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Review of  Research Methods in Applied Linguistics

Reviewer: Larry L. LaFond
Book Title: Research Methods in Applied Linguistics
Book Author: Brian Paltridge Aek Phakiti
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
General Linguistics
Issue Number: 27.4552

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


“Research Methods in Applied Linguistics”, by Brian Paltridge and Aek Phakiti, brings together a great number of experienced scholars with the goal of creating a resource for beginning researchers in applied linguistics. Given the size of this work--590 pages and 31 chapters in all--it would be impractical to summarize each chapter in detail. Fortunately, there is a lot of commonality in the structure and shape of the chapters, which permits a general summary. The book is divided into two parts: the first fifteen chapters, which tackle differing research approaches and methods, and the final sixteen chapters, which slice the research task a bit differently, focusing on specific areas of research. A 15-page glossary of key research terms and an index complete the volume.

The first section of the book begins with the editors’ overview of research approaches and methods. This section looks at many standard distinctions involved in research: primary or secondary, basic or applied, cross-sectional or longitudinal, quantitative or qualitative, and combinations of these, such as are found in mixed methods research. The editors additionally discuss research paradigms (positivism, postpositivism, constructivism, and pragmatism), ontology, epistemology, validity, reliability, and ethics.

Beginning with Chapter 2, the general structure for all the chapters in the first section of the book is set. For example, in Chapter 2, Aek Phakiti discusses quantitative research and analysis. The chapter begins with a discussion of underlying assumptions and methodology, different types of quantitative research, what counts as reliability and validity in quantitative research, techniques and instruments, stages in the analysis process (coding, screening, reducing, performing inferential statistics, etc.) and subtypes of quantitative research. Unlike some of the other chapters, this one includes a longer treatment of basic statistical concepts and tests. Ethical considerations are also included in this and most chapters. Also, like other chapters, Chapter 2 provides a sample study to illustrate the concepts discussed. All the chapters in the volume conclude with references and resources for further reading.

Chapters 2 through 14 follow the same general pattern to handle the following types of research: quantitative and qualitative studies, mixed methods, survey research, experimental studies, case studies, ethnographic research, critical research, narrative inquiry, action research, discourse analysis, research synthesis, and macro- and micro-ethics and applied linguistics research. Chapter 15 (also written by the editors) completes the section with guidance for students on developing a research project. That chapter does not include sample proposals, but directs the reader to a web page from Baltimore County Public Schools that includes sample thesis and dissertation proposals.

The second half of the volume, Chapters 16-31, attends to specific areas of research: speaking, listening, reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary, pragmatics, motivation, learning strategies, young learners, language classrooms, language testing and assessment, teacher’s beliefs, language and gender, language and identity, and language teacher education. Authors of each of these chapters attempts first to synthesize current thinking and research processes in those areas. For example, in Chapter 18 (Research Reading), after a short introduction, Marie Stevenson begins reviewing key issues related to reading research. She then outlines research sub-areas (lexical access, strategies, intermodal relationships, sociocultural environments, etc.) and discusses research techniques (verbal protocols, eye-tracking, speed measures, etc.). As with the chapters in the first half of the volume, these latter chapters also each provide sample studies and guidance for further reading.

Not every chapter in the second half uniformly follows this pattern; for example, in Chapter 23, Lindy Woodrow begins her coverage of motivation research with a review of Gardner’s (1988) socio-educational model of language learning. In Chapter 30 (Researching Language and Identity), David Block follows his introduction to this area with a discussion of “typical” stages in conducting research in this field; he then moves into research strategies and techniques in language and identity studies. He includes a short examination of associated problems with narrative analysis before concluding with his sample study. Despite such differences, the variations between chapters are minor; authors of each chapter succeed in presenting scholarly thinking and common processes in their given area of research.


Overall, this book works as intended. The editors made strong choices in their selection of authors for the individual chapters, most of which are well known in their fields. To provide a few examples, Susan Gass wrote the chapter on experimental research, Steven Talmy discussed critical research in Applied Linguistics, Lourdes Ortega wrote on research synthesis, and Simon Borg contributed two chapters, one on teacher’s beliefs and one on language teacher education. The result is a solid volume, coherently constructed, written in accessible language for the target audiences. The chapters of larger edited volumes can often be somewhat uneven in quality, but the end product here is almost uniformly solid.

The intended audiences for the volume are advanced undergraduates, MA students, and Ph.D. students who are studying Applied Linguistics, TESOL, and Second Language Studies. These students will undoubtedly find this book to be a good resource as they select a research methodology, and it will help them better understand the concerns associated with their selection. It might also be quite useful for thesis and dissertation supervisors who are guiding these types of students. An extended audience might include researchers who are branching out into new areas or reenvisioning how they might want to investigate a topic with a different approach.

The use of selections of sample studies to concretize concepts, while not a novel idea, is still a helpful one. About half of the authors chose to use their own studies as illustrations, while the rest chose current studies by other authors. Some of those who used their own studies conceded that while there might be better examples than their own work, they believed they could comment on their own study with greater insight. Few should find reason to quarrel with the selections either way.

