Vol. 8. No. 3 R-8 December 2004
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Appraising research in second language learning: A practical approach to the critical analysis of quantitative research

Graeme Keith Porte (2002)
Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company
Pp. xx + 267
ISBN 1-58811-254-3

Quantitative research is one of the most common research methods in the field of second language acquisition today, and in fact, the majority of articles published in journals such as Studies in Second Language Acquisition, Language Learning, Second Language Research and The Modern Language Journal employ quantitative methodology. This approach, which typically relies on large numbers of subjects, experimental conditions and statistical tests, has done much to drive the field of SLA forward, but for those new to the field of SLA or new to quantitative research, quantitative studies may be not only difficult to evaluate, but also to produce.

This is where Graeme Porte's recent book, Appraising Research in Second Language Learning, plays a critical role. Assuming minimal background knowledge on the reader's part, Porte leads the reader step-by-step through each section of a quantitative study, giving readers a solid foundation from which to both appraise and produce such studies on their own.

Chapter I, for example, covers the opening sections of a quantitative study: the abstract, the problem statement, the literature review, and the research questions. For each section, Porte provides a useful "checklist" of guiding questions. In his discussion of literature reviews, for example, the reader is asked to think about such questions as "Are you satisfied that the review describes the most relevant work done and indicates its relative importance?", "Are you satisfied that the review has sufficient critical address of the literature?" and "Does the review succeed in convincing you of the need for the study?" Each question is then followed by a thorough discussion.

In Chapter II, Porte moves on to discuss the sections dealing with subjects, materials, procedures, research design and methods of data collection. This section uses the same question-answer organizational principle as Chapter I, and provides specific questions on many of the key issues that arise when conducting qualitative research, such as validity, reliability, and different types of experimental designs (e.g., true experimental, quasi-experimental, and so on). Important terms such as these are bolded and are also defined in the book's comprehensive "Glossary of key terms in quantitative research."

Chapter III addresses the ever-important results section and the use of various statistical tests. Using clear and accessible language, Porte helps the reader understand what, for example, t-tests and analyses of variance are, as well as how they are used. This discussion is further supported by a useful flowchart in the appendix, which gives specific criteria for deciding when to use a particular statistical test. Finally, in Chapter IV, Porte focuses on the discussion and conclusion sections, once again providing useful guiding questions. [-1-]

While these four chapters provide a comprehensive overview of the characteristics of an effective quantitative study, the book takes the additional step of including a "Workbook" chapter, which alone is worth the price of the book. Here, Porte provides sample sections (e.g., abstract, literature review, results, etc.), guiding questions to help the reader evaluate the quality of each section, and sample answers which the readers can consult. This Workbook allows those who are studying independently to test their understanding of the material presented in the book, but could be easily adapted for use with larger groups (e.g., research methodology classes).

Overall, Appraising research in second language learning represents a valuable contribution to the growing literature on L2 research methodology, and would benefit both novice and more seasoned researchers alike.

Rebekha Abbuhl
Georgetown University

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