Monday, May 03, 2010

Reading :: A Research Primer for Technical Communication

A Research Primer for Technical Communication: Methods, Exemplars, and Analyses
By Michael A. Hughes and George F. Hayhoe

Just a quick review today. This book is pretty slim for a research primer - 216pp, a chunk of which represent reprinted articles from Technical Communication, the journal of the STC - and is written for technical communication students and practitioners who are new to empirical research. Although the book doesn't specify what level of student, I could see my juniors and seniors mowing through the book with no difficulty.

The book is consistently clear throughout, carefully classifying different types of research goals and their foci (p.7) as well as research methods and their descriptions (p.11), then elaborating on each. For most sections, the authors include exercises, such as the exercise on p.12 that has readers match methods with descriptions of specific cases. I'm actually quite impressed with how the authors describe many concepts, such as triangulation and informed consent, lucidly yet with considerable economy.

The book is fairly elementary, probably too elementary for most graduate students in technical communication programs. But I could see it being used in undergraduate courses, perhaps even down to the sophomore level, and certainly by practitioners. If you're looking for a general research methods book at that level, take a look.


Jon said...

In the middle of a day grading papers I stumbled upon your blog and its review of "Reading" and read it and felt better right away. It seems I'm not the only one who feels "fuzzy" in the head after reading forty some odd essays. It is a wonderful piece, considering the "fuzziness." Of course I am commenting with a question in mind. As a graduate student looking for books such as these that will "elucidate" methodology in this area of study, I was wondering if you have any suggestions. Though, I am not apposed to picking this book up off the shelf to see what nuggets of wisdom I can harvest.

Clay Spinuzzi said...

Hi, Jon. For a good overall book on qualitative research, I usually use John Creswell's Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design, 2ed. It compares five approaches quite well and walks you through the assumptions and conventions of each. I use this book when I teach research at the grad level.

Another good one is Strauss and Corbin's Basics of Qualitative Research, although this one focuses on one particular approach, grounded theory.

If you're more interested in applied qualitative research, Beyer and Holtzblatt's Contextual Design is a good choice. It walks you through the basics of QR and provides a number of heuristics. This book is meant for people who need to learn about users in order to design solutions, but it works well apart from that context too.

Hope this helps - CS