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The A-Z of Social Research

Robert L and John D. Brewer Miller
Sage Publications: London
0761971335 (pb)

xv + 345

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Front Cover
Containing 103 entries, with 18 additional terms cross-referenced to them, 'The A-Z of Social Research' provides clear and wide ranging accounts. Varying in length from 300 words to 8 pages, each entry offers a valuable introduction, most giving additional readings for further study. The editors' intention is to provide a collection to be used selectively when teaching research methods to undergraduates. The granular approach is said to provide flexibility for today's higher education, where research methods is often taught in short bursts, and where students face many competing pressures.

At the end of half the entries, there are 'See also' boxes, but these are the relatively undeveloped and in places idiosyncratic. Also, the absence of an index means that student readers will require considerable guidance from teachers when selecting entries to read. This is the editors' intention, and as such the limited transparency of interconnections is not an overwhelming difficulty. However, the lack of an index and weak cross-referencing does limit the scope of the text as a stand alone resource, unless the reader is prepared to read the text from beginning to end to identify connections for themselves. Such an approach would be highly rewarding, though it would reveal a number of curious tensions between the different entries.

For example, there is a table of contents listing, but no entry for 'Frankfurt School', only a link to 'Modernity'. The entry on 'Critical Theory' is not linked to by either. The entry on 'Critical Theory' discusses Positivism and Phenomenology, but fails to cross-reference the entries on either. In some entries links are made explicit in 'See also' boxes, while elsewhere terms are placed in bold or italics in the text (without indicating that this is because entries for them exist elsewhere). Most links receive no highlighting at all. On one occasion all three 'See also' titles given at the end of an entry did not exist.

Regarding the claim that the book is an A-Z of Social Research, the contents are wide ranging and do cover almost all key issues, though surprisingly, there is no entry, or discussion elsewhere, of frequency tables for categorical data, and discussion of quantitative data presentation is limited. However, what is written in each section is clear and valuable. However, many themes are hard to locate, as they are unreferenced or they are sub-sections within entries with other titles. Internal validity for example is discussed usefully in a number of entries, but always as a sub-theme. Without the guidance of someone fully familiar with the whole text, the reader would have to read the book from cover to cover to connect them. Similarly, while 'Statistical testing' has no entry, only a link to 'Hypothesis testing', the discussion of statistical testing in this entry only addresses t-tests for significance. The wide array of other statistical tests discussed elsewhere in the book are not linked to. Such opaqueness between entries stands in strong contrast to the clarity and authority of each entry.

Entries on 'Gender identity dysphoria assessment', 'sex surveys', 'Geographic information systems' and 'Verbal protocol analysis' raise questions about the boundaries of 'social research'. While the inclusion of each can be defended, the question arises as to the criteria by which many other sub-field specific issues of equal standing were omitted. The inclusion of entries on 'Child research', 'Policy research' and 'Queer research' raise the question of when a research topic becomes a distinct research method. If these three, why not housing research, migration studies and class analysis etc.? The granular nature of the text leaves no space in which to justify the choices made, and as such these questions will need to be raised in the courses where the text is used. This is no bad thing, and returns us to the editors' intention that the text be used as a teaching-led resource. The claim that: 'Where appropriate, students are directed to other entries on closely related or complementary topics' (xv) is less than fully realised. However, judged in the light of the editors' primary goal, that of providing a set of key introductions that teachers can direct students towards when required, 'The A-Z of Social Research' is successful. For this, teachers and students alike have much to thank the editors for.

Matthew David and Carole D Sutton
University of Plymouth

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