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Review of  Researching English Language

Reviewer: Beatrice Szczepek Reed
Book Title: Researching English Language
Book Author: Alison Sealey
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Issue Number: 22.2546

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AUTHOR: Alison Sealey
TITLE: Researching English Language
SUBTITLE: A Resource Book for Students
SERIES TITLE: Routledge English Language Introductions
PUBLISHER: Routledge
YEAR: 2010.

Beatrice Szczepek Reed, Department of Education, University of York, UK.


The book under review is an elementary introduction to English language
research, presupposing little prior reader knowledge. The book is divided into
four parts of increasing complexity: Introduction, Development, Exploration and
Extension. This structure is typical for the Routledge English Language

In Part A, Introduction, basic concepts of a student research project are
established. The author beings by introducing the initial stages of choosing a
research topic, and how to go about finding inspiration for this choice. The
chapter also covers the identification of appropriate reading material, with
examples of bibliographic databases. Subsequently, initial thoughts regarding
research questions are discussed, and a variety of examples are provided; then
basic ways of defining various research methods are introduced. The following
section covers the details of the research process, such as technical equipment
and ethical issues, followed by a presentation of the fundamental issues
surrounding the collection of spoken and written data. Two further sections
clarify the most basic aspects and types of data analysis, and the style and
presentation appropriate for writing up research findings. A final section looks
beyond the student research project, on to potential publications and careers.

This underlying structure -- that is, running from Topic, Literature Review,
Research Questions, Research Methods, Details, Data Collection, Data Analysis,
Writing up and Looking ahead -- is adopted in the remaining three parts of the
book, with increasing detail and complexity in each part.

In Part B, Development, each section addresses the 'how and why' of the
above-mentioned topics. Each section looks behind potential motivations for the
choices to be made. The first section in this part asks what should inform
students' choice of topic, such as university benchmark statements, and specific
personal interests. The following part explains how the literature review
establishes the student as part of a 'community of practice' (p. 51), while the
subsequent section asks which research questions are most appropriate for which
type of research. The author distinguishes between research questions which ask
'(a) what something is like, (b) how much of something occurs in some specified
context, (…) (c) why something is the case (…)' and '(d) yes/no questions'. (p.
57). The section on methods distinguishes between method and methodology, and
briefly introduces interviews, corpus studies and experimental research. The
subsequent section on 'details' explores further the ethical implications of
certain types of research by considering a variety of issues, such as collecting
child language data, personal relationships with participants, and participants
in other countries. In dealing with data collection, various kinds of data are
distinguished, and choice of subjects / participants are discussed. Regarding
data analysis various levels of language are considered, and forms of analysis
are presented. The section on writing discusses appropriate academic style, and
the management of the writing process itself. The final section on steps beyond
the project discusses transferable skills for writing a CV.

Part C, Exploration, focuses in on organisational detail and criticality. The
first section on research topics reflects on the benefits of research skills for
future employers; while the following part introduces ways of organizing and
structuring the literature review. It is also discussed what it means to read
literature with a critical mindset. The subsequent section on research questions
asks the student reader to predict some of their research outcomes, in order to
decide whether or not to include a hypothesis. Concerning research methods, the
pros and cons of experimental research, and some issues surrounding
categorization and theory are presented. The section on data collection provides
various examples of written and spoken data, and discusses various ways of
eliciting data. The following part on data analysis takes a close look at
transcription, and the interpretation of transcripts, while the section on the
writing up process introduces abstracts and further text components. The final
section discusses, amongst other things, the role of language as central to
human social interaction.

Part D, Extension, provides a number of published readings by well-known
authors, which are used to exemplify all of the topics previously introduced.
Three cases are presented in which authors discuss how they came about
researching their topic, followed by three literature reviews from different
published articles. The section on research questions presents two examples of
authors' discussions of appropriate questions. Subsequently, four introductions
to the methodological background of different research projects are presented,
followed by two cases of authors' discussing problems they came across during
their research. In the following section, three authors reflect on the process
of data collection, followed by three discussions of analysis and
interpretation. Two further readings reflect on student writing, and the final
section presents two readings regarding professions in which research skills are
of high value (teaching and administration), and one on postgraduate research


The book under review is a highly engaging and admirably reflective introduction
to researching English language. Every aspect of research practice is presented
with thoughtful consideration of potential underlying assumptions. The necessity
for student researchers to be aware of, and to question, their own motivations
is continuously emphasized and demonstrated. Furthermore, the book provides a
large number of extremely relevant examples of varying complexity at each level
for each of the topics covered.

There are two criticisms that could be made of the book. The first concerns its
presentation, the second its strong leaning towards a discourse-informed study
of language.

The presentation of the book in four parts of increasing degrees of difficulty
makes sense in terms of accessibility. However, as already indicated, this
structure results in a certain degree of repetition of content. It also means
that the reading experience is not a coherent one, but involves frequent
'circles' of returning to prior topics. However, if the book is not read in
order of presentation, the sections can be taken as self-contained chapters.

Regarding the second criticism, the book makes no attempt to make clear its
strong affiliation to the field of Discourse and Conversation Analysis. The
title may give the impression of a general introduction to research on English
language, and the unapologetically sociolinguistic preferences may come as a
surprise to the uninitiated reader. For example, in the 'Exploration' part, in
the section on Research Methods, the author presents experimental research under
the heading 'Experimental studies in second language acquisition: advocates and
critics' (p. 116), without presenting any other research method, thus giving the
impression that discursive methods are the norm, while experimental research has
advantages and disadvantages. On p. 67, the author writes 'experiments are
sometimes used in language research'. The word 'sometimes' here again suggests
that discourse-based investigations are the default case, while experimental
work requires justification.

This presentation gives the impression of a preference of one type of research
over another -- also reflected in the comparatively small amount of text
dedicated to experimental methods, and the comparatively large amount written
about discourse based research. It could be argued that students should have
access to a more balanced view of existing research practices and perspectives.

In spite of these aspects, the book provides an excellent introduction to
research for any student or beginning researcher to discourse and conversation
analysis in English. Important issues and complex concepts are formulated
accessibly, critically and with a high degree of reflection. I highly recommend
this book to any student about to embark on an undergraduate or postgraduate
research project.

Beatrice Szczepek Reed is Lecturer in Language Education in the Department of Education at the University of York, UK. Her main areas of interest are Conversation Analysis, Phonetics and Phonology, Applied Linguistics, TESOL and cross-cultural interaction. She has published the monograph 'Prosodic Orientation in English Conversation' (2006, Palgrave Macmillan) and the textbook 'Analysing Conversation: An Introduction to Prosody' (2010, Palgrave Macmillan), as well as numerous articles on prosody in conversation, teaching English pronunciation, and cross-cultural conversation analysis.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9780415468978
Pages: 272
Prices: U.K. £ 65.00
U.S. $ 120.00
Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9780415468985
Pages: 272
Prices: U.K. £ 17.99
U.S. $ 34.95