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Review of  Second Language Research

Reviewer: Hiroshi Matsumoto
Book Title: Second Language Research
Book Author: Alison Mackey Susan M. Gass
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 17.119

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Date: Sat, 07 Jan 2006 22:52:16 +0000
From: Hiroshi Matsumoto
Subject: Second Language Research: Methodology and Design

AUTHORS: Mackey, Alison; Gass, Susan, M.
TITLE: Second Language Research
SUBTITLE: Methodology and Design
PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
YEAR: 2005

Hiroshi Matsumoto, Soka University of America


This volume aims to present an introductory and yet comprehensive
survey of second language research methodology and design with
novice researchers and graduate students as the main readers. It
covers various data elicitation measures, research designs, and
practical/logistical considerations essential for conducting well-
controlled second language studies, including quantitative, qualitative,
and classroom-oriented research. It also includes ethical issues for
data gathering and a detailed checklist useful in submitting research
for publication.

The book is intended to be used primarily as a textbook for
introductory research methodology courses with graduate students as
the main audience. However, it is useful as a resource book, as well,
for more experienced researchers who want to enhance the quality of
their research methods and designs.

Chapter 1, ''Introduction to Research,'' provides an overview of
fundamentals in second language research, such as:
(1) the definition and purpose of research (i.e., what is research?),
(2) two major types of research (quantitative and qualitative studies)
and their main characteristics, and
(3) elements of standard research report format (title, abstract,
introduction, literature review, statement of purpose, hypotheses,
method, results, and discussion).

The chapter then emphasizes the importance of narrowing down and
identifying research questions. After conducting extensive literature
review, the research questions (except for so-called replication
studies) need to be original and interesting, making sure that they
have not been studied before.

In Chapter 2, ''Issues Related to Data Gathering,'' Mackey and Gass
introduce important ethical issues related to the process of gathering
date from human subjects. The main issues included in this chapter
are (1) obtaining informed consent from the human subjects, (2)
review process by the institutional review boards (IRBs), and (3) when
withholding information toward the human subjects becomes
necessary in second language research. Regarding (3), the authors
explain that second language researchers can ''sometimes'' conceal
their real interests and use some small deceptions. Informing the
participants about the goals of the research, for instance, may change
their actions during the research and thus lead to
biased/unrepresentative research results. Withholding information
may be permitted when all of the following three conditions are met:
(a) incomplete disclosure is essential to the goals of the study; (b) no
risks are undisclosed; and (c) participants will be provided with an
opportunity to be debriefed when the study is completed.

Chapter 3, ''Common Data Collection Measures,'' focuses on
presenting measures for eliciting and collecting second language
data. The chapter shows seven major research paradigms in second
language research and specific data elicitation/collection measures
often used in each research paradigm. The seven major research
paradigms the authors lay out are:
(1) formal models of language research (that is, Universal
Grammar/UG approach to studying the structure of linguistic forms;
elicitation measures include acceptability judgments, elicited imitation,
truth-value judgments and other interpretation tasks),
(2) processing research (more psycholinguistic approach to
investigating second language acquisition processes and
mechanisms; its elicitation measures are sentence interpretation,
reaction time, and moving window),
(3) interaction-based research (that aims at studying learners'
language interactions with others; measures include picture
description tasks, spot the difference, and consciousness-raising
(4) strategies and cognitive processes research (aiming at
determining the strategies and cognitive processes second language
learners tend to use; measures are observation and introspective
(5) sociolinguistic/pragmatics-based research (examining social and
contextual variables that affect second language learning; its
measures include naturalistic setting, elicited narratives, and role
(6) questionnaire and survey research, and
(7) existing date bases research. The authors explain that these
paradigms are for the purpose of practical convenience and there is
crossover with some measures used in more than one research

Chapter 4, ''Research Variables, Validity, and Reliability,'' introduces
basic concepts necessary for designing a second language research
project, such as hypotheses, variable types, operational definitions (or
operationalizations)of variables, validity, and reliability. Regarding
variable types, the authors explain the notions of independent and
dependent variables, moderator variables, intervening variables, and
control variables. As for validity, fundamental concepts of content
validity, face validity, construct validity, criterion-referenced validity,
predictive validity, internal validity, and external validity are included.

