Find yourself a friend for life

Research Methods in Psychology - Doing Psychology Experiments - Research Methods in Psychology - Doing Psychological Research - Introducing Psychological Research
November 24, 2000

A good book is a friend for life." Faced with five textbooks on doing psychological research to review, this quotation sprang, unbidden, into my mind (although who said it I have not, at the time of writing, found out). Of the five reviewed here, which will it be?

These books are aimed at students who are beginning psychology at A level or Year 1 undergraduates, through to undergraduates and postgraduates. They aim to introduce essential aspects of research methods in psychology and, together, they include guidance on most aspects, ranging from the traditional ones of research design and data analysis through to less familiar topics, such as qualitative techniques, and tips on how to do literature searches and write journal articles.

Nicky Hayes's book, Doing Psychological Research , is a clearly written introduction to many aspects of psychological research, aimed at A-level students and introductory undergraduate courses. Basic principles of psychological science open the book, and chapters then follow on a range of data-gathering methods, including experiments, observational studies, questionnaires and interviews, case studies and document analysis. Part two looks at aspects of analysing the data gained from these approaches.

Qualitative methodologies occupy four of the ten chapters in this section, while the quantitative chapters take the reader from descriptive statistics to two-way analysis of variance. The style is straightforward, and the book covers a great deal of ground. This is a book that should definitely be considered for many introductory psychology courses that need a factual and accessible exposition of psychological research principles and methods.

Aimed at a similar level of readership is Philip Banyard and Andrew Grayson's Introducing Psychological Research . Its 70 studies are set in context, described and discussed. The reader is aided by a full glossary, definitions for key words and phrases given with each study, questions, and helpfully suggested answers. One could be irritated or amused by the addition of a clever one-liner for each study ("Be a good boy and do as you are told" for Stanley Milgram's study of obedience; "Why did the antelope cross the road?" for an article by J. Deregowski on pictorial perception and culture), but these do ease the reader into the subject matter of each article. This second edition is enlarged by additional studies and a chapter on methodology. It will be a useful resource for many students, giving them easy access to a range of studies and the issues they raise. Compared to the similar book by Richard Gross, Key Studies in Psychology , this has twice as many studies, but in less detail. Both books do a great service in introducing students to reading research articles and giving them models for evaluating them.

Members of Surrey University's psychology department contribute many of the chapters in Glynis Breakwell, Sean Hammond and Chris Fife-Schaw's Research Methods in Psychology . It aims to offer basic information about the common research strategies used to examine psychological processes. These include the traditional ones of experiment, direct observation, psycho-physiological recording, surveys and so on, through to less common methods such as single-case experimental designs, discourse analysis, focus groups and cross-cultural analysis. This second edition has increased the coverage of qualitative methods and introduced chapters on working with special populations. The presence of concise, but not elementary chapters on, for example, meta-analysis, structural equation modelling and multivariate data analysis, signal the fact that this is a book aimed at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels; and yet it does not aim to be more than an introduction to these areas. This will be a useful book to accompany many research method courses as the course text. It is not too basic for psychologists, and yet accessible to the increasing range of professional groups for whom courses in social-scientific research methods are held.

John Shaughnessy, Eugene Zechmeister and Jeanne Zechmeister's new edition of their research-methods textbook, written in the United States, is aimed at undergraduate psychology students. Research Methods in Psychology , has four sections, covering general and ethical issues, descriptive methods, experimental methods, and applied research methods, and three detailed appendices (on data analysis and interpretation, questionnaire construction, and communicating research in psychology). This is a detailed text, packed with information and well referenced. As well as the familiar, it has the unexpected. It is pleasing (for an applied psychologist in learning disability like me) to see in it detailed exposition of methods in applied-behaviour analysis and program-evaluation research (both ignored in most research-methods books); surprising to see a section on using physical traces and archival data; and useful (as something to refer students to) to have an appendix on oral presentations and writing a research proposal. The annotated, sample research report in appendix C should be a boon to many students. Overall, this is a solid reference text with unusual features.

Which book is going to be my friend? Well, I rather liked David Martin Belmont's Doing Psychology Experiments . It's a "how to" book: each chapter offers guidance on the basic things one needs to do in psychology research, such as how to be fair to participants, how to find out what has been done, how to tell when you are ready to begin research, how to design experiments, how to do non-traditional research how to report experimental results, and so on. Being a bit simple-minded, I like this approach. It seems to put methods in their right place, reminding us what they are there for. One example is the treatment of qualitative methods. Pages 14-21 (only) are allocated to these, and Belmont concludes his discussion of them with the very wise comment that, as scientists, we should use whatever type of design is needed to answer our question, rather than be obsessed by debates about the merits of particular designs or approaches. I think many students will find Belmont's book a readable and relaxed treatment of the range of methods available, which also includes welcome advice on the ethics of science, literature searching (how many books tell students exactly how to do this?), and details of the American Psychological Association's writing style.

One final comment. Teaching physiotherapy students research methods for several years introduced me to an excellent text by E. Domholdt, Physical Therapy Research (Saunders). This is a book that I would strongly recommend. It has everything one would expect in a psychology research-methods book, but goes further in giving practical advice for researchers. I would single out, in particular, the chapter on specific measurement tools, the sections on "being a research consumer" and "implementing research", and the appendices. These contain advice on integrity in research, how to evaluate a research article and how to prepare a manuscript and include a sample annotated manuscript, and a sample platform presentation script with slides. I have not seen quite so much practical advice in a psychology text, although some are moving in that direction. Perhaps the most useful one, ultimately, will be on how to get research grants, and a high score in the next research assessment exercise.

John R. Hegarty is lecturer in psychology, University of Keele.

Research Methods in Psychology: Second edition

Editor - Glynis Breakwell, Sean Hammond and Chris Fife-Schaw
ISBN - 07619 6590 4 and 6591 2
Publisher - Sage
Price - £55.00 and £16.99
Pages - 450

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