Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1999


Introduction to Social Research: Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches

Keith F. Punch
Sage Publications: London
1998
0-7619-5813-4 (pb); 0-7619-5812-6 (hb)
15.99 (pb); 47.50 (hb)
xv + 319 pp.

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In an expanding research methods literature, this contribution by Keith Punch is a very specific type of introduction to quantitative and qualitative approaches in social research. It is written specifically as an introduction for upper level undergraduate and beginning postgraduate students, in particular those carrying out dissertations or research projects. Punch's approach to social research here is avowedly pragmatic rather than paradigmatic, based on the argument that different sets of research questions require different types of methods to answer them. However, this is not a 'how to' methods book. Punch does not aim to dwell on technical issues, instead he focuses on the logic's behind research methods, presenting research students with an introduction to, and a more in-depth discussion of these behind both quantitative and qualitative methods, their aims and design, data collection and data analysis. This is an important point to be made, and the book represents a useful tool to help researchers gain this understanding.

The book is divided into twelve chapters beginning with introductions to and central issues in research methods, followed by three chapters each on quantitative and qualitative methods, and ending with chapters on multiple methods and research writing. Punch usefully summarises key terms, before moving onto a more elaborate discussion of concepts including validity (in the general section), multiple regression in the quantitative chapters and grounded theory in the qualitative chapters. Usefully for potential research students, the book begins by stressing the importance of the pre-empirical stage in research, that is spending time deciding what it is you want to find out in a research project, and then deciding how to do it, rather than choosing a research method and then finding a research question which will fit into the chosen method. Punch also provides a handy guide for students to good and bad research questions, stressing the importance of devising research questions which are clear, specific, accessible, interconnected and substantively relevant (p. 49). This guide is supplemented with a section on research writing where there are suggestions on identifying topics in research proposals, setting the topic in context, describing the chosen empirical procedures and, at the other end of the process of research, guidelines on how to approach the final write-up stage.

Given the wide-ranging aims, it is inevitable that the author is forced to skim over some issues in social research. For example, only one side is dedicated to the key topic of ethics in research. However, where issues are skimmed, references and suggested further reading are provided. I did have a couple of queries over the quantitative chapters. I thought that it would have been helpful to see some equations presented, in addition to the regression equation in the appendix (to back up the discussion of standard deviation and so forth). Yet, since the aim of the book is to discuss the ideas underlying research methodologies, the decision to omit equations is perhaps understandable. However, I would definitely have liked to see more examples of real quantitative studies. In most of the chapters, Punch helpfully places numerous examples of actual social science research into easily readable text-boxes. Compared with these chapters, the one discussing the analysis of quantitative data stands out as dry and unelaborated. In it, Punch provides standard discussions of the relationships between X and Y variables in correlation for example, and between dependent and independent variables in regression. It would have been useful to enrich this chapter and to increase its 'substantive relevance' with real results, for example of regression, using variables from actual quantitative studies which have employed these methods. Despite these misgivings, overall the book does provide valuable advice to the beginning (and the not so inexperienced) social researcher. It represents a valuable resource for those who are writing research proposals, for those at the start of their research projects, and also for those who are further along the research line.

Tracey Warren
University of Sheffield

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1999