The subsequent chapters, from Chapter 5 through 7, deal with various
research designs and practical considerations in quantitative research
(Chapter 5), qualitative research (Chapter 6), and classroom-based
research (Chapter 7).

Chapter 5, ''Designing a Quantitative Study,'' explains practical
considerations pertaining to three major design types in quantitative
research: (1) correlational (associational) research design, (2) true
experimental design (with random assignment), and (3) quasi-
experimental design (without random assignment). The chapter
shows that (A) a pretest/posttest design or (B) posttest-only design
can be used for true experimental studies. For quasi-experimental
research, (C) a repeated measures design can be used to overcome
the problem of nonrandomization. When more than one independent
variable is involved, whether in true or quasi-experimental studies, (D)
a factorial design can be used to study the effects of multiple variables
on a dependent variable. When the number of subjects is small, (E) a
time-series design is useful. Finally, (F) a one-shot design is used in
a quasi-experimental research to measure learner
knowledge/behavior at one particular point in time.

Chapter 6, ''Qualitative Research,'' provides useful discussions on the
nature/definition of qualitative research, major methods for collecting
qualitative data, and practical considerations for conducting qualitative
research. Regarding the nature of qualitative research, the authors
explain that qualitative research is based on
(a) descriptive data that does not make use of statistical procedures,
(b) ''emic'' (or inside; vs. ''etic'' or outside) perspective, and
(c) cyclical/open-ended (without prior hypotheses) processes.

The chapter stresses that the quantitative and qualitative data should
be viewed as complementary means of investigating complex
phenomena in second language acquisition. Then, the chapter
explains the advantages and caveats for (1) ethnographies, (2) case
studies, (3) interviews, (4) observations, and (5) diaries and journals.
Then, it emphasizes the importance of cyclical data analysis
(composed of the first round of data collection/data analysis without
hypotheses, a hypothesis-formation stage, a second and a more
focused round of data collection where hypotheses are tested, and a
more refined stage in which a rich/full picture of the data can be
obtained). The importance of methodological ''triangulation'' (using
different research methods/measures to study a certain phenomenon)
is also discussed.

Chapter 7, ''Classroom Research,'' addresses important research
methods and practical/logistical considerations pertinent to classroom-
based research. Classroom research takes place in the distinct
context of ''classrooms'' (vs. laboratories). It requires judiciously
selected and combined approaches rather than rigid adherence to
one approach over another. Two methods useful for classroom
research, which are explained in the previous chapters, are further
elucidated with more detailed-information and examples: (1)
observations and (2) introspective methods. For observation
techniques, the chapter provides detailed descriptions of various
observation schemes, such as the Target Language Observation
Schemes (TALOS) and the Communicative Orientation of Language
Teaching (COLT). For introspective methods, it explicates (a) uptake
sheets, (b) stimulated recall, and (c) diary research in classroom
contexts. Similar to Chapter 6, the chapter emphasizes the
importance of methodological triangulation in carrying out classroom-
oriented research.

The final three chapters of this volume discuss the issues of
appropriate coding systems in processing research data (Chapter 8),
analyzing quantitative data (Chapter 9), and reporting research
(Chapter 10).

