highlighted in subsequent chapters where appropriate. Full marks for this focus.
The second group of three chapters discusses research design, sampling methods, causation and experimental design. In these, as in all chapters, the authors seek to make the discussion as “real-world” as possible. For example, in discussing experimental design they focus on the two main types of quasi-experimentation rather than going through the full range of possibilities that rarely occur in social research. The diagrams and links in these chapters are particularly enlightening in an area that troubles many students.
The third and shortest section in the book (Chapters 7 and 8) addresses surveys and statistical data analysis. At 24 and 22 pages respectively, the authors have tried to cover too much in too little space. They also assume too much prior knowledge in their readers and tend to gloss over many of the issues that in fact puzzle beginning students of research. Other texts might devote three to four chapters to data analysis, which may well be overkill for many students, but at least the material is there for consultation. In Chambliss and Schutt the reader will not find enough in-depth discussion and so will need to refer to other, more complete guides to data collection and analysis. Nevertheless, Chapters 7 and 8 do offer a strong taste of what is involved in collecting and analyzing data, particularly survey design, measures of central tendency and measures of variation.
Chapters 9 and 10 turn to qualitative research methods and data analysis, and at 55 pages provide perhaps a fuller discussion than the earlier chapters on quantitative methods. Here Chambliss and Schutt address varieties of observation, types of interviews, data analysis techniques, mixed methods, and the use of computers to assist in data analysis. In both chapters the discussions are more insightful than in the previous two chapters, and the case studies provide very clear examples of work in the qualitative paradigm.
The final two chapters are less connected than the preceding groupings, discussing evaluation research (Chapter 11) and reviewing, proposing and reporting research (Chapter 12). I never quite understand the need for a chapter on evaluation research in a general research methods text, as this is really just a variation on mixed methods for the purpose of programme evaluation, and I would prefer to see the space devoted to fuller treatment of issues in earlier chapters. Chapter 12 on reviewing and reporting research is more appropriate in a work such as this. However, discussion of reviewing research could usefully come earlier in the work, along with some discussion of how to locate research literature (this is relegated to Appendix A) – this is important in helping students develop critical thinking skills early in the research process.
Although not something I feel is necessary in works of this sort, the authors might well consider a chapter or section on feminist research, which would appeal to a sector of the research community. An issue of more concern is the fact that only HyperRESEARCH and NVivo are described as aids to data analysis; omitting the also popular ATLAS.ti is an oversight. Fortunately this is addressed in the next work in this group of reviews. This wish list and some minor criticisms aside, Chambliss and Schutt can be highly recommended as a sound basic, interactive undergraduate text on research methods.
Christensen, Johnson and Turner’s text and the following one by Neuman have a much more “traditional” feel about them than the more interactive, student-oriented works by Chambliss and Schutt, and Clough and Nutbrown. As an “older” academic with long experience in teaching research methods, both feel more comfortable and familiar – but they may not “hit the spot” for our students.
Any work in its 11th edition (Research Methods, Design and Analysis) must be doing something right. The strength of this work is its quantitative and statistical focus, with qualitative and mixed methods research dealt with primarily in a single chapter; all of this is written from the perspective of psychology, which helps explain its quantitative and experimental focus, and which also makes it less applicable to the social sciences generally. Organised in five parts with 16 chapters (one chapter per semester week perhaps), the work provides an introduction to research (two chapters), followed by sections on planning a research study (two chapters), foundations of research (two chapters), experimental methods (five chapters), exploratory and descriptive methods (two chapters), analysing and interpreting data (two chapters) and report writing (one chapter). Each chapter concludes with a summary, key terms and concepts, related internet sites, practice tests and “challenging exercises”. These are all useful study aids, but these days a lack of online support for the text is a major drawback, and this stands out as a shortcoming when compared with Chambliss and Schutt. The work concludes with an appendix (answers to tests), an excellent 14-page glossary, not especially up-to-date references and a comprehensive 15-page index.
Parts of this text that stand out for thoroughness and almost reference-like detail are the discussions of research validity (Chapter 6), which at nearly 30 pages offers advanced students as much as they need to know. Similarly, the five chapters in Part 4 (Experimental Methods) provide exemplary discussions of the detail, difficulties and processes of various types of experimental research design. Finally, the two chapters on Part 6 (on data analysis and interpretation) cannot be faulted for their thorough discussion of descriptive and inferential statistics, and special mention must be made of the treatment of hypotheses, which gives the reader excellent insights into the practicalities of hypothesis testing. The other chapters in the book are thorough, but not particularly outstanding, and the treatment of qualitative and mixed methods definitely requires supplementation from other texts.
The tone and style of the work fluctuate noticeably from section to section and almost from paragraph to paragraph. Some of the writing is pretentious: “The moral principle of justice is perhaps one of the more difficult ones to accomplish and is unlikely to be fully achieved […] in our imperfect world”. Some is unnecessarily complex:
Beneficence means doing good and nonmaleficence means doing no harm. This principle states that we should design and conduct our research studies in a way that minimizes the probability of harm to the participant and maximizes the probability that the participants receive some benefit.
And some assumes that the student reader has been living under a rock:
E-mail, or electronic mail, is probably one of the most frequent uses of the Internet. E-mail is an electronic means of sending messages as well as files and documents to another person over the Internet.
All of this suggests that the various editions are really accretions of additions without a thorough edit of the entire text – something for the next edition to address?
In terms of standard texts, my measure of excellence is Alan Bryman’s Social Research Methods; Christensen, Johnson and Turner’s Research Methods, Design and Analysis comes a poor second. It is a solid work, but without the same overall thoroughness as Bryman, and is certainly much less user friendly.
