Reviewed by Stephen Peters, University of Bristol
10 April 2016
Why do we reach out for a reference work on research methodology? Brian Paltridge and Aek Phakiti suggest a number of reasons including using the compendium as scaffolding for research students starting out on a topic or approach; additionally, the University of Sydney based lead contributors also stretch this to ‘experienced researchers’ (perhaps, supervisors) wanting to gain purchase in a less familiar area of study. It strikes this reviewer that this collection, which includes essays on methodology, reviews of the literature on substantive topics, and first-hand accounts of studies already conducted, suits those looking for mentors to walk beside them as they consider how to apply research approaches to Applied Linguistics puzzles in their work.
Here, in EAP practice settings, it is the opportunity to work with those needing to engage in early career academic work (our students) alongside the target settings where EAP content will be applied that matters. The fact that often there is this proximity of the learning arena to a landscape rich in research experience and its dissemination makes EAP seem to this researcher a form of Applied Linguistics with benefits. What have we (those who have been waiting) been waiting for?
For readers of the publication in review, practical decision making is set beside the benefit of the wider view taken on language related puzzles by Applied Linguists. The collection as a whole may struggle to adequately address the challenges facing research active practitioners in engaging with target and research active settings, but many contributors shine with their generous and insightful chapters. Authors are generous in terms of sharing personal experiences and valuable lessons about being research active. Equally, they are insightful for signaling alternative perspectives and links to others’ work. They also point readers in the direction of teaching and learning related resources.
This book compares favourably in light of its range of contributors’ experience to other well-thumbed props presented to early career educational researchers such as Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2007). The latter does have the advantage of allowing greater space for the authors to explore alternative perspectives on particular approaches. Both, however, do not make up for the depth of reflection single-focus books can offer on their respective areas for researchers engaged on a particular topic and methodological pathway. Paltridge and Phakiti’s contributors generally achieve, in the limited space they have, an ongoing exploration of best fit to purpose, moving beyond any formulaic expression of approaches that may ungenerously suggest there is one valid way to skin an avocado.
Through the content of contributors this addition to the Bloomsbury Research Methods in Linguistics series surveys a considerable array of research practices and thinking related to exploring the puzzles of a life with language; and it does so with commendable concision. It is this reviewer’s conclusion that the editors could have gone further to knit the text together, gaining more in having these contributors discuss in the same virtual space. Two or three short bridging chapters to weave together discussions of key concepts or emergent themes may have been one way to bring consistency in engagement with such connections across the chapters, where some contributors make more explicit use of their reflections within their own texts.
Both the contributions on Ethnography (Susan Starfield) and Case Study (Christine Pearson Casanave) deal directly with the experiences of researchers looking at EAP topics. These are examples of how qualitative work gains more rewarding coverage than quantitative studies in this collection. While Aek Phakiti’s chapter on quantitative approaches starts out as informative and accessible, it can seem less controlled. For example on p29, it states that ‘Inferential statistics…are used to answer research questions…’. As part of an overview distinguishing experimental approaches from other quantitative approaches, the reader does not learn something particular to inferential statistics. What had started as a bright and clear chapter may become blurred to the reader through a lack of precision.
There is, then, an issue of consistency of clarity. When the pointers to external sources are for resources that support practice, the index is rewarding and adds value to the text. For instance, when Casanave points us to Belcher and Hirvela (2005). Occasionally, opportunities are missed such as when we are not pointed back to a key definition given before its integration into the discussion (pp31 and 38 for the ‘null hypothesis’). When the reader is directed to another source for an accessible discussion of the relevant concept at hand, that reader might be forgiven for questioning whether the text lives up to the claim of being comprehensive and accessible for students in this area. It seems the area of making connections to other literature valuable and necessary to the reader is where the editors could have supported contributors to achieve greater fine-tuning.
The research expertise comprehended by this publication is within reach. How accessible to EAP practitioners this knowledge exchange is, is not always made explicit within universities and schools, although individuals do establish constructive collaborations across these settings. A publication such as this goes some way to help. Perhaps, Applied Linguistics is the field that will provide the compelling argument for academic language learners and their tutors to be conversant with these settings via robust and critical engagement in research. Will EAP people, including course and material designers, be able to leverage this to the benefit of the people with whom they work? There is a clear call from within EAP for this to happen. (e.g. Blaj-Ward, 2014: 14, 59; Hamp-Lyons, 2015).
The relationship between EAP and Applied Linguistics can be positioned in a variety of ways. In seeing EAP as separate from Applied Linguistics we can gain a view of a profession that has its own set of understandings around language use and settings specific to the context of academic work in higher education. This is not the only EAP context, however, and the sites of communicative interaction for academic purposes are not going to remain static in the future. It seems reasonable to position EAP, as the collaborative study of the uses and understandings of language practices for academic purposes (cf. Bruce, 2011: 6), within Applied Linguistics. This close affinity, and the robust insights EAP research can offer the wider field, is reflected in the contributions made to Brian Paltridge and Aek Phakiti’s guide for early career researchers.
Belcher, D. & Hirvela, A. (2005) Writing the Qualitative Dissertation: what motivates and sustains commitment to a fuzzy genre?, Journal of English for Academic Purposes, Vol. 4 (3), pp187-205.
Blaj-Ward, L. (2014) Researching Contexts, Practices and Pedagogies in English for Academic Purposes, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Bruce, I. (2011) Theory and Concepts of English for Academic Purposes, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2007) Research Methods in Education (6th Edition), Abingdon: Routledge.
Hamp-Lyons, L. (2015) The Future of JEAP and EAP, Journal of English for Academic Purposes, Vol. 20 (1), ppA1-A4.
Paltridge, B., & Phakiti, A. (2015) Research Methods in Applied Linguistics: a practical resource, London: Bloomsbury.