The title of this post refers to the book Reading and Understanding Research by Locke, et al., assigned for my class in indexing and abstracting. It is, as you might guess, an introduction to reading “research” (we’ll get to what that is in a moment).
I’m going to suggest that there are a number of possible forms for such a book, among them these three:
- a book about scientific research, discussing the scientific method, hypotheses, etc., and providing tools to distinguish between what’s scientific and what’s para- or pseudoscientific, which might be either for a lay audience or for undergraduate and graduate students in natural and social sciences
- a book for skilled professionals (or students of skilled professions) such as nurses, counselors, teachers, and others, to understand social-scientific research that is applicable to their profession
- a book about critical thinking generally, for a lay audience or students to apply in understanding academic research across many disciplines in the natural and social sciences and humanities
The back-cover blurbs on this book lead one to expect the first sketch above, and so does the introduction of the book. The focus is explicitly said to be on empirical research and to exclude history, philosophy, and other non-empirical lines of study.
However, I find the treatment less than satisfactory, if this is the goal. Whether the audience is a layperson or a student of science, the descriptions of scientific research are woefully inadequate. The word “hypothesis” is barely mentioned, and the concept of whether the hypothesis is testable doesn’t seem to be anywhere at all. The scientific method is loosely discussed, but it’s never called the “scientific method”. There is some discussion of “shoddy research”, under which I suppose pseudoscientific research would fall, but there’s very little discussion of how to actually detect this.
I’m not exactly trying to say the book is bad, or not useful, however. On reflection, this book is actually the second of the sketches I made above. The authors are all professors in Education departments, training teachers, and the book really appears to be aimed at their students. They want teachers to be able to read articles from psychology and sociology and other related disciplines and apply them to their work (and it could be pretty useful to librarians seeking to do the same thing, if you’re not familiar with how research works in the social sciences). This is a fine goal, but the back-cover blurbs and introduction really oversold me on what the book was all about.
As for its applicability to my indexing and abstracting class, with all due respect to my instructor, I think it could be better. I think the third of the sketches above would serve best, because it applies across all academic disciplines we might be called on to index or abstract. Why focus purely on empirical research and exclude philosophy, literary criticism, history, and so on? Although they might not be “scientific” per se, they’re analytical nevertheless, and a good book on critical thinking as applied to academic discourse should exist somewhere out there in the bibliographic universe… Now I should go find it to recommend for the future…