Book Review: Research Methods for Postgraduates

When I first started reading this book, * I wondered who would buy it. As a second-year Ph.D. student, I have found that most things are learnt by trial and error and by heeding the advice of the more experienced around you. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of information that this book manages to convey. It is clearly intended as a reference guide and not meant to be read cover to cover, as it deals with a broad spectrum of disciplines in postgraduate study. As such, I think it would be extremely helpful for those just embarking upon postgraduate studies or, in fact, for anyone who is considering them.

This book has a couple of features that make it particularly accessible to the reader. The first is that it is divided into well-titled, short chapters making it easy and quick to find information of interest. Second, because most of the chapters include contributions from a number of authors, each of whom specialises in a particular field, the writing style is varied and fresh. This variety keeps the information from becoming monotonous, although I did find a few areas that were overcomplicated by the use of jargon. 

Research Methods covers several broad areas, including both specific fields of study and items of general application to postgraduate work, as well as practical help in using technology. You may be left feeling that some of the chapters are useless to you and others are too short to be helpful. However, the chapters are not discrete, and there is enough cross-referencing to allow the reader to find other pertinent areas of interest. In addition, the book is packed full of useful Web sites and literature for further reading, making it a helpful reference guide. In fact, I would encourage reading parts that may not immediately appear relevant to your discipline: It will broaden your outlook on research techniques in other fields.

Aside from the subject-specific sections, most of the text has widespread appeal. Areas such as funding, support, and ethics that are (or ought to be) of universal relevance are covered well. In particular, the funding chapter gives a good overview of sources of funding specific to each discipline with numerous addresses to contact for help.

A few of the chapters take a more practical approach to the use of computers, including word-processing tips, the Internet, and spreadsheets. I am by no means a power user, but I did not think there would be much to gain from these chapters--I am already fairly comfortable with using such packages. However, I was proved wrong and came across several useful time-saving hints.

And speaking of saving time, if you can only find time to read one chapter of this book I would highly recommend Chapter 3, "Managing your Ph.D." It gives a real overview of the Ph.D. experience, and no matter what stage you are at it will be sure to hold some relevance.

* T. Greenfield, Ed., Research Methods for Postgraduates, 2nd Edition. Arnold, Paperback, ISBN 0 340 80656 7, £21.99 (2002).

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