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Real World Research, 4th Edition


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Real World Research, 4th Edition

Colin Robson, Kieran McCartan

ISBN: 978-1-118-74523-6 January 2016 560 Pages

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Real world research is a common responsibility of professionals and practitioners in a wide range of both public and private settings.  These include teachers, social workers and health service professionals, managers and specialists in business, architects, designers, criminologists and accountants among many others.

Real World Research provides a clear route-map of the various steps needed to carry out a piece of applied research to a high professional standard.  It is accessible to those without a social science background while providing rigorous and fully up-to-date coverage of contemporary issues and debates.  It brings together materials and approaches from different social science disciplines, seeing value in both quantitative and qualitative approaches, as well as their combination in mixed-method designs.

Colin Robson's bestselling textbook is essential reading for many higher education courses, at both undergraduate, taught postgraduate and doctoral level, as well as practitioners and others carrying out research as part of their job.  A very extensive website, which is closely keyed in to the text, provides additional resources including copious examples of research and further discussion of research issues, links to other useful resources and selected journal articles, annotated lists of further reading and an extensive set of PowerPoint slides.

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Preface xvii

Ways of using the book xxi

The main steps when carrying out a project xxiii


Keeping your own project journal 1

Chapter 1 Introduction 3

What is real world research? 3

Design matters 5

Evaluation and change 6

The audience for this book 7

Returning to the real world 10

Beginning the journey 12

Chapter 2 Approaches to social research 14

Introduction 14

What is science? 15

Postmodernism and extreme relativist approaches 17

The two traditions: quantitative and qualitative social research 18

The quantitative paradigm 20

The qualitative paradigm 24

Paradigms and research questions 26

A pragmatic approach 28

Multi]strategy research designs 30

Realism and real world research 30

The purposes of research 39

Practical value of the theoretical material covered in the chapter 40


Chapter 3 Developing your ideas 45

Introduction 45

Deciding on the focus 47

Searching and reviewing the literature 52

Research questions 59

Developing your research question(s) 63

The place of theory 66

Chapter 4 General design issues 71

Introduction 71

A framework for research design 72

Getting a feel for design issues 75

Choosing a research design strategy 75

Establishing trustworthiness 78

Chapter 5 Desk-based research 82

Introduction 82

Types of desk]based research 83

Doing a literature review as a desk]based project 88

The main steps when carrying out a literature review as a desk-based project 89

Doing a systematic review 93

Doing realist reviews 97

In summary 100

Chapter 6 Fixed designs 101

Introduction 101

General features of fixed designs 103

Establishing trustworthiness in fixed design research 104

True experiments 121

Designs involving matching 123

Quasi]experiments 126

Single]case experiments 134

Non]experimental fixed designs 139

Sample size in fixed designs 144

Chapter 7 Flexible designs 145

Introduction 145

General features of flexible designs 146

Research traditions in qualitative research 149

Case studies 150

Ethnographic studies 156

Grounded theory studies 161

Other traditions 165

Sampling in flexible designs 166

Establishing trustworthiness in flexible design research 168

Chapter 8 Multi-strategy (mixed method) designs 174

Introduction 174

The quantitative]qualitative incompatibility thesis 175

The mixed methods movement 176

Types of multi]strategy designs 177

Designing and carrying out multi]strategy research 180

Pragmatism, realism or ‘anything goes’? 183

Dealing with discrepancies in findings 184

Chapter 9 Designs for particular purposes: evaluation, action and change 187

Introduction 187

Evaluation research 187

Action research 199

Intervention and change 203

Researchers and practitioners 204

Chapter 10 Ethical and political considerations 205

Introduction 205

Ethical codes and guidelines 208

Ethical issues 209

Researcher safety and risk 220

Working with vulnerable groups 222

General ethical responsibilities 229

Ethical review boards and committees 231

Politics and real world research 235

