Research Methods for Applied Language Studies: An Advanced Resource Book for Students

Posted: November 20, 2012 by kilickay in 2011, Research methods

AUTHOR: Keith Richards, Steven John Ross, and Paul Seedhouse

TITLE: Research Methods for Applied Language Studies
SUBTITLE: An Advanced Resource Book for Students
SERIES TITLE: Routledge Applied Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Routledge
YEAR: 2011


This book is one of the series of comprehensive textbooks, Routledge Applied Linguistics. It provides readers a step-by-step approach to the processes of research, from research questions to a complete research project, serving as are source text for students and scholars in the field of second and foreign  language learning. The book comprises eight chapters, each followed by  exploration tasks to help the reader better comprehend and apply the knowledge  and practice presented.

In Chapter 1, ‘Introduction to research in language teaching and learning’, the authors, after introducing the aim and the focus of the book, provide an overview of research and what phases it involves. The authors present a research design flow chart summarizing the processes of research, and go through these processes in turn: The research questions, how they relate to the literature, the justification for doing the research, the evidence to provide an answer to research questions, type of data, better methods of collecting data, choosing appropriate methodology, writing research proposals, getting permissions and ethical approval, data collection, analysis and relating these to the research
questions, and finally, writing up an article, dissertation, or thesis. Following the discussion of these processes, quantitative and qualitative approaches are explained in detail, with a focus on ethnographic research and
conversation analysis.

Chapter 2, entitled ‘Interaction and pedagogy’, highlights two pivotal concepts in second language (SL) classrooms: spoken interaction and pedagogical action. Noticing and repair, the two important concepts in interaction analyses,
are discussed taking into consideration the research design and findings of two prominent articles in SL research. Moreover, through using SPSS data provided the readers are guided through a test of independence conducted between ‘noticing’ and interrogative ‘development’.

In Chapter 3, ‘The classroom as a language learning environment’, the distinction between two basic approaches to research, descriptive and hypothetical-deductive, are investigated. The first part of the chapter specifically examines ethnographic observation, going into details of grounded theory and thematic analysis. The examination is enriched with several excerpts from articles published on these issues. The second part discusses intervention studies, focusing on an exemplary article discussing the impact of task-based practice on the students’ development of automaticity. The chapter ends by providing an application of t-test in a study related to vocabulary learning.

Chapter 4, entitled ‘Affect and belief in language learning’, deals with interviews and surveys. The first part focuses on types of interviews and how interviews can be conducted, discussed in detail and step-by-step analysis. The reader, as in previous chapters, is guided through exemplary articles benefiting from interviews and self-ratings as data collection instruments and statistical analyses such as multiple regression and Rasch.

Chapter 5, ‘Language learning tasks’, highlights task-based learning in pedagogy and research in SLA (Second Language Acquisition) and exemplifies how ‘tasks’ are integrated into the research process in the excerpts from two articles provided in the chapter. Discussions are enhanced with statistical analyses through ANOVA and ANCOVA.

Chapter 6, entitled ‘Interaction, context and identity’, discusses the use of qualitative approaches such as Conversation Analysis and ethnography in describing and analyzing the relationship between context and identity in spoken interaction.

Chapter 7, ‘Assessing language and accessing constructs’, discusses the constructs in language learning such as fluency, motivation and teachability, and pays special attention to implicit and explicit knowledge, and proficiency through excerpts of several articles published on these constructs. The discussion of these issues is accompanied by statistical analyses through Factor analysis and Bivariate correlation analysis, explaining each step involved.

Chapter 8, entitled ‘Mixed-methods studies and complexity’, is the concluding chapter of the book, combining the methodologies in a mixed-methods approach to analyze complex systems. After examining the characteristics of a complexity theory approach within research in language learning and teaching, the chapter elaborates on how different methods can be combined, suggesting three possibilities: Discourse analysis and corpus linguistics, SLA and corpus
linguistics, SLA and conversation analysis. The chapter further considers conceptual issues: reliability, validity (internal, external, ecological, and construct), epistemology and ontology.


