Skip navigation

Site Map / Contacts

You are in:  Home » Volume 2 » John Sharp

This site uses cookies. If you continue it is assumed that you are happy to receive all cookies. Accept and close. View privacy policy

Success with your Education Research Project

Book review of Success with your Education Research Project, by John Sharp,
Exeter, Learning Matters, 2009, 136 pp., ISBN 978-1-84445-133-3

For inexperienced students, entering the field of educational research can at times be quite overwhelming. It is likely that they would come across a lot of terms not always used in the same context or implying the same meaning. They would encounter passionate debates over surprisingly basic aspects of the research enterprise. Quite a few books, journal articles and other resources available to them would champion a particular side of the debate or a select aspect of the research design. However, when starting out there is a desire to get a holistic picture of educational research. More specifically, there is a need to identify a roadmap for your own research project. Most books that adopt a disinterested position on educational debates and that try to provide an overview of educational research tend to be too detailed for students beginning their research project. Additionally, most of these do not help with the specifics of planning, designing and executing your own research. Thus what may be required is a book that provides a concise overview of educational research while also providing a framework that may be useful in setting up and executing your own research project.

Success with your Education Research Project, by John Sharp, does well to do just that. The book is aimed at those undertaking a small-scale individual research project as part of their education or teacher training course. Identifying the problem mentioned above, the book provides an overview of the theoretical aspects of educational research like epistemological considerations, theoretical frameworks and methodologies and also outlines practical steps to be taken while executing a research project, like refining research questions, locating relevant literature, identifying data collection methods and eventually writing-up a report or thesis.

Both these perspectives blend together quite well in this book and in the process, take the reader on a journey from conception to the final presentation of a research project. The writing is friendly and conversational which certainly helps the reader engage with the points being made and the style of presentation is simple but efficient.

The first chapter presents an introduction to educational research. It does well to describe the lack of consensus that exists in the educational research community, may it be in the philosophical perspectives, data collection methods or means of data analyses. Yet the arguments made over here are cogent enough to help one take the first steps in unravelling these conflicting positions.

From here, Sharp takes to a more pragmatic approach and through the following chapters, broadly tracks the evolution of a research project. Chapter 2 deals with formulating a plan for the project including guidelines for preparing a typical time schedule and tips for developing a research proposal. Ethics, which form an integral part of any research, are also dealt with in this chapter. Following this is a chapter focussed on identifying, accessing and reviewing relevant literature.

Chapter 4 introduces the different research approaches (methodologies) and goes on to discuss four of them in some detail (survey research, experiments, case studies and action research). Sharp attempts to place these approaches within the normative and interpretive paradigms while cautioning against the absolute association of these approaches with the paradigms and research methods discussed subsequently. Chapter 5 to 8 are each dedicated to discussing a particular data collection method, namely questionnaires, interviews, observation and documentary research. While it is unlikely that all these would be used in one research project, it does give the reader a good introduction to other possible data collection methods.

Along expected lines, the next chapter deals with data analysis and introduces both quantitative and qualitative techniques. The discussion on quantitative analysis however is limited to an introduction to measures of central tendencies and does not mention any techniques of hypothesis testing. The discussion on qualitative analysis covers content analysis using a pre-defined analytical framework. The book concludes with a chapter dedicated to a discussion on structuring the research report, identifying and adopting a suitable style of writing and understanding the seriousness of avoiding plagiarism.

As may be evident from the above description, a common feature of this book is its adherence to conventions. Not only does this aspect come across in the way in which the book is structured but also in the arguments that are made throughout the book. Given the target audience, this feature is certainly helpful and arguably essential. Another highlight is the inclusion of worked examples at the end of methods chapters (Chapters 5 to 8) as well as the data analysis chapter (Chapter 9). These go a long way to demonstrate how the techniques in consideration may be used in practise. Along similar lines, the reflective tasks included within each chapter help the reader to think about subtleties involved in educational research. Many of these tasks require the reader to obtain different journal articles, which gives these tasks additional value by putting the reader through the process of searching and reading journal articles that employ different methodologies and are drawn from various fields within education.

Sharp manages to provide handy support by listing some useful educational journals (p. 31) and discussing ways of using websites on the internet as sources for a literature review. He also dedicates a section arguing in favour of at least being familiar with quantitative analysis (p. 104). This is especially important given the recent tendency among many novice researchers to avoid quantitative techniques.

It is somewhat of a disappointment then, that the section on quantitative analysis does not introduce or even mention some of the popular tests used for examining hypotheses. Another point of contention may be the status given to epistemological considerations. After a healthy discussion on the philosophical underpinnings of research, it seemed as if Sharp downplays the importance of this aspect in small scale research. This is emphasised by an absence of epistemological implications when discussing various research methods. Both these points may possibly be a result of space constraints that the author faced, however they are critical enough to warrant higher priority. At times, a few of the discussions and arguments seemed generic and lacked the desired depth but the practical and reflective tasks that followed compensated for these quite well. On rare occasions, the learning outcomes outlined at the beginning of the chapters proved to be too ambitious for a book of an introductory nature.

These points however, are well outnumbered by the positives and thus should not take anything away from the utility of this book. The concise sections help the reader ease into the concepts being discussed while the list of 'further reading' presents an adequate opportunity to venture deeper when deemed necessary. There are plenty of guidelines and recommendations throughout the book, yet it does not seem authoritative or rigid. For a student beginning his or her first research project, this book provides a wealth of information on almost all aspects that would be encountered. Thus, through “Success with your Education Research Project”, Sharp manages to present a well-rounded, intelligible and enjoyable resource to students entering the often disputed and occasionally chaotic world of educational research.

Nikhil Pawar