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Review of Doing research in applied linguistics: Realities, dilemmas, and solutions

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Review of Doing research in applied linguistics: Realities, dilemmas, and solutions

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A review of Doing research in applied linguistics: Realities, dilemmas, and solutions, McKinley, J. & Rose, H (Eds.), Abingdon: Routledge, 2017. Pp. 262.--to appear in BAAL News 118.
This is an author-produced PDF of an invited book review to be published in BAAL News 118.
The definitive, publisher-authenticated version will be available at
https://www.baal.org.uk/news/newsletter/
Thomas, N. & Garska, J. (2020). Doing research in applied linguistics: Realities, dilemmas, and
solutions, McKinley, J. & Rose, H (Eds.), Abingdon: Routledge, 2017. Pp. 262. BAAL News 118.
McKinley, J. & Rose, H. (Eds.). (2017). Doing research in applied linguistics: Realities,
dilemmas, and solutions. Abingdon: Routledge. ISBN: 9781138947368. 262 pages.
Not long ago, McKinley and Rose put into motion what has quickly turned into a powerful
tetralogy of monographs and edited volumes on research in applied linguistics with their 2017
publication (see above; henceforth referred to as DRAL). In the previous issue of BAAL News,
Michelle Hunter reviewed their second offering, Data Collection Research Methods in Applied
Linguistics (Rose, McKinley, & Briggs Baffoe-Djan, 2019). Hunter noted that the book has
contributed significantly to her PhD research design. Since then, a third volume has been
published, The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in Applied Linguistics (McKinley &
Rose, 2020). And with a forth commissioned and in preparation (see McKinley & Pfenninger,
forthcoming/2021), it can be difficult for interested readers to keep up! Having worked with
McKinley and Rose personally on PhD research, I have been following their work related to
research in applied linguistics much closer than a casual reader. Therefore, I find myself in a
good position to discuss this series. However, while Hunter’s review covers the second book,
and it would be remiss for researchers to skip over the recent Routledge handbook (a 500+ page
authoritative volume featuring many of the field’s most notable figures), it is easy to forget about
the book that took the first step in this journey. To me, it is the most interesting of them all. To
balance out my own evaluation, I asked Jessica Garska to join me, adding her own perspective to
mine.
The premise of DRAL is that conducting research is an inherently messy process. Numerous
unforeseen issues can arise, and yet a common goal is to present a seemingly immaculate
product. In Chapter 1, Rose and McKinley liken pristine published research to “picture-perfect
cooking shows, which hide the failures and the challenges from their viewers” (p. 14). Such
displays can be disheartening for novice scholars who view the idealistic nature of published
research as the work of individuals “smarter” than themselves. Therefore, this volume conveys
the important message that even excellent, established researchers still struggle with complex
issues and have to find solutions.
The book is organized into five parts that correspond with issues in 1) the planning stage; 2) data
collection; 3) researching vulnerable groups; 4) data analysis; and 5) reporting the research.
There are 23 chapters in total, excluding a foreword and an afterword. The chapters are relatively
short, incredibly accessible, and harness the power of a first-person narrative to engage and
inform readers simultaneously.
After Rose and McKinley describe the volume’s premise and provide an overview of its
contents, Kubota commences Part 1 by discussing studying groups down, across, and up social
hierarchies, acknowledging that there are dilemmas involved with each. In his own narrative,
Rose reports on how he responded to theoretical shifts in the field of language learning strategies
during his doctoral research. He states that “when theory shifts, a researcher can sometimes be
flung into turmoil” (p. 27), especially in rapidly advancing areas and for projects that take
several years to complete. In Chapter 4, McKinley describes his battle with positionality as a
sociocultural outsider researching university students in Japan. Rather than obfuscating his
position, he embraced it and allowed it to help shape his study. Bommarito et al. round out Part 1
with their chapter on collaborative research projects between PhD students and their mentors,
acknowledging the value of offering students “professional development” as researchers (p. 48).
Collaboration and publishing with mentors is also recommended by Cohen in his afterword on
strategies for getting published.
Part 2 of the book ties in well with Rose and McKinley’s (2019) monograph (both on data
collection), with various authors reporting on dealing with: contextual constraints (Chapter 6),
participant attrition (Chapter 7), low response rates (Chapter 8), and multilingualism (Chapter 9).
