[ NB: “Annotations” are occasional posts that explore selections from my research reading—articles or books—in rhetoric, technical and professional communication, and related fields. ]
Salkind, N.J. (2012). 100 questions (and answers) about research methods. Los Angeles: Sage.
In this slim, concise volume, Salkind poses and then answers questions about research methods that are organized into nine different categories. Salkind claims that the book is “a reminder, a resource and refresher of sorts” that’s geared toward graduate students preparing for exams or undergraduates who will have no primary course in research methods (p. xi). Written for students in a variety of disciplines, the questions and answers are necessarily broad so that they’ll appeal to beginning researchers across the spectrum.
In the first section, “Understanding the Research Process and Getting Started,” Salkind provides a general overview of the need for empirical research and the processes for inventing and then exploring testable, measurable research questions. Rather than falling into the common trap of dividing research methods between quantitative and qualitative, Salkind proposes two very “general categories of research models: nonexperimental and experimental” (p. 6). This distinction then allows him to group historical, descriptive, correlational, and qualitative methods under “nonexperimental” and quasi-experimental and experimental together. This is a simple, but useful distinction, especially for beginning researchers who may be primed for a quantitative/qualitative binary or opposition. Salkind also makes similarly useful, concise comparisons between basic and applied research (p. 10).
Salkind’s concise introduction is also useful; he states: “Qualitative research examines individuals, institutions, and phenomena within the context in which they occur” (p.11). More importantly, he adds that the qualitative researcher “is interested in gaining an in-depth understanding of behavior and the reasons for that behavior” (p. 11). One of the most useful aspects of Salkind’s first section is a very handy checklist with criteria for evaluating scholarship (p. 15–16); this is something I think I will adapt for both graduate and undergraduate instruction.
In Part 2, Salkind offers some salient advice for researching, organizing, and writing up a review of literature. This section will be review for most readers, but graduate students in the humanities, for example, might benefit from seeing this section’s decidedly social-scientific approach to generating a lit review. One of the key pieces of advice that always bears repeating is the need to annotate while reading—this writing process will help ease the final production of the lit review in several meaningful ways (see p. 26–27 and p. 31).
Part 3 explores questions of ethics for researchers, beginning with a brief overview of what is covered in a typical university IRB training program. Given its concise format and clear language, this section might be especially useful to anyone unfamiliar with the IRB process (such as researchers embarking on their first empirical study).
Part 4 explores questions and answers related to hypotheses and variables. For beginning researchers and for those versed in more qualitative methods, this section acts as a solid review. Salkind also does a good job of describing systematic research methods as important to professionals working in a variety of fields and domains, leading to a perspective which posits research methods as a set of tools and techniques for systematically answering questions and exploring real world problems.
This is a significant point, for professionals in both academe and industry may benefit from better understanding “the process of asking and answering a question systematically” (p. 48). Such questions might trend academic (e.g., “will an increase in parent-to-student reading time at home lead to an improvement in reading comprehension scores for a standardized test?”) or professional (e.g., “will a redesign of the organization’s webpage lead to more customer engagement as measured by time on the site and movement toward a purchase?”). In both scenarios, understanding methods for systematically testing and answering such questions is paramount.
In his question about “fit” between research questions and methods, Salkind makes an understated yet powerful claim: “The research questions should always drive the method selected and not the other way around” (p. 60). Again, this is research methods 101, but I know that I have often ignored this important advice, choosing to design a research question around a qualitative study; to be fair, most of the questions I ask about writers and writing technologies explore situated action and activity, so I can feel somewhat justified, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about designing a quasi-experimental study because I think it will be more appropriate for answering a certain research question I’ve been pondering. In short, this is great advice, and it’s something we need to remind ourselves and our students frequently…
Part 5 covers questions and answers in one of the most consistently misunderstood areas of research methods for students in the humanities: sampling. Salkind does a fine job in this section of not only providing clear and concise answers to fundamental sampling questions, but providing easy to understand examples as well. Of all the sections in this book, this is the one I’d most like to copy or extract for beginning researchers. In Part 6, Salkind covers descriptive techniques, while the remaining sections continue the theme, exploring testing and measuring, experimental design, and inference and significance. This is another way of saying that the final sections of the book basically all deal in some way with inferential statistics.
Overall, this is a handy book for beginning researchers in need of a quick reference for understanding basic concepts in research methods. I can imagine someone trained in the humanities, for example, who is reading work that uses quasi-experimental methods: “what’s a two-tailed t-test, again?,” they might wonder. They could easily turn to Salkind’s book, get a one or two page discussion of the term, and then happily return to their reading. This book is no substitute for the many in-depth tomes on research methods available, but it’s a nice primer for someone new to scientific and social-scientific methods.