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The Sage Encyclopedia of Social Science Research Methods

November 27, 2004

The Sage Encyclopedia of Social Science Research Methods. Ed. by Michael S. Lewis-Beck, Alan Bryman, and Tim Futing Liao. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 2004. 3 vols. $550 (ISBN O-7619-2363-2).

This three-volume encyclopedia makes a wonderful addition to reference collections supporting creators or consumers of quantitative or qualitative social science research. Its one thousand alphabetical entries run from abduction to zero-order and address topics obviously connected to social science research methods (meta-analysis, privacy), as well as topics less obviously connected (hermeneutics, postmodernism). There are a few omissions, even with this generous scope; this encyclopedia does not include information science and has no entries on bibliometrics or usability testing.

Entries come in four different lengths: fifty, five hundred, one thousand, and twenty-five hundred words. Fifty-word entries are definitions and do not cite sources. They include-as do all longer entries-cross references and their authors’ names. Longer entries also feature illustrations, mathematical formulas, and often subheadings. A nineteen-person editorial board comprising of academic researchers from North America and Europe worked with the three general editors in vetting entries contributed by other researchers.

For these editors, anthropology, communications, economics, education, geography, political science, psychology, public health, public policy, sociology, and urban planning constitute the social sciences. They do not include archaeology, history, or ethic studies, which some consider social sciences, but there are entries on topics (such as algorithms) specific to computer science, not here defined as a social science. Although some social sciences are centuries old (geography and political science dating back to ancient Greece), the encyclopedia traces social science methods only back to Emile Durkheim in the late nineteenth century. Occasional entries (causality) do reference earlier thinkers (Aristotle, Hume), though.

The encyclopedia is written with a wide audience in mind- everyone from undergraduate students, graduate students, and practicing researchers to journalists, city managers, and general readers. Because entries are clearly written and require that readers have neither prior research experience nor specialized knowledge of mathematics or statistics, they could be understood by such a wide range of readers. A “cell,” for example, is clearly defined as the intersection of a row and a column, while the entry on “average” includes a table that neatly illustrates how mean, median, and mode all differently reflect central tendencies within groups of numbers. Practicing researchers may find entries in their areas of expertise too basic, but will find the encyclopedia helpful when implementing other methodologies or interpreting data produced under other methodologies.

Each volume opens with groupings of entries into thirty-four topical categories. These groupings helpfully point researchers to entries on similar topics: the analysis of variance category (ANOVA) thus lists analysis of covariance, main effect, and various models of ANOVA. Also helpful is the inclusion of Web sites where more information can be found or products purchased, for example, in entries on statistical software packages. A fifty-seven-page bibliography at the back of each volume cumulates the entries’ citations and includes historical and current (2002) sources. Volume 3 has a forty-eight-page index with entries for personal names, organizations, book titles, tests, software packages, concepts, surveys, methodologies, and equations.

Cross references between entries do not always work perfectly. The entry for “Alternative Hypothesis” is not cross-referenced by the one for “Null Hypothesis,” despite stating that the “hypothesis that opposes the null hypothesis is commonly called the alternative” hypothesis. This entry also states that the “alternative hypothesis” is “usually called the research or dominant hypothesis,” but the encyclopedia includes neither main entries nor indexing terms for “research hypothesis” or “dominant hypothesis” (11).

The editors of this encyclopedia correctly claim that no other encyclopedia of social science research methods exists-that this is “the first of its kind.” There are numerous excellent introductions to or overviews of research methods, many of them also published by Sage, but these sources invariably focus on quantitative or qualitative methods, rather than combining the two approaches as this encyclopedia does.-Kate Manuel, Instruction Coordinator, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces

Kate Manuel, Instruction Coordinator, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces

Copyright American Library Association Fall 2004




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