In contrast to Christensen, Johnson and Turner, Neuman’s Social Research Methods provides more inclusive coverage of the full range of social research paradigms. Again in the magic number of 16 chapters, the work is organised in five parts: Foundations (five chapters), Planning and Preparation (three chapters), Quantitative Data Collection and Analysis (four chapters), Qualitative Data Collection and Analysis (three chapters) and Communicating with Others (one chapter). Each chapter has a conclusion, list of key terms (without definitions), review questions and notes. And within the chapters there are “example” boxes” “expansion” boxes, “summary review” boxes and highlighted definitions – all useful for student readers. But whereas Christensen, Johnson and Turner at least make passing reference to Internet resources and sites, Neuman is devoid of internet content, which is surely a major failing and blindingly so when compared with Chambliss and Schutt.
The writing is clear and sometimes prescriptive, which is often beneficial to beginners – as an example, this on the double-barrelled hypothesis: “It shows unclear thinking and creates unnecessary confusion and should be avoided”. Indeed, Neuman’s writing style is generally lucid, and he expresses his views and opinions clearly. Some may feel that this cut-and-dried style does not encourage debate, but I prefer it for the audience at which Neuman aims his book – surely in the classroom any competent lecturer can foster discussion around the ideas he expresses so clearly.
If one were to select specific chapters as examples of what makes this a successful text, the first would be Chapter 4 (“The meanings of methodology”). As the following review of Clough and Nutbrown shows, methodology/methods are often treated poorly in research texts; Neuman is an exception. At 30+ pages Neuman takes the time to take his readers slowly and thoroughly through the standard approaches to research, including something on feminism and postmodernism for those who need it. These are complex areas requires often complex discussion, but in some ways Neuman is more “presentable” in this regard than Bryman in Social Research Methods. Certainly by the end of Chapter 2 one feels well versed in the intricacies of methodology.
The other chapters worth highlighting are 13-15, on qualitative data collection and analysis. Unlike many comparable texts (such as Christensen et al.) Neuman does not bypass this paradigm but instead covers field research (focus groups, interviews, but not observation), historical research and data analysis in enough detail for students to feel comfortable in this domain. It does not offer a ready prescription for effective data analysis and interpretation, which is beyond the scope of a basic textbook.
Again making the Bryman comparison, Neuman comes much closer to my ideal text, and it can be recommended as a reasonable, thorough standard work for the social sciences generally.
In this journal (Vol. 35, No. 1) I offered my editorial views on the confusion between “methodology” and “method” in research writing (“Method (or Methodology) in Their Madness? How Researchers Confuse “Method” and “Methodology””), bemoaning the fact that we as researchers exhibit little understanding of how the two are differentiated. Then (just a year ago) I was as yet unaware of the next title under review: Peter Clough and Cathy Nutbrown’s A Student’s Guide to Methodology (which first appeared in 2002 and is now in its third edition).
Simplicity and clarity are the hallmarks of the book, with a strong student orientation in writing style, content and reader aids. One is spoken to, rather than down to, and each chapter includes useful activities, summaries and references. It is organised in three parts: Research Is Methodology (covering the nature of research and of methodology in two chapters), The Pervasive Nature of Methodology (covering looking, listening, reading and questioning in four chapters) and Making Research Public (addressing research design, research reporting and research into action in three chapters).
Looking at the chapter content, In Part 1 one must highlight Chapter 2 (“What is methodology”), where the authors stake their claim firmly:
This chapter addresses an issue which many people coming new to research find confusing, and that is the difference between methods and methodology. We suggest that, at its simplest, this distinction can be seen in terms of methods as being some of the ingredients of research, while methodology provides the reasons for using a particular research “recipe”.
Chapter 2 is built around this proposition, and at the end one feels that good understanding has been reached of how method and methodology intertwine.
The authors then couch their discussion of research (Part 2), rather interestingly, in terms of four “radicals”: outlining the research process as radical looking (finding gaps in knowledge), radical listening (interpretive and critical hearing), radical reading (justifying the critical adoption or rejection of current knowledge and practices) and radical questioning (showing gaps in knowledge and how and why certain answers may be morally or politically necessary). This final point does pique one’s interest! Here, and indeed throughout the work, the authors define key concepts and terms simply and clearly. These Part 2 chapters are engaging, appropriately challenging and refreshing even for those long jaded by the plethora of research texts on the market.
The final part, on writing and reporting research, covers the usual ground, but once again is presented in a fresh and interesting manner. However, Chapter 8 (“Reporting research: telling the story”) devotes too much space (most of the nearly 50 pages in fact) to replication of a paper by the authors, and too little space on highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of their own work. This is something revisiting for the fourth edition, perhaps moving the sample article to an appendix. Another perceived shortcoming is the way in which the four “radicals” seem to be forced when discussing particular aspects of the research process – quite simply, sometimes the fit is not really there. Finally, some may criticise the authors’ use of examples drawn mainly from their own work, this seems reasonable and certainly works well; but there is not enough self-criticism to enable students to see both strengths and weaknesses in these examples. The work concludes with references (several from 2009-2011, showing awareness of the latest works), an appendix (research planning audit), and author and subject indexes.
What a relief it is to find this work, which is highly recommended to all researchers, whether teachers, doers or students. The authors have performed a great service by presenting us with a full-blown, absolutely necessary guide to methodology and methods in research. It belongs on the shelves of most academics and researchers who tussle with distinctions between methodology and method.
G.E. GormanFaculty of Computer Science and Information Technology, University of Malaya