Introduction to Social Research: Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches
Punch, Keith F.
Sage Publications, London
It is obvious the strength of this book originates in Keith Punch's keen interest in promoting the logic behind research in the social sciences, as opposed to the technical aspects. As the choice of title suggests, the book focuses on the essential elements of both approaches, and whilst a very ambitious goal, it is well executed.
Behind the interesting and thought provoking front cover, the book is divided into twelve chapters, which include four initial chapters dealing with the (somewhat lengthy) introduction, central issues and 'setting the scene' for the rest of the book. The following six chapters are divided equally between qualitative and quantitative methods, and the remaining two on mixing methods and research writing. The layout is similar to Punch's first edition, providing a logical organisation of chapters and subheadings, and his book is also an excellent model of clear structure, by discussing each approach using the same format: design, collecting data and analysis. It is refreshing to see a resource, primarily intended for student use, fulfilling the promise of avoiding exclusivity of one method. Also similar to the first edition is the well-balanced, suggested reading lists, and the practicalities of providing a paperback edition relevant to student economics.
A highlight of this book is Punch's obvious attention to language, having provided a pleasing balance between non-jargon explanations and academic writing, especially in the analysis sections. For instance he handles discussions of qualitative analysis extremely well, presenting clear figures to demonstrate components of data analysis, and relevant examples of analysis within text boxes. Another highlight gained by Punch's reworking, is the addition of review points at the end of each chapter, which seems to be the most practical addition for both students and teachers, and helpful for revision, clarification and visual cues.
Considering the extensive goals of this book, Punch was bound to treat some areas in a superficial manner. I stress that this may have been his choice, detectable within the slightly apologetic introduction, as by necessity he would have to limit inclusions when focusing on a particular audience. With this in mind, I only have three points that I found lacking in this otherwise excellent book.
Whilst Punch begins by stressing the importance of planning, he later discusses unforseen issues that may arise later in or after the research project (p 278). Two of the issues he mentions are research integrity and quality, and ownership of data. I suggest that if these were considered at the planning stage, they would not present as unforseen problems. Further, research integrity should be at the forefront in considering human research.
The second point is whilst Punch advises his focus to be on 'basics and essentials' (p 6), it is odd that a book aimed at students lacks mention of working with supervisors. The target of this book, being the upper level undergraduate onwards, would most likely be undertaking their first research project with a supervisor and may have found this discussion practical; especially making the most of this relationship and being prepared for some of the potential difficulties.
Finally, whilst a small point, I found it strange that Punch writes as a Professor from the University of Western Australia, yet only makes mention of American Sociological Associations. Perhaps a more universal list of contacts would increase the potential student audience of this book. As a fellow Australian, I felt disappointment in this shortcoming.
This book is likely to be, as Punch intended, of greatest interest to the upper-level undergraduate and perhaps the beginning graduate, although this student is most likely to have already been involved in a research project at that level of studies. Supervisors and teachers may also find this a most suitable book to suggest to their students, due to the balanced approach Punch takes with both qualitative and quantitative methods, and the new addition of review concepts.
Melbourne University, Australia