Book By: Janet M. Ruane
Review By: Joyce B. Buck
Chair of the NACADA Research Committee
Chair of the Division of Undergraduate Studies Coordinators
Penn State University Park

The most important word in the title of Janet Ruane’s Essentials of Research Methods: A guide to social science research is methods. This book gives readers unfamiliar with the methods of social science, especially those used in sociology, an excellent introduction. Writing for undergraduate social science majors, the author links student experiences with the news and popular culture to the concepts she presents.

Ruane first explains the need for systematic research that discovers both new knowledge and avoids faulty logic. Using ways of knowing to organize this section, she ends with statements that challenge readers to become “critical consumers of information” (pp. 13-14). Her second chapter, “Ethics: It’s the Right Thing to Do,” is critical to the education of any researcher. Here Ruane explains the reasons that researchers working with human participants must do no harm, must obtain informed consent and must respect participants’ privacy. Writing about ethics, she emphasizes the importance of researchers’ conduct.

The next five chapters take readers through the topics of measurement and research design used by social scientists, especially sociologists. The chapters on measurement cover concepts of validity and reliability, and the chapters on design cover causal analysis, research strategies and sampling. An important caution for those of us in advising comes in her discussion of the limits of experimental design: “In general, any variable that refers to a trait or a property of a person is not one that is amenable to experimental research,” (p. 85).

Beginning with the chapter on sampling, the book covers the techniques used to conduct research—and assessment. NACADA members faced with issues in assessment will find useful information about methods advisors often use: questionnaires, surveys, interviews and focus groups. For instance, had I read this book last fall, I would have marked the chapter on focus groups and given it to my dean. The dean had no experience with these techniques; this chapter would have provided her with a solid introduction.

The book concludes with two chapters on statistics. The section on descriptive statistics may be familiar to advisors because the numbers involved are used in many settings. The last chapter, Beyond Description: Inferential Statistics, however, runs very quickly through material that is at least a full semester course in many graduate programs. As the title suggests, the book describes the essentials of research methods.

The book provides many sociological examples to illustrate Ruane’s points even though the title suggests that methods illustrated are from a broader perspective. Because this  textbook is for undergraduates, there are sections where I wanted to see homework assignments. These sections need content that better illustrates the concepts to those not enrolled in a research course but instead are reading for understanding.

Nonetheless, those seeking to become critical consumers of information about advising will find this book helpful in understanding why and how research is conducted. Colleagues from arts and humanities disciplines will find it a useful reference for reading some of the articles published in the NACADA Journal. And I will be adding it to the list of references that the NACADA Research Committee maintains. It is a good primer on research methods.

Essentials of Research Methods: A guide to social science research. (2005). Book by Ruane, Janet M. Review by Joyce B. Buck. Malden MA: Blackwell. 239 pp., $ 29.95 (paperback), ISBN #0-6312-3049-1.

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