Large sections of academic bookshops are filled with texts about research methods for social scientists. My first question on seeing this book was "Do we really need another one?" It quickly became clear that Social Research Methods is an extremely valuable addition to the bookshelves and I shall certainly be recommending it to my students.
The book is divided into four parts. The first introduces basic ideas about social-science research, including the frameworks within which research is carried out. This section is extremely well written and informative and many complex and difficult concepts such as interpretivism, objectivism and constructionism are clearly explained.
Part two contains ten chapters about quantitative research covering topics such as sampling, data collection and data analysis. This section contains a useful chapter on using SPSS (Statistical Products and Service Solutions) for Windows. Part three concentrates on qualitative research; similar to part two, it covers data collection, data analysis and the use of computer software. At the end of these sections, the reader has an understanding of the different ways that quantitative and qualitative researchers approach these activities.
Social Research Methods has a number of special features. Of particular help to the novice is the peppering of examples throughout the text. The author illustrates every point, often with real-life examples from the literature. The printed page is also broken up by boxes that contain bite-sized chunks of text. These boxes contain either an example, a definition of a key term or a list of important points.
A "Reader's Guide" at the start of each chapter signposts the main points to be covered. At the end of the chapter, the key points are listed. These serve to alert the reader to the main issues and/or to jog their memory. At the end of each chapter, revision questions also aid understanding of key points. Finally, a glossary helpfully defines key terms.
This book will be recommended to my students for several reasons. First, it is well written with clear explanations of terminology that many newcomers to the social sciences often stumble over. Second, the layout, with boxes that break up the text, both stimulates the reader's curiosity and is easy on the attention span. These joint virtues are often combined. Third, in many instances, this book gives the clearest and most comprehensive account of a topic that I have read. For example, the section on sampling and sampling error is exemplary. Fourth, the illustrations, often real examples from the literature, are always enlightening. Finally, looking at my own bookshelves, I see that I would need to consult several different books to cover the topics mentioned in this one. This single text provides succinct yet comprehensive coverage of everything the budding social scientist needs to get started. I recommend this text to students, junior researchers and lecturers. A copy should definitely be available in every academic library.
Caroline Selai is research officer, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.
Social Research Methods. First edition
Author - Alan Bryman
ISBN - 0 19 874204 5
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Price - £18.99
Pages - 5