Harvard Educational Review
  1. Learning in the Field

    An Introduction to Qualitative Research

    By Gretchen B. Rossman and Sharon F. Rallis

    Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1998. 271 pp. $31.50 (paper)

    The tools of the qualitative researcher are increasingly important in the search for ways to study complex issues in education today. For novice researchers, Learning in the Field: An Introduction to Qualitative Research is a thorough, friendly introduction to the task of becoming a qualitative researcher.

    As with many other qualitative research methods books on the market right now, this one has chapters that take the new researcher through the process of engaging in a research project — from a look at what qualitative research really is (ch. 1) and how it can be ethical and valid (ch. 2), to sections on planning research, asking questions, and gathering, analyzing, and reporting data (ch. 3-8).

    The book has an easy conversational style and some additions that reflect the years authors Gretchen Rossman and Sharon Rallