Interpreting Qualitative Data: Methods for Analyzing Talk, Text and Interaction 3rd Edition
Sage Publications, London
This third edition of Silverman's successful and popular book on qualitative methodology (earlier editions published in 1993 and 2001) provides a clear and comprehensive analysis of qualitative research in its many forms. Its wide coverage and its vast range of relevant examples from both classic and more contemporary sociological studies mean that this book is likely to prove a useful reader or course textbook for university research methods courses.
The book is divided into four sections, with between two and five shorter chapters in each section. These sections present a logical progression through a research project, starting with the selection of the appropriate methodology, then moving on to carrying out the research, considerations of research practice (ethics and credibility) and finally, the implications of research.
Part One, titled Theory and Method in Qualitative Research, outlines the major decisions to be made when beginning a research project, such as the methods of data collection and analysis to be used. Silverman connects these decisions to the theoretical and epistemological framework within which the researcher is working. He further highlights common problems and errors made by researchers, including the use of too many or inappropriate methods; and the choice of research topics with too broad a reach for their time limitations.
Part Two, Methods, covers different types of qualitative method (ethnography, interviewing, and the analysis of texts, conversations and visual images), analysing the scope, possibilities and pitfalls of each method by drawing on examples from a wide range of research studies.
Part Three, titled Research Practice, initially covers issues relating to ensuring that research is credible and persuasive. It then moves on to cover issues pertaining to research ethics, such as the researcher's responsibilities to ensure that those who are researched are not exploited or harmed; and finally, advice is given regarding writing up research studies and reports.
Finally, Part Four, Implications, looks at the contribution which research can make to a variety of potential audiences, before summarising the main points made in the rest of the book.
Using examples from his own and a variety of other researchers' work, Silverman presents the process of carrying out research in a manner that is well explained and accessible. The inclusion of numerous examples of books to read and websites to visit are helpful for the reader wishing to delve into the subject in greater depth. At the end of each chapter, short exercises are included, which may be useful to readers wishing to increase their knowledge and understanding in specific areas. Alternatively, these could be used as seminar exercises for an undergraduate group.
The book is clearly aimed primarily at the undergraduate market, although as a postgraduate, I found that it provided a useful overview of key terms. While the clear targeting of the undergraduate market may be advantageous with respect to the widespread adoption of this book as a core text on Sociology degree courses, its use should not be perceived as limited to undergraduates. On the contrary, it may also be constructively utilised by postgraduates and independent researchers, particularly when planning a piece of research. One possible criticism is that several of the sources used are rather dated, although this is to be somewhat expected with an update of an earlier edition, and efforts have clearly been made to include examples of more recent work. Furthermore, although there are several references to websites and online articles, there are only small sections relating to the Internet as a source of data; and online interviewing. These minor criticisms should not, however, detract from what is a useful introduction and overview to the field of qualitative research.
Helen Marson Smith
University of Warwick