Chapter 8, ''Coding,'' explains about various aspects of data coding,
including (1) transcribing oral data (for conversation analysis;
transcribing conventions and technology), (2) coding for three
different types of data (i.e., nominal, ordinal, and interval data), (3)
coding systems, (4) interrater reliability, and (5) the mechanics of
coding. Regarding coding systems, the chapter provides descriptions
and examples of common/standard coding systems as well as more
custom-made coding systems. For common coding systems, (a) t-
units, (b) suppliance in obligatory context (SOC) counts, and (c) CHAT
system are described. For custom-made systems, examples of
systems made/used by different researchers for their own studies for
coding (d) question formation, (e) negative feedback, (f) classroom
interaction, (g) second language writing instruction, and (h) task
planning are included.

Chapter 9, ''Analyzing Quantitative Data,'' presents an overview of
introductory statistics commonly used for second language research,
including (1) descriptive statistics (measures of frequency, measures
of central tendency, and measures of dispersion), (2) inferential
statistics (parametric and nonparametric statistics), and (3)
correlation. Statistical techniques such as t-tests, Analysis of Variance
(ANOVA), Analysis of Covariance (ANCOVA), Chi Square, and Mann-
Whitney U/Wilcoxon Rank Sums are explained.

In Chapter 10, the authors show helpful tips for drafting sections that
address discussion of results, limitations, directions for future
research, and conclusions. They also provide a detailed checklist for
researchers to consider in submitting research for publication. The
checklist covers all the necessary sections of second language
research, including the research problem and question, hypotheses,
literature review, design, logistics, data gathering, data analysis,
conclusions, references, final touches and formatting.


As stated before, this volume is intended to be used as a textbook for
introductory courses on second language research methodology with
graduate students and novice researchers as the primary readers. To
evaluate the volume's strengths/significance and limitations/issues,
therefore, my critique/evaluation section takes a look at the following
six aspects with reference to and some revisions of evaluation criteria
provided by Brown (2001, p. 142). These components are all
essential characteristics quality college and university level textbooks
have to have:

(1) Scope (how thoroughly the intended scope is covered); (2)
Sequence and organization (whether the chapters are organized and
sequenced in a natural way); (3) Contents of each chapter, including
currency of information/knowledge included and the quality of
examples and illustrations; (4) Background of the readers and their
needs (how much their needs are reflected in the volume); (5)
Formatting (including general layout, tables of contents, chapter
headings, glossary, and index,); (6) Goals and Overall quality.

First, regarding its scope, this volume presents a fairly comprehensive
survey of second language research methodology and design,
including a broad perspective on what research really is, ethical
perspective on data gathering, common data elicitations measures,
validity and reliability in research, practical considerations for well-
controlled studies, data coding, data analysis, and tips for submitting
research for publication. All these areas are covered extensively and
in detail.

One important element or sub-area requiring a little more elaboration,
however, seems to be a philosophical perspective on what research
really is (Chapter 1). In Section 1.1 ''Different Types of Research,''
some more elaborated and yet relatively brief discussion might be
added on the nature of second language research while focusing on
its modes of inquiry.

The authors do show the major differences between quantitative and
qualitative studies in Section 1.1. However, it seems that readers
would benefit more by at first gaining a broad and philosophical
perspective on modes of inquiry in all areas of research, not second
language research alone.

Research or scholarly/scientific research needs to examine various
phenomena, whether natural, social, or human phenomena, in a
careful/systematic way. In natural sciences (i.e., physics, chemistry,
biology, and meteorology), researchers seek new knowledge that can
better ''explain'' natural phenomena by establishing causal
relationships and/or ''predict'' by the notion of probability. In contrast,
researchers in social sciences (i.e., psychology, sociology,
anthropology, and ethnography), especially since 19th century, have
been pursuing new knowledge that serves to not only explain but also
help us ''understand'' various human/social phenomena. Social
scientists had been attempting to examine various social/human
phenomena in the same way as natural scientists did. However, Max
Weber, well-know 19th century sociologist, advocated that social
scientists need to ''verstehen'' (that is, to interpretively/hermeneutically
understand) the contexts/reasons of social and human phenomena,
as well. He emphasized that social/human phenomena are
occasionally stimulus free and intrinsically different from natural

Again, some concise discussion as above would certainly help
graduate students recognize the place of second language research
within the entire realm of ''research'' and, thus, understand why the
area of second language research requires not only quantitative but
also qualitative studies.