Not all researchers will be working within the same paradigms or encounter the same dilemmas,
but the chapters are engaging nonetheless due to their anecdotal style. Such can also be said for
the chapters in Part 3 of this volume, which bring attention to conducting research with
vulnerable groups. However, most chapters transcend the sections reported focus. For example,
Murphy and Macaro’s chapter on conducting research with children provides recommendations
suitable for researchers working with any group of human participants. Likewise, Carson’s
chapter highlights the need for ethical research that goes beyond seeing ethics approval “as a
box-ticking exercise” (p. 122), and Okada recommends being aware of the participants’ own
intentions when narrating their experience. On the whole, there are strong ethical considerations
for most researchers to consider from the chapters in Part 3, rendering the section’s title a bit
misleading and the content transferable to a wider audience than it may initially seem.
In Part 4, readers move to stories of how researchers responded to problems in data analysis,
although as with Part 3, a number of important recommendations (extending into additional
stages of research) are made. To us, this may be the strongest section, as decision-making during
data analysis is typically less flexible than in earlier stages, and the authors do well in explaining
their own strategies for dealing with particularly tricky analyses. If there were to be a second
volume, we would love to see this section expanded or the book restructured to encourage
researchers to report on the entire process from start to finishas most of the authors in Part 4
did anywaywith sections based on similar types of research or topics rather than stages.
The final section features five chapters on responding to problems in the reporting of research.
Again, the chapter authors really deliver here, each taking strides to engage readers with honesty,
reassurance, and practical recommendations. Appleby’s intriguing chapter on dealing with
controversial findings will be of interest to researchers looking to push the envelope, while
Casanave’s tale of publishing about her own experience as a language learner is moving to say
the least. Reflecting on the struggle, she states “I swore at the time that I would never write
another article for publication” (p. 240), although luckily for us she has continued. Part 5
concludes with sound recommendations from Paltridge regarding publishing from a dissertation,
which ties in nicely to Cohens afterward on strategies for getting published.
All-in-all, while the later books in this tetralogy will garner attention regardless, DRAL should
not be overlooked. It is the volume we most enjoyed reading out of the series, because it
humanizes the researchers involved. By hearing their personal stories, we were able to learn from
their experience and heed their advice. DRAL is not a how-to guide for conducting research but
rather a necessary supplement for when carefully planned projects begin to unravel.
References
McKinley, J., & Pfenninger, S. (forthcoming/2021). Innovations and challenges in research
methods in applied linguistics. Routledge.
McKinley, J., & Rose, H. (2020). The Routledge handbook of research methods in applied
linguistics. Routledge.
Rose, H., McKinley, J., & Briggs Baffoe-Djan, J. (2019). Data collection research methods in
applied linguistics. Bloomsbury.
Nathan Thomas, UCL Institute of Education
Jessica Garska, Trinity College Dublin
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Book
Full-text available
The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in Applied Linguistics provides a critical survey of the methodological concepts, designs, instruments and types of analysis that are used within the broad field of applied linguistics. With more than 40 chapters written by leading and emerging scholars, this book problematizes and theorizes applied linguistics research, incorporating numerous multifaceted methodological considerations and pointing to the future of good practice in research. Topics covered include: key concepts and constructs in research methodology, such as sampling strategies and mixed methods research; research designs such as experimental research, case study research, and action research; data collection methods, from questionnaires and interviews to think-aloud protocols and data elicitation tasks; data analysis methods, such as use of R, inferential statistical analysis, and qualitative content analysis; current considerations in applied linguistics research, such as a need for transparency and greater incorporation of multilingualism in research; and recent innovations in research methods related to multimodality, eye tracking, and advances in quantitative methods.
Book
Full-text available
The successful collection of data is a key challenge to obtaining reliable and valid results in applied linguistics research. This book provides a practical guide to conducting research in the field and collecting good data, encompassing the challenges and obstacles applied linguists face. It explores frequently used data collection techniques, including: * interviews * focus groups * data elicitation tasks * corpus * questionnaires * tests and measures Each chapter focuses on one type of data collection, outlining key concepts, threats to reliability and validity, procedures for good data collection, and implications for researchers. The chapters also include exemplary research projects, showcasing and explaining how the technique was used to collect data in a successfully published study. Complete with a Companion Website hosting additional resources for each chapter, this book is an essential how-to guide for both novice and experienced applied linguists tackling data collection techniques for the first time.
forthcoming/2021). Innovations and challenges in research methods in applied linguistics
  • J Mckinley
  • S Pfenninger
McKinley, J., & Pfenninger, S. (forthcoming/2021). Innovations and challenges in research methods in applied linguistics. Routledge.
UCL Institute of Education Jessica Garska
  • Nathan Thomas
Nathan Thomas, UCL Institute of Education Jessica Garska, Trinity College Dublin