Research in Applied Linguistics: Becoming a Discerning Consumer.
Fred L. Perry, Jr.
Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2005, 268 pages (US $29.95--prepaid)
The litmus test of any book is whether it is a useful addition to one's bookshelf. In the case of Fred Perry's book Research in Applied Linguistics: Becoming a Discerning Consumer, I would have to answer with a resounding Yes! The underlying assumption of this book is that developing the habit of critically reading research is a crucial prerequisite to writing critically sound research papers. The book provides a framework for judging research articles, encourages students to examine articles in their own field of interest, and paves the way for students to write their own literature reviews and research articles. In his preface, Perry identifies MA students in linguistics or TESOL and teachers of research methods courses as his primary audience, but I would also recommend it to graduate students in education. It is designed to be useful either for self-study or as a course text.
The book is organized into three main sections: Fundamentals for Discerning Consumers; The Major Components of Published Research; and three appendices. Perry begins by making connections between research reading, practice in the field of linguistics, and the need to write up research. This introduction establishes the framework for a tome that is both accessible to a well-defined audience and logically constructed. The second part provides a detailed description of each section of a typical research article and provides methods for critically evaluating them. Perry's voice is that of a knowledgeable teacher/facilitator. He has adopted and adapted classroom techniques to the written form. He consistently refers to examples from research to illustrate concepts. He intersperses text with exercises designed to encourage students to interact with the ideas of the book. He uses analogies, graphs, tables, and figures to explain esoteric concepts. Finally, he uses amusing anecdotes and recursive reflection to promote scaffolded learning. I particularly like how he uses a small number of sample articles to discuss the various sections of academic research papers. I also like his lists of key terms and additional readings at the end of each chapter. Although the questions used in the exercises may seem repetitive, they serve a twofold purpose: (a) they help the reader develop a clear model of how research papers are written, and (b) they help the reader develop an awareness of why an article should be read not just for its research question and conclusions, but also for its methods of data collection and data analysis. Finally, the collected materials from these exercises could serve as the starting point for a literature review.
Appendices A and B rightfully belong in the main body of the text because they extend the argument of the book. Appendix A shows students how to turn the reading of research into a literature review. Here the analogy of the mosaic, along with the practical tips for collecting and collating material, will help writers who are novices in the discipline to make sense of research when writing about it. Appendix B delves into some of the more esoteric methods of statistical data analysis that students may run across in their reading. Perry asserts that although readers may not be able to use these statistical tools, they should be able to understand what they are, how and why the researcher has used them, and how valid the researcher's conclusions are. Appendix C, on the other hand, is more distant from the book's central arguments: it provides information about journals in the discipline, including some Canadian journals.
There are a few problems with the book. Although Perry uses seminal articles in the field, some of the studies are more than 15 years old. And there are some unnecessary repetitions, for example, information on pages 201-202 is nearly identical to the Keyword search in Box 2.1 on p. 27; Table 7.1 (p. 151) contains the same information as appears in a clearer format in Table 7.2 (p. 159). I think Perry needs to be reminded that not everything is made clearer by rendering it into a table. In addition, there seem to be a few typographical errors (e.g., on p. 174 PMMC should read PPMC).
These are merely quibbles about a book the insights of which more than make up for such minor problems. Most of Perry's figures and tables clarify difficult concepts (Fig. 3: Relationships among variable types; Table 6.2: Reliability coefficients used in research; Fig. 7.2 Testing the null hypothesis), and sometimes they add humor to the book (e.g., Fig. 5.3: The research minefield). I especially appreciate Perry's discussion of threats to internal validity and the Internal Validity Evaluation Inventory (p. 108). Moreover, Perry's advice to the reader not to develop the kind of cynicism that rejects all studies because they are conducted in less than ideal conditions is well founded. In short, then, this book meets many of the needs of the novice researcher. It clarifies concepts, promotes critical reading, predicts questions, and always keeps the discussion meaningful yet down to earth.
Theresa Ann Hyland is Director of Writing and Cross-cultural Services at Huron University College, where she teaches EL1 and EL2 writing courses and administers the Writing Centre and the International Exchange program. Her research interests include how students use research in their academic essays and the assessment of writing proficiency.