While this book attempts to be a comprehensive resource, it quite understandably was not able to cover all areas of applied linguistics. The process of selection apparently moved toward those areas and approaches that “most frequently” appear in applied linguistics journals; however, certain fields are left out altogether, or apparently not included in the scope of the editors’ working definition of applied linguistics. Research areas related to language learning are overrepresented. Also represented are research areas pertaining to education, psychology, anthropology and sociology. Other applied linguistic fields, for example, forensic linguistics, computer applications (with the exception of computer-assisted language learning), language policy and planning, and translation are missing. Some choices also had to be made about the kinds of research paradigms discussed, with some paradigms simply being mentioned but not further discussed (e.g., ecological, critical, social network paradigm, feminist and participatory paradigms). These are not necessarily flaws, but do highlight the challenge of trying to be truly comprehensive when even definitions of research, let alone applied linguistics research, vary.

While the volume does introduce readers to research statistics and basic statistical tests, the treatment would not be sufficient for readers to engage in their own tests and analyses. There are, fortunately, other recent texts that address statistics in greater detail and provide practical application in the use of SPSS specifically for applied linguistics or second language studies (Hatch & Lazaraton, 1991; Larson-Hall, 2010; Pallant, 2010; Lowie & Seton, 2013). Again, this is not so much a flaw as it is a recognition of the limitations and scope of this text.

The same appraisal might be made for the book’s handling of how to present the research results in a scholarly way. A chapter similar to Chapter 15, which deals with the structure and development of a research project/proposal could be envisioned, one that would employ the same strategy to help researchers present their findings. Chapter 15 does include a brief discussion of criteria for judging a journal manuscript together with the guidance to look at resources such as Evans & Zobel (2011) and McIntosh & Ginther (2014), studies that discuss strategies for writing theses and research reports, respectively.

A bit more globally, one might question why another book on research methodology in applied linguistics is needed. It seems there are currently a number of volumes that attempt comprehensive treatment of differing research methodologies together with discussion of differing areas of applied linguistic research. For example, Richards, Ross & Seedhouse (2011) is a volume (of the same title) that covers much of the same ground that this volume does. Dörnyei’s (2007) book on research methods in applied linguistics considers quantitative, qualitative and mixed methodologies, and attempts a comprehensive overview. McKay (2006) and Mackey & Gass (2005, 2012) in more focused ways provide a treatment of second language research methodologies and design.

However, none of these volumes are entirely similar in their approaches, scope, and structure. The most recent volume incorporates the most current research, and even includes chapters, as mentioned earlier, by researchers like Dörnyei, Gass, and others who authored some of the previous books. What Paltridge and Phakiti have done well is to meld discussion not only of qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods and research techniques and approaches, but also of a great number of other considerations (ethics, sample studies, lists of academic journals in applied linguistics, etc.) into one orderly, intelligible and effective presentation of material.

Ostensibly, the need to update practical resources such as these will continue, since changes in presentational modes, the creation of methodological innovations, and the development new tools for investigation and analysis will continue to reshape practices for future researchers. The present volume, if not fully comprehensive, will provide students with the necessary considerations they must attend to as they begin research in applied linguistics.


Dörnyei, Zoltan. 2007. Research methods in applied linguistics: Quantitative, qualitative and mixed methodologies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Evans, David, Paul Gruba & Justin Zobel. 2011. How to write a better thesis. (3rd edn.) Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

Gardner, Robert C. 1988. ‘The socio-educational model of second language learning: Assumptions, findings and issues’, Language Learning, 38(1). 101-126.

Hatch, Evelyn and Anne Lazaraton. 1991. The research manual: Design and statistics
for applied linguistics. New York: Newbury House Publishers.

Lowie, Wander & Bregtje Seton. 2013. Essential Statistics for Applied Linguistics. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Mackey, Alison & Susan M. Gass. 2005. Second language research: Methodology and
design. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Mackey, Alison & Susan M. Gass (eds.). 2012. Research methods in second language
acquisition: A practical guide. Wiley-Blackwell. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

McIntosh, Kyle & April Ginther. 2014. ‘Writing Research Reports’, in Antony John Kunnan (ed.), The Companion to Language Assessment. London: John Wiley & Sons.

McKay, Sandra. L. 2006. Researching second language classrooms. Mahwah, New Jersey:
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Larson-Hall, Jennifer. 2010. A guide to doing statistics in second language research
using SPSS. New York: Routledge.

Pallant, Julie. 2010. SPSS Survival Manual: A step by step guide to data analysis
using SPSS (4th ed.). New York, NY: Open University Press.

Richards, Keith., Steven. J. Ross & Paul Seedhouse. 2011. Research Methods for Applied
Language Studies: An Advanced Resource Book for Students. New York: Routledge.
Larry LaFond is an Associate Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He teaches research methodology in second language acquisition (SLA) to graduates and undergraduates. His current research interests, in addition to SLA, include theory and practice in language teacher education and dialectal variation within American Midlands English.

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