Second, regarding its sequence and organization, the way many
chapters of this volume are organized/sequenced seems natural and
logical. The book starts with a broad perspective on what second
language research is, covers ethical issues, elucidates methodological
considerations in various data collection measures, further moves on
to data analysis and coding, and in the final chapter revisits a broad
(and yet more elaborated) perspective on what second language
research is composed of. All the chapters seem to be organized with
a relatively natural flow from one chapter to another.

Third, many chapters of this volume provide detailed discussions on
the pertinent topics and components. In addition, various studies cited
in the book are most recent and helps to provide readers with updated
information/knowledge about the topics. Chapters 3, 6, and 7 on
common date elicitation measures, qualitative research, and
classroom-oriented research respectively are especially excellent
chapters providing in-depth discussions and clear

Regarding the quality of examples of illustrations, however, the quality
of Chapter 8, ''Coding,'' may be rated as average. Section 8.3.2
shows several examples of custom-made coding systems, including
question formation, negative feedback, classroom interaction, second
language writing instruction, and task planning. Descriptions of some
examples and coding systems included in the section are not
necessarily sufficient. It is a little difficult for readers to fully
understand these interesting examples only with the book's

Regarding the background of the readers and their needs, as a whole
this volume provides adequate amount and level of discussions on
second language research methodology well suited for the needs of
graduate students and novice researchers. For example, Chapter 6
presents qualitative research methods, such as (1) ethnographies, (2)
case studies, (3) interviews, (4) observations, and (5) diaries and
journals. While explicating both the advantages and caveats of each
method, the chapter helps readers become able to choose the most
appropriate method that can address their specific research
topic/questions well. Questions and skill-building exercises at the end
of each chapter are also helpful for many novice researchers.

Fifth, regarding its formatting (including general layout, tables of
contents, chapter headings, glossary, and index,), the volume is in
general user-friendly and well-formatted (except very one small
inaccuracy found on p.305, last line). Again, the readers' needs are
well considered.

With all the above five aspects considered, the main goal of this
volume to present a comprehensive survey of second language
research methodology and design to novice researchers and
graduate students appears to be accomplished fairly well. In addition,
especially because of the fairly comprehensive scope coverage and in-
depth/quality discussions in many chapters, I recommend that this
book might be read by more experienced researchers, as well, as a
source of new ideas and inspirations as they always need insights and
clues for polishing their research further.

As Long (1980, 1985) and Matsumoto (1998; Chapter 3) emphasized,
to show the directions second language research should pursue
further, the maturity of one area of scholarly/scientific research (like
psychology, sociology, and physics) may be measured by the extent
of its methodological growth and rigor. From this point of view, I think
many second language researchers are very pleased to see this
volume and to realize that the quality of second language research
methodology has reached this level and will continue to be refined


Brown, D. (2001). Teaching by principles: An integrated approach to
language pedagogy. White Plains, NY: Addison Wesley Longman.

Long, M. (1980). Inside of the ''black box'': Methodological issues in
classroom research on language learning. Language Learning, 1, 1-

Long, M. (1985). Input and second language acquisition theory. In S.
M. Gass & C. G. Madden (Eds.), Input in second language acquisition
(pp.377-393). Cambridge, MA: Newbury House.

Matsumoto, H. (1998). The relationship between various types of
teachers' language and comprehension in the acquisition of
intermediate Japanese. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Hiroshi Matsumoto is an associate professor of second language
acquisition and pedagogy at Soka University of America, California.
His research interests include the relationship between various types
of teachers' language (or teacher talk) and comprehension, error
analysis and corrective feedback techniques for enhancing students'
speaking skills, Peak Learning Experiences and intrinsic motivation,
and teaching culture.

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