Research and Evaluation for Busy Practitioners: A Time-Saving Guide Paperback – 18 Oct 2012
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"Helen Kara has put together an easy to read, useful, and, most importantly, realistic book on research for practitioners. I enjoyed her 'warts and all' approach, demystifying the research process without over-simplifying or ignoring the more challenging elements of the process. Practitioners who need to research will find it a really helpful and accessible 'how-to' manual." --Jude England, British Library
About the Author
Dr Helen Kara has been an independent social researcher and writer since 1999, and is also Associate Research Fellow at the Third Sector Research Centre, Birmingham University. Her background is in social care and the third sector, and she works with third sector organisations and social care and health partnerships. While working full-time, she obtained both her MSc in Social Research Methods and her PhD. She also teaches research methods to practitioners and students, and loves to demystify the processes of writing and research.
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This book is so good that I have bought it twice - once in Kindle version for a wall-to-wall read when I need the bigger picture, and once in paperback, for ad hoc reference. The advice for dealing with a researcher's relationship with supervisors (at whatever level) is particularly helpful. More, please, from Helen Kara.
The author writes honestly and courageously. One of the most useful things about Kara is that she manages to have an opinion rather than just presenting a panoply of possibilities. This opinion is consistent however with the likely contingencies surrounding decisions to be made; one obvious example is her choosing to discuss `time-consuming' research methods. A guide for dealing with each and every project is impossible - they vary so much - but the book offers the researcher a range of the most pertinent questions to ask, and a host of useful techniques to consider.
While most suitable for beginners, I found as an experienced researcher that there were techniques and sources of information that I could see as valuable in particular future projects. References are up to date and there is a brief section on Social Return on Investment, which may well prove to be of increasing importance in this era of economic constraints and related social pressures.
Not only does the author provide useful practical tips for working efficiently, but she provides a feel for what research is actually like by citing from interviews with practitioners in the field. They certainly remind me of situations which I have encountered.
In the `overview' chapter, particularly useful contributions include sections on collaborative research, involving service users and value-based research. The chapter on `research topics, proposals and plans' is particularly valuable in its advice on the perennial question of what research topic to choose and how to narrow things down to a manageable research question. The `managing the research process' chapter discusses serious day to day issues which are often neglected by books on research design, the interview extracts making it clear just how prevalent these are in public sector research. The author also deals with time management, making it clear that how we use our time is often more a matter of choice than we might think. The chapter on background research is invaluable, recommending how to direct your reading and providing sources of information for those of us working without the backing of academia.
Moving to issues of data, the next chapter provides valuable advice on the value and shortcomings of secondary data, then providing even experienced researchers with a superb inventory of international data resources. This is followed by a chapter on primary data which is particularly useful in giving succinct advice about interviews, focus groups, documents as data and photo-elicitation. And hurrah! We are reminded to run pilot studies. This is really important: not only do pilots uncover flaws in research design but they frequently suggest new directions for the research.
In the chapter on data analysis the author makes the point that occasional data input, as opposed to a single tedious splurge, allows the researcher to become familiar with the data and to reflect upon it. As with so many other points made in this book, it reflects things that it took this researcher years to learn. The section on qualitative coding is excellent, including its discussion of coding frames and emergent coding. I feel that the section on inferential statistics is a little unclear; on the other hand, this is not a substantive problem as the author makes it quite clear that those wishing to use statistical tests really need to make reference to books more dedicated to their use. Similarly, there are one or two unclear statistical terms in other parts of the book; again these were not particularly substantive, especially within the frame of reference of this book.
The chapter on writing includes some very useful tips, which should counter writer's block and/or inertia, clarify thought, develop ideas and create a sense of perspective. The chapter does particularly well to describe and distinguish between allowable feedback in academic and in workplace situations.
Consistent with the rest of this fine book, the chapter on dissemination of research caters to both applied and academic researchers. The conclusion includes a useful summary and also some useful advice about adjusting the range of attention focus.
As a book on the general process of conducting research, particularly in the public sector, I cannot recommend this book too highly.
Having already researched and written a thesis for my honours undergraduate degree, and a dissertation for my MA, I thought I was a pretty good researcher; this book, however, is already helping me hone my skills as I start my PhD.
Written in an accessible, conversational tone, yet fully referenced and with an impressive bibliography, 'Research and Evaluation for Busy Practitioners' helps the researcher (whether beginner or seasoned) see the wood for the trees. Dr Kara's intrinsic understanding of the role-juggling required of researchers makes her suggestions and advice ring true. For me, part of the book's attraction is that it doesn't set out to be all things to all people; it clearly sets out its stall as a book for those in the social sciences - our needs, expected outcomes and methodology are different to, say, engineers! I like that this is a book for 'us'.
I particularly like that there are tables, tips and other visuals breaking up the tips, that Dr Kara includes anecdotes from her own (considerable) experience and those of people she has interviewed who have completed pieces of research. They made mistakes so we don't have to - and share great time/stress savers so we can emulate them!
If you're starting a piece of research in the social sciences, do yourself a favour and buy this book.
This book has been invaluable to me during my postgraduate studies. Working full time in a demanding role, having a family to care for, and studying is a constant balancing act. Helen’s book gives clear, knowledgeable and achievable advice on how to manage research projects both through work and study. I shall continue to use it throughout my future studies and also my professional career. Can’t wait for the release of your new book in April!