Just stick to the plan

Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology. First Edition - Introduction to Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology. First Edition - How to Do Research - The Psychology Research Handbook

November 24, 2006

Hugh Coolican's book is an established undergraduate text. The new edition adds a discussion of effect size and power, and log-linear analysis, to the wide-ranging coverage of research methods in previous editions. Other additions include two versions of a practical report, one a "marked" version that includes many common errors and a discussion of them, and one considered error free. These will be welcomed by students, as will the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences routines for statistical procedures.

This is a student-friendly, attractively designed text that has stood the test of time. It covers a wide range of research methods, is thorough but not overwhelming in its use of statistical methods, and has valuable chapters on qualitative methods, ethical issues and planning student projects and report writing.

Ronald McQueen and Chris-tina Knussen's book boldly claims to be "a new type of textbook". I looked in vain for evidence to back this claim. Part one introduces research in psychology, and the book then unfolds along traditional lines, with parts two to seven looking at planning a research project, carrying out research, using tables, figures and descriptive statistics, drawing inferences and testing hypotheses, carrying out qualitative research and writing up research. I searched the preface, too.

The authors say that the book's aim is to "provide a practical guide to the planning, implementation and presentation of research". It does, but surely all modern research methods books do this? Coolican, for example, writes in his preface: "(This) is not a statistics book. It is about researching." A selling point of the McQueen and Knussen book is its companion website for students. The website content is disappointing, with just a few multiple-choice questions and "flashcards" describing key terms for each chapter, but it does contain datasets for use with statistical procedures described in the book and some other study guides.

Should one buy this text? It is well written and attractively presented, but it costs £3 more than Coolican's, is 255 pages shorter and has similar overall coverage, so it will have to fight hard to gain widespread adoption.

Jonathan Evans's text is an unusual book aimed at postgraduate students. He aims to share 35 years of personal research experience with those at the start of a research career. He likens his text to a book on chess that does not simply describe the rules but teaches the strategy of the game. Of course, it is biased towards a strategy for the kind of research he has pursued: cognitive and positivist. And it is elitist: he says the book "is aimed at those who wish to pursue strong academic research programmes... combined with moderate teaching loads, in better supported university environments". For new researchers who want to play that game, the book has much of interest. It follows the natural history of research, from first ideas, through planning a project, seeking funding, working in a research team, to dissemination at conferences and in print. The style is relaxed and informal, and the reader is often addressed directly. The author believes no other book contains this kind of advice, and that is probably true.

Another way to describe the content is that it is imparting research gamesmanship, rather than strategy - an insight into the hidden curriculum of research, of what goes on but is rarely articulated. The book should be on every research methods course reading list, and all aspiring researchers should be familiar with its content. For some it may assist their career path, and it could then be the best value-for-money book they ever bought.

The Psychology Research Handbook is a very different guide for graduate research students. It is an edited collection of 33 short chapters by 55 invited authors, written in the context of the US academic culture. The foreword claims that the reader will have "an intellectually stimulating and fun-filled journey into the world of psychology research". While "fun" is stretching it a bit, there is much of interest, and students should find it helpful on many fronts.

The book is in six parts that follow the conventional life history of a research project: planning, design, data collection, data analysis and research writing, with a final miscellany of "special topics". The chapters are quite detailed, and contain much practical advice and information, with the stamp of experience coming through in each. Examples include the chapters on bibliographic research, reviewing and evaluating a research article, co-ordinating a research team, applying for approval for research, doing mail and online surveys, telephone surveys, and collecting data from groups.

An indication of the level of detail felt necessary is the fact that separate chapters are devoted to writing rough drafts, revising a manuscript and dealing with journal editors and reviewers. I was pleased to see a chapter on programme evaluation; it would be good to see more applied research topics in UK research methods books. The idea of seeing research as following a "script" was new to me, but I think that could be a very useful heuristic for students.

I strongly recommend this book for students. They may find many chapters valuable as a starting point for discussions. The US context means that some of the content will require a little translation to local practice, but that is not a major drawback.

John Hegarty is senior lecturer in psychology, Keele University.

Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology. First Edition

Author - Hugh Coolican
Publisher - Hodder Arnold
Pages - 711
Price - £21.99
ISBN - 0 340 81258 3

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