These two books from Sage are aimed squarely at the student market. The Sage Dictionary of Social Research Methods , edited and compiled by Victor Jupp, hits the target, but Nicholas Walliman's Social Research Methods is less successful. To be fair, Walliman attempts the more difficult task. The basic structure of a dictionary is virtually a given, whereas introductory texts for students can go awry in many ways.
The Sage Dictionary follows the standard format for this series. Each entry includes a definition, a description of its distinctive features, an evaluation, cross-references to associated concepts within the dictionary and a list of key readings. The inclusion of associated concepts is an effective, if routine, learning device. The advantage of linked concepts - especially for students - is that they provide virtually an extended essay on a given research theme. This allows the user to work through a particular conceptual frame, although given that ten or more "associated concepts" are typically provided it is likely that many students will make only immediately relevant links.
The dictionary contains most expected entries and some less predictable ones typically tailored to student needs. Thus there is a lengthy entry on "Writing research" by Martyn Denscombe, a veteran in presenting basic social science. Arguably, his 13-point plan of how to write up research is overextended but perhaps not beyond the needs of less confident students.
The dictionary is generally up to date, reflecting major theoretical and practical developments. "Ethics" is hardly a new issue, but the excellent entry under this heading conveys its current saliency. The internet is covered as a tool of research but, given the burgeoning of literature in this area, other related concepts could have been introduced.
The book's treatment of concepts is less substantial than, say, the more traditional and highly authoritative Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology (2006), edited by Bryan Turner, but its additional features give it an edge in the student market over more conventional works.
Walliman's Social Research Methods is less effective as a tool for students, although some will find parts of it useful. The book is one of a series of course companions published by Sage. It is organised into three parts: a brief introduction, a section on "core areas" of social research, and a section on "study, writing and revision skills".
The introduction adopts a rather "chatty" tone seemingly aimed at reassuring students that doing social research is not so difficult. The book occasionally reverts to this informal style elsewhere, although it also contains many succinct summary lists and diagrams. Readers will find some of the latter helpful, but the two styles of presentation jar rather than complement.
It may be that the idea of a course companion is too vague to be delivered with a sharp focus. Despite pressures towards common core curricula in higher education, subjects are still often structured and delivered in departmentally specific ways, and the usefulness of a course companion is likely to vary correspondingly.
The course companion may be a tool too many. All three sections of Social Research Methods are redundant in that many lecturers will consider them more fully and probably better covered elsewhere, although they may want to look at this summary attempt to cover a wide and demanding area. But students should all be equipped with a dictionary of research methods.
The Sage Dictionary of Social Research Methods. First Edition
Editor - Victor Jupp Sage
Pages - 335
Price - £60.00 and £19.99
ISBN - 0 7619 6297 7 and 6298 0