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Review of  Research in Applied Linguistics


Reviewer: Richard Watson Todd
Book Title: Research in Applied Linguistics
Book Author: Fred L. Perry
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Book Announcement: 16.3460

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Review:
Date: Fri, 02 Dec 2005 08:26:51 +0700
From: Richard Watson Todd <irictodd@kmutt.ac.th>
Subject: Research in Applied Linguistics: Becoming a Discerning
Consumer

AUTHOR: Perry, Fred L. Jr.
TITLE: Research in Applied Linguistics
SUBTITLE: Becoming a Discerning Consumer
PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
YEAR: 2005

Richard Watson Todd, Department of Language Studies, King
Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi, Thailand

SUMMARY OF CONTENTS

This book is designed as a text for courses on research methods on
Masters-level TESOL and applied linguistics programmes. It claims to
provide ''a solid introduction to the foundations of research methods'',
but, in contrast to most texts in the same area, it aims to help MA
students read, understand and criticise research rather than conduct
their own research. Thus, the purpose of the book is for readers to
become the ''discerning consumers'' of research of the book's title.

In order to achieve the goal of enabling readers of the book to ''read
research reports from beginning to end with a level of understanding
that can be used to address both theoretical and practical issues'', the
book starts with two introductory chapters examining the nature of
research and finding research before moving on to the main part of
the book which proceeds through the different sections of a typical
research article. There are also three appendices on writing literature
reviews, statistics and journals which publish applied linguistics
research, together with a glossary. I will briefly look at each of the
chapters in turn.

Part 1: Fundamentals for discerning consumers

Chapter 1: Understanding the nature of research
The first chapter starts by justifying the purpose of the book, namely,
that readers should become ''discerning consumers'' of research. It
then moves to discussing the nature of research which allows many of
the key terms concerning research (e.g. construct, hypothesis) to be
introduced. In common with all of the chapters, in addition to the
explanatory text, there are a couple of short exercises for readers to
attempt, a list of the key terms introduced in the chapter (most of
which can be found in the glossary), and suggestions for further
reading.

Chapter 2: How to locate research
This chapter gives advice on how to locate and obtain examples of
primary research. It includes a substantial section on how to use the
ERIC database, but also considers looking at literature reviews and
position papers.

Part 2: The major components of published research

Chapter 3: Understanding the framework of a primary research article
In this chapter, the reader is taken briefly through the main
components of a research article, namely, title, abstract, introduction,
methodology, results, and discussion/conclusion.

Chapter 4: Understanding where data come from: the sample
This chapter is devoted to the issue of how the research sample is
selected, and contrasts the information-rich sampling paradigm with
the representative sampling paradigm. Guidelines are given for
evaluating the suitability of the sampling strategies used and the
generalisability of the sampling.

Chapter 5: Understanding research designs
Starting with ways of classifying research designs, this chapter
introduces three continua for classifying research: basic - applied,
qualitative - quantitative, and exploratory - confirmatory. In the
discussion of these continua, three qualitative research paradigms,
case studies, ethnography and protocol analysis, are briefly discussed
as illustrations. The chapter then moves on to how 'what' and 'why'
research questions can be answered through different research
designs. The chapter finishes with an in-depth discussion of all the
various threats to internal validity, largely as they relate to conducting
experimental research.

Chapter 6: Understanding data gathering
In the first half of this chapter, a variety of data collection procedures
are discussed. The emphasis here is on collecting data from people
through observation, questionnaires and tests (as opposed to
collecting texts to analyse), and on the potential pitfalls in data
collection. The second half of the chapter concerns the reliability and
validity of data gathering procedures, focusing especially on the
statistics available for evaluating these issues.

Chapter 7: Understanding research results
Divided into sections on verbal and numerical data, the chapter starts
with a discussion of 17 ''tactics'' for checking the quality of verbal data.
The second half of the chapter which concerns numerical data
focuses on statistics, especially on the meaning of statistical
significance as it applies to generalising results from a sample to a
population.

Chapter 8: Discerning discussions and conclusions: completing the
picture
Much shorter than the preceding chapters, the final chapter gives 7
guiding questions for evaluating the discussion/conclusion section of a
research study, and looks at how these can be applied to two example
articles.

Appendix A: Constructing a literature review
This appendix reviews chapter 2 on locating research, gives
guidelines on how to summarise a research study, and presents a
template for writing a research review.

Appendix B: Going to the next level of statistics
The second appendix provides more details of statistics to add to the
discussion in chapter 7. Particular emphasis is given to the various
types of ANOVA and controlling for Type II errors.

Appendix C: Journals related to applied linguistics
The final appendix contains a useful, if not comprehensive (e.g. no
reference to 'Prospect' or 'Journal of English for Academic Purposes'),
list of research journals in applied linguistics with URLs and purposes
of the journals.

CRITICAL EVALUATION

Since 'Research in Applied Linguistics' is designed to be used as a
text for MA courses on research methods, how well does it fulfill this
purpose? To start with, let us look at what the text does not do. As a
book devoted to how to read research, it does not really prepare
readers for conducting their own research, although many of the
points in the book are applicable. Even within the limits of reading
research, the book does not give coverage to some paradigms. There
is nothing on the less formal research approaches, such as action
research, and a similar dearth of information on text-based research
paradigms including genre analysis, policy research and corpus
approaches. Furthermore, although there are short sections on
qualitative research, the book places a much heavier emphasis on
quantitative approaches. 'Research in Applied Linguistics', therefore,
is really a book on how to read and understand serious academic
research, primarily focusing on quantitative research paradigms.

So, within this narrower field, how does the book stand up? First, the
book is replete with useful information about how research should be
conducted and reported, some of which, such as the various threats
to internal validity, I was not familiar with. This information is generally
presented clearly and is well illustrated with examples from sample
research studies.

There is, however, a general feeling that the book is nitpicking about
research procedures and overlooking the bigger picture. For example,
the suggestions for summarising research in Appendix A include an 8-
point template. These points include: the hypothesis being tested (in
addition to the research question); the size, characteristics and
methods of choosing the sample; and the observational, independent,
dependent and moderating variables in the study. Surely, experienced
readers of research focus on much bigger issues than these points
(maybe, the appropriateness and usefulness of the topic or the
innovativeness of the methodology) when reading research, and only
consider the research technicalities when they are sure that the
research is worth spending time reading.

'Research in Applied Linguistics', then, is a book focusing on the
details of research. This is an important topic well worth a full-length
publication like the one under review. Even at the level of details,
however, there are a few problems. For example, on page 83 a
supposed example of exploratory research using a quantitative
research design is given. The author of the book argues that this is
exploratory research since it did not state a hypothesis. However, the
research concerned whether bilingualism influences the learning of a
third language - which clearly implies a hypothesis even if it is not
explicitly stated. The research is therefore not exploratory and so
does not illustrate the point the author wishes to make. Another
problem, on page 130, is that the author states that correlation
coefficients range from 0 to +1 (not -1 to +1). Also, the discussion of
the meaning of statistical significance is restricted to whether findings
from a sample can be generalised to a population. Not all research
using inferential statistics is trying to generalise, and significance can
also indicate the probability that the results obtained were not due to
chance. In a book of this length, however, these problems are minor
annoyances.

To summarise my views on the book, therefore, despite its broad title,
it is quite a narrow book. If you are looking for a clear text explicating
the details of reading and understanding academic quantitative
research, this book serves that purpose well. I would guess, however,
that most MA courses on research methods have broader goals than
this, and so the book may serve best as a useful supplementary text
for certain portions of a course.

My own view as a tutor on an MA course in research methods,
however, is perhaps not the most important. The book is designed for
Masters students to use. In addition to my own critical evaluation,
therefore, I asked one of my students (Nguyen Quang Tuyen), who is
currently studying the research methods course at my university, to
also read and comment on the book. Below is a summary of his review
of the book.

Firstly, on the positive side, Tuyen says that, ''as an MA student, I
have 2 major concerns regarding research: how to evaluate and how
to conduct research. Therefore, I highly value this book because it
focuses on the first, which is different from most traditional works in
the field.'' He also states that the websites, lists of journals and
frequent examples through the text are useful, and that the language
is suitable for his level as a non-native speaker. Furthermore, he
found the format of the chapters helpful, since they are organised
from general to specific, give clear definitions, list key words, illustrate
points with examples of published research, and contain exercises to
reinforce learning.

On the downside, he points out that the book binding is not strong
enough (a point I can concur with since several pages were loose
when he returned the book to me). For the content, he would have
preferred more cross-references, especially for where the same
research study is used as an illustration in different chapters, he found
the lack of any support or feedback for completing the exercises
meant that he was uncertain about his answers, and he found some
points to be unnecessarily over-complicated. Like me, he was left
wondering why action research was not dealt with in the book.
Concerning the style, his expectations had been raised in the author's
introduction where humour is promised, but he was disappointed that
the ''humour was not as much as expected''.

To conclude Tuyen's review, he states, ''in short, the strengths
outweigh the limitations, so I wish to combine this book with the
traditional ones as both the abilities to do and to evaluate research
are interrelated and support each other.''

It can be seen that there are some similarities between Tuyen's and
my own reviews, and yet the emphases in the reviews are very
different. Apart from highlighting the fact that all book reviews are
primarily subjective, our differences seem to indicate that our goals in
reading the book (Tuyen was looking for new information, whereas I
was viewing the book as a potential coursebook), our concerns with
what we want from the book (Tuyen was pleased to find a book
focusing on reading research, whereas I would have preferred
general coverage of most issues in research), and the ways in which
we read the book (Tuyen worked through all the exercises, whereas I
skipped them) all had a major impact on our reviews.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER


Richard Watson Todd has worked at King Mongkut's University of
Technology Thonburi in Bangkok for over ten years, where his work
includes teaching a Masters course on research methods. He has a
PhD from the University of Liverpool and has published widely,
including books, research papers and newspaper articles.


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