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Booth, Colomb and Williams know their target audience. Throughout their guide to research, they target comments to the reluctant researcher who has to complete a Masters project in a subject in which they probably have little interest and even less expertise. That's fair enough. It's good to have the rules explained and some attempt made to explain or justify those rules. The result is a book which does spend some time teaching grandmothers to suck eggs, but has enough that will be useful to justify revising one's egg-sucking technique.

The writing is light and humorous. By this third edition, Booth is well dead and Williams followed shortly after the draft was completed. We're talking old men. But for all that, the tone is engaging and the writers mention feedback from students - to which they seem to have responded. There's credit due for that.

This is a competent, well written guide to doing research projects (and I have read others that compare less favourably); the writers do know their target audience and do address the likely reluctance on the part of that audience. It is nice to see a useful and pragmatic guide to research that does not assume that readers aspire for a career in research. I am pleased to have read this book and am finding it useful in developing my own masters project.
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We all respect scientists--even budding science students--for their commitment to accuracy and objectivity. Sometimes our strengths are also our weaknesses. Beginning scientists can naively believe that their writing only needs to report the facts, that anything further is bias, sophistry or even dishonesty. This book lays out the path to a better writing style. Readers will learn how to arrange and present their facts and evidence as coherent arguments. As a result, they will better serve their own readers.

The table of contents, outlined below, shows that the authors cover more than putting fingers to keyboard. Introductory chapters discuss the perspective and information needs of readers and how to connect with them. The authors address development of one's own authentic authorial "voice"--a topic often neglected in books about research writing. The next four chapters teach us how to conceptualize a research question, then find relevant and credible sources of information to answer it. The third edition contains a needed revision of the authors' earlier avoidant stance on the credibility of web-based information, containing good guidance for weeding flakey from factual online sources.

Chapter 7, "Making Good Arguments: An Overview," is the keystone chapter and a relatively quick read at eleven pages. It's where to focus when deciding whether to read the rest of the book. The authors define their working vocabulary of arguments, reasons, evidence, claims and warrants. In this and the following four chapters they show us how to use these concepts to present our points and how to acknowledge and respond to positions with which we disagree. They demonstrate how to do this with integrity as well as skill.

The final six chapters address the actual writing of a research report. Much of the advice on planning, drafting and revising is standard and consistent with other writing guides. Some, such as advice on graphical presentation of data, is an overview of information covered more thoroughly in other books (e.g., Tufte's Envisioning Information). But there is also a great deal of guidance on revising and fine-tuning arguments that is unique to these authors and their framework of written arguments. The closing chapter on style will help writers create clear and understandable structure while following their own authorial style. Recognizing they have presented only an introductory measure of what good writers need to know, the authors close with a comprehensive bibliography of readings, both online and in print.

This book, thoughtfully read and put into practice, is as good as a course in professional writing. Read it, underline in it, bend back the page corners, and keep it nearby when you write your next report.


Brief Table of Contents

I. Research, Researchers and Readers
- 1. Thinking in Print: The uses of Research, Public and Private
- 2. Connecting with Your Reader: (Re-)Creating Yourself
II. Asking Questions, Finding Answers
- 3. From Topics to Questions
- 4. From Questions to a Problem
- 5. From Problems to Sources
- 6. Engaging Sources
III. Making a Claim and Supporting It
- 7. Making Good Arguments: An Overview
- 8. Making Claims
- 9. Assembling Reasons and Evidence
- 10. Acknowledgements and Responses
- 11. Warrants
IV. Planning, Drafting and Revising
- 12. Planning
- 13. Drafting Your Report
- 14. Revising Your Organization and Argument
- 15. Communicating Evidence Visually
- 16. Introductions and Conclusions
- 17. Revising Style: Telling Your Story Clearly
V. Some Last Considerations
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on 27 March 2009
Booth, Colomb and Williams's book is probably best read by an undergraduate, an inexperienced graduate student, or a junior professional. Nevertheless, I found it useful because my research education was predominantly experiential: an osmosis of 'do this' and 'don't do that' from mentors and supervisors. This book fills in the gaps. The authors instruct us in all the phases of research from the initial stages through to drafting and reviewing. I appreciated the framework as I have never done a formal research course. (Odd for a graduate student I think - it seems economists believe in research 'tools' other than writing and drafting.)

The book has four main sections. Booth, Colomb and Williams introduce by asking What is research? and Why write it up? Second, they proceed to the initial steps of research: research questions, research problems and the nuances of sources. Third, they consider the basics of argumentation: claims, reasons and the problematic notion of 'warrants'. Fourth, they discuss drafting, revision, visual evidence, introductions and conclusions, and style. They provide useful examples and concrete advice; the 'Quick Tips' at the end of each chapter are very good and I will probably quote them to students one day. They write with a humorous and avuncular tone - like someone giving you kindly advice rather than chastising you from on high.

I plan to re-read the book to reinforce the need to discipline myself, to remind myself obey rules I should, and to adopt methods superior to my half-evolved ones. As the authors comment, the book should be accompanied by other guides on style, grammar and editing. I would recommend Strunk and White's The Elements of Style and Cook's Line by Line. For social scientists, McCloskey's Economical Writing serves well. For other non-fiction writers William Zinsser's On Writing Well.
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on 1 August 2015
A good book - which makes you pause to ask yourself the right questions - before you start your research. It has been really helpful for me in trying to focus my research topic.
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on 7 November 2015
Brilliant book. Every researcher should read this.
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on 8 March 2013
For those who does not know how to write a research project such as a MA dissertation, this book is the best I have ever read, especially if you are not a native English speaker. Lots of tips on how to choose the topic too.
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on 7 February 2016
Is a very helpful book and is not heavy
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on 31 March 2015
must have book for emerging researchers
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on 4 October 2014
Brilliant 5 stars
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on 9 January 2014
Excellent book! I took a course on Academic Reading and Writing and this book was great to follow with the course and it really helps on your research and essay writing.
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