Author: Dennis Howitt
There are more and more textbooks available on qualitative research in psychology. This seems incredible given that, just a few years ago, there wasn't much to choose from and still less to recommend to students. Now, texts by Carla Willig, Jonathan Smith, Mike Forrester and Wendy Stainton Rogers, among others, jostle for space on the bookshelf. Academic publisher SAGE could testify to this, as its bookstand at the recent British Psychological Society's Qualitative Methods in Psychology (QMiP) Section conference was weighed down by such offerings.
From Dennis Howitt's reflective preface, detailing his own introduction to qualitative research and eschewing hegemony of method for a pragmatic "research problem-led" approach to methodological selection, this text is engaging, practical and balanced. Howitt draws the reader in by highlighting key figures in the evolution of qualitative research and describing his apprenticeship as a researcher - for example, undertaking ethnographic research in a factory as a first-year psychology undergraduate. This approach continues with the use of research examples throughout the text, bringing method and concept (which can often prove a rather dry read) to life.
Howitt grounds his text in important historical detail and conceptual foundational material; however, unlike some qualitative reading, it is not dense or jargon-heavy. This is supported by the book's structure; for example, each chapter includes an overview at the start and glossaries, key points and links to resources at the end, highlighted in blue text boxes to aid searching, which is important in a lengthy tome. The companion website is very useful, offering multiple-choice questions and flashcards for revision, which should prove popular with students. Of particular note is the chapter on data transcription methods. This is an area often omitted or skimmed over in other texts and it merges the key techniques with their pros and cons and practical guidance.
As a medical educator, I often struggle to find texts that are suitable for medical students and doctors on qualitative research. Although this book is aimed at psychologists, its scope and format make it suitable for a range of professionals undertaking qualitative studies. Indeed, Howitt uses a variety of research examples, including medical conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, to increase its appeal beyond psychology researchers. The text should particularly appeal to psychology lecturers who are asked to deliver teaching on this topic, as it provides a comprehensive overview and "how to" guide.
If I were to criticise, it would be to note that there is little on novel methods such as visual techniques and Q methodology. However, there are other books dedicated to these subjects, and what Howitt does include is a broad introduction, as the title suggests, along with core material that all researchers should consider and assimilate when undertaking high-quality qualitative studies.
Who is it for? Psychology undergraduates and postgraduates as well as students from other disciplines, eg, the health professions, and their lecturers.
Presentation: Comprehensive, clear and easy to navigate, with a valuable companion website.
Would you recommend it? This is a welcome addition to the growing body of work on qualitative psychology and is valuable for experienced researchers who want to broaden their knowledge base, as well as for novices.
Essential Psychology: A Concise Introduction
Editors: Philip Banyard, Mark N.O. Davies, Christine Norman and Belinda Winder
Price: £75.00 and £24.99
ISBN 9781847875372 and 5389