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The Good Research Guide: For Small-Scale Social Research Projects

Book Review (for the 4th edition 2010)

4th Edition: Martyn Denscombe, Open University Press, 2010, 400pp, paperback, £20.89, ISBN 0 335 241387
5th Edition: Martyn Denscombe, Open University Press, 2014, 376pp, paperback, £19.24, ISBN 0 335 264700

It is unusual for any researcher to possess a thorough knowledge of the array of methods through which social science research can be conducted so any book which sets out the range of approaches one can adopt to manage research projects is a welcome addition to the researcher’s tool-kit. Here, Denscombe’s overview of the different ways in which to tackle a research project certainly contributes to this.

The book, systematic in structure and thorough in content, outlines the different methods and methodologies that can be used when designing and conducting a small-scale research project. Each chapter describes the features of a particular approach or framework, whether it is phenomenology, survey-design, grounded theory or lab experiments and suggests ways of approaching these.  Denscombe outlines what they are good for, what they are not good for, and points out any potential research pitfalls which might scupper the research process. All outlined in clear, accessible language, with links to relevant other parts of the book highlighted throughout, thus guiding the researcher along her research trajectory.

In addition to outlining how to approach the design and conduct of a research-project, this book also suggests possible approaches to the analysis of data gleaned from these enquiries. Chapters on qualitative and quantitative analysis, including some guidance on the use of data-analysis software and suggested frameworks for structuring the presentation of findings in a report are helpful starting points with advice relevant to both the novice and experienced researcher.

Helpfully up-to-date, this book, in its fourth edition, has four appendices which provide some excellent, insightful and thorough guidance on, for example, research ethics, including the ethical implications of conducting internet research and data protection issues. These, in themselves, make the book a very useful starting point for anyone conducting social science research, no matter what their experience.  As such, whether undergraduate or postgraduate, whether conducting research for academic or other purposes, most researchers’ experiences of conducting research will be improved by engaging with the material in this book.

I initially had concerns that by addressing such a range of methods, this book would necessarily prove too basic for a researcher who may end up using only one or two of the methods described. However, this concern proved unfounded as the easy shifts between surface-level explanation and in-depth analysis of approaches reflect the author’s intellectual athleticism; managing to explain diverse concepts with an ease, clarity and depth that makes the content of this book relevant to researchers at all stages of their career.

Nonetheless, though easy to follow, this book is possibly not one intended to be read chronologically from cover to cover.   Instead it is far more helpful when approached as a manual, or tool-kit, for the researcher to dip into as their research project progresses. And, though it is broad in scope and thorough in content, researchers should remember that this book is just one of a selection of resources that should be used.  Over-reliance on the content of this book, for the whole of a project might hinder its innovative progress. In particular, the section on ‘writing up’ is one, I suggest, which should be read with a pinch of salt, rather than as a definitive guide.

Having said this, the book remains is a very good resource for approaching the design and conduct of a social-science research project, and I would recommend it to researchers at any stage of their career, from undergraduate to PhD and beyond.  It is also a helpful source of information for anyone teaching methodologies in the social sciences. In presenting research methods in a straightforward and balanced way, this book guides the researcher’s path, shows them some of the way through the complexities of conducting research and with its patient explanations and approachable tone, equips them with the wherewithal with which to become confident, capable and creative researchers.  Qualities which are invaluable in order to produce excellent research.

Reviewed by: Alex Fanghanel, University of Leeds

At the time of writing, Alex Fanghanel was a final year PhD student in the Department of Geography at the University of Leeds.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of FindAPhD.

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