This would be a useful textbook for postgraduate courses in foreign/second language learning. The book will provide graduate students majoring in Applied Linguistics with an opportunity not only to analyze but also to evaluate research articles written by leading researchers in the field. The major strength of this book lies in the use of key readings published on the core areas of applied linguistics, together with key questions and tasks that combine
the pivotal concepts. The exercises and tasks provided makes this book unique as the readers have the opportunity to apply what they have acquired to proposed questions, coming up with their own reflections.

We have a variety of books recently published on research in foreign/second language learning (Mackey & Gass, 2005; McKay, 2006; Larson-Hall, 2010; Porte, 2010; Mackey & Gass, 2012). The structure of the current book is very different
from the books published by Mackey & Gass (2005) and McKay (2006). This book does not follow a linear structure focusing successively on issues in research such as data collection measures, quantitative and qualitative studies, etc. It
deals instead with the core issues in applied linguistics, and discusses research design taking these issues into consideration (excluding Chapter 1, which aims to provide a very clear and brief introduction to the steps,
summarizing the processes of research). This non-linear approach, if correct to label it this way, can be a little problematic for students used to following a linear approach. For instance, in Chapter 2, a test of independence is conducted and the readers are guided through the analysis conducted on ‘noticing’ and ‘interrogative development’, while Chapter 3 is devoted to discussion of ethnographic observation, going into details of grounded theory and thematic analysis, together with an application of t-tests in research conducted on vocabulary learning.

The analyses conducted using SPSS present screen shots of SPSS to guide the reader; however, there is no information provided on how to present the results in a scholarly way. This lack of information on presenting the results from statistical analyses persists in the following chapters, such as in Chapter 5, focusing on analyses conducted through ANOVA and ANCOVA. The readers can compensate for this through reading Chapter 13 (pp. 245-274) of the book edited by Mackey and Gas (2012), which provides example reports of the analyses conducted.

The reviewer suggests that the authors of the current book should include information on how to choose the appropriate measurement test, especially for quantitative studies, which would further enrich the book (such as the flow chart provided by Porte (2010), on pages 292-293, reprinted from Hatch and Lazaraton (1991)). As it is clearly stated that the target audience is upper undergraduates, postgraduates, teachers and researchers in the field of language learning, the book is more suitable to be used in classes where students have taken research courses on social sciences and language related issues. In order to fully benefit from the key readings and concepts, tasks and practice provided by the current book, this reviewer suggests that the readers refer to the statistical analyses provided by Larson-Hall (2010) and Pallant (2010), which present a simple, step-by-step guide to data analysis process using SPSS without focusing on the  mathematical underpinnings and to conversation analysis discussed by Liddicoat (2007).

Overall, this book provides readers an advanced introduction to quantitative and qualitative research methods frequently used in research projects as well as in articles published within the field of second and foreign language learning. It is a well-structured book, offering clear discussion and explanation powered by tasks on key articles in the field and follow-up questions for anyone, not just students, interested in language related issues.


Hatch, E. and Lazaraton, A. (1991). The research manual: Design and statistics for applied linguistics. New York: Newbury House Publishers.

Mackey, A. and Gass, S. M. (Eds.). (2012). Research methods in second language acquisition: A practical guide. Wiley-Blackwell. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Mackey, A. and Gass, S. M. (2005). Second language research: Methodology and design. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

McKay, S. L. (2006). Researching second language classrooms. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Larson-Hall, J. (2010). A guide to doing statistics in second language research using SPSS. New York: Routledge.

Liddicoat, A. (2007). An introduction to conversation analysis. New York: Continuum.

Pallant, J. (2010). SPSS Survival Manual: A step by step guide to data analysis using SPSS (4th ed.). New York, NY: Open University Press.

Porte, G. K. (2010). Appraising research in second language learning: A practical approach to critical analysis of quantitative research (2nd ed.). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

This review appeared originally in the LINGUIST List at


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