Sexism, racism and social research 239


Selecting the method(s) 241

Chapter 11 Surveys and questionnaires 243

Introduction 243

Designing surveys 245

Carrying out a sample survey 256

Designing and using a questionnaire 258

Diaries 273

Sampling in surveys – and elsewhere 276

Probability samples 277

Non]probability samples 279

Chapter 12 Interviews and focus groups 284

Introduction 284

Types and styles of interviews 285

General advice for interviewers 287

Content of the interview 288

Carrying out different types of interview 290

Focus groups 298

Dealing with interview data 305

Skills in interviewing 306

Chapter 13 Tests and scales 307

Introduction 307

Measurement scales 307

Other scaling techniques 315

Using existing tests and scales 316

Developing your own test 317

Chapter 14 Observational methods 319

Introduction 319

Observation in real world research 321

Approaches to observation 322

Participant observation 323

Getting started as a participant observer 327

Structured observation 332

Deciding on a coding scheme 335

The use of existing coding schemes 335

Developing your own scheme 337

Coding sequences of behaviour 338

Reliability and structured observation 343

Chapter 15 Additional methods of data collection 346

Introduction 346

Unobtrusive measures 347

Content analysis of documents 349

Secondary data analysis 359

Introduction to a range of more specialist techniques 361

Internet]based research 377

Feminist research methods 382

Using multiple methods 383

Chapter 16 Writing a project proposal 385

Introduction 385

How to recognize a good proposal 386

The content of a research proposal 387

The problem of pre]specifying flexible design studies 391

Shortcomings of unsuccessful proposals 391

Sources of funding 392


Arranging the practicalities 395


Collecting the data 403

Analysing and interpreting data 404

Realist analysis and interpretation 405

Preparing for analysis 406

Analysis or interpretation? 408

Quantitative and qualitative data – and their integration in multi]strategy designs 408

Chapter 17 The analysis and interpretation of quantitative data 409

Introduction 409

Creating a data set 411

Starting data analysis 414

Exploring the data set 416

Exploring relationships between two variables 425

Exploring relationships among three or more variables 433

Analysing differences 438

Quantitative analysis and different fixed design research strategies 452

Chapter 18 The analysis and interpretation of qualitative data 459

Introduction 459

Types of qualitative analysis 460

Using the computer for qualitative data analysis 464

Dealing with the quantity of qualitative data 466

Thematic coding analysis 467

Data analysis in grounded theory studies 481

Alternative approaches to qualitative analysis 484

Integrating qualitative and quantitative data

in multi]strategy designs 484

Chapter 19 Reporting, disseminating and moving forward 487

Introduction 487

Reporting what you have found 488

Ethics and reporting 489

Reporting fixed design research 491

The scientific journal format 492

Reporting flexible design studies 493

Reporting on multi]strategy design studies 495

Reporting on case studies 495

Reporting on literature reviews 496

Writing for non]academic audiences – the technical report 497

Alternative forms of presentation 500

Writing skills 502

Where next? 506

Appendix A: Using specialist software for quantitative analysis 509

Appendix B: Using specialist software for qualitative analysis 513

Glossary Visit the website to view the Glossary,

References and author index Visit the website to view the References and Author Index,

Subject Index 517

  • A new chapter - on desk-based research projects/literature reviews.
  • Thoroughly updated and revised, with a focus on the qualitative and quantitative data analysis chapters.
  • New discussions on the impact of research on policy change, especially in emerging and sensitive areas - with a focus on research ethics.
  • More multi-disciplinary examples of research and its impact - incorporating research examples from forensic psychology, criminology, politics and social policy to further evidence the use, and transferability, of social research methods across disciplines
  • Research methods training and future research - stressing the centrality of research methods in all walks of social life - from institutions, to UG and PG research, to careers
  • Even-handed coverage of qualitative and quantitative approaches
  • Furnishes students with the skills necessary in order to conduct research outside the laboratory, in 'real world' situations
  • Draws examples from the field of applied psychology, applied social science, health studies, social work and education