Reviews

Learning from research: Getting more from your data

Before receiving this book to review, I had flicked through it in a bookshop while escaping a rather boring session at a conference. At that time I discarded it as an attempt to dress up an introductory research text in a reflective style – so as to differentiate it from the mass of competitors in this particular market.

On finding another copy of the book along with a request to review it in my mailbox one day, I was tempted to post it back by return, but being Friday I decided to take it home for the weekend. It lay on the table until Sunday, when following a brief argument I stomped out of the room, grabbing it as I went in an ‘I’ve got work to do’ non-verbal statement. I sat down and started to read. I noted the conversational tone of the book – mimicking an oral narrative – in annoyance and wondered how much face I would lose by putting it down there and then and trying to find something else to do. Wasn’t there enough of this sort of thing in the Sunday papers?

I forced myself to keep reading a few more pages and then kept on reading and kept on reading; and

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On finding another copy of the book along with a request to review it in my mailbox one day, I was tempted to post it back by return, but being Friday I decided to take it home for the weekend. It lay on the table until Sunday, when following a brief argument I stomped out of the room, grabbing it as I went in an ‘I’ve got work to do’ non-verbal statement. I sat down and started to read. I noted the conversational tone of the book – mimicking an oral narrative – in annoyance and wondered how much face I would lose by putting it down there and then and trying to find something else to do. Wasn’t there enough of this sort of thing in the Sunday papers?

I forced myself to keep reading a few more pages and then kept on reading and kept on reading; and then started writing the review in … a conversational tone – it felt right, okay.

The style adopted for the book not only gives a feel for the accounts of the students’ research experiences that make up the book, but also tricks the reader into absorbing factual information about the research process. The latter being achieved by cleverly dropping quotes into the ‘conversation’. The experiences retold include: developing research from a work-based ‘problem’; designing questionnaires; using computers (and not using them); presenting descriptive statistical data, and looking for statistically significant relationships between variables; ethical aspects of experimental research; developing, redeveloping, writing and re-writing a literature review; and making sense of data.

Now I’m not saying that I like, or necessarily agree with, everything in the book; and I still hate the way that Sunday papers are full of so called ‘columns’, filled with details of the writer’s experiences, that anyone – except perhaps the writer’s mother – really has any interest in whatsoever. I’ll also admit, now we’re reaching the end of the review, that I have always favoured research texts that are illustrated by real life examples. I’ll also admit to suggesting to students, that they find a ‘natural history’ of a study – as a source of how things really happen. However, up to now I’ve only ever recommended texts that use students’ studies as a focus, to those in need of a strong sedative.

Finally to the last, and most reluctant admission – the details of these students’ experiences of their studies ‘has won me over’; the right text that uses collections of students’ experiences – and the subject of this review definitely qualifies – can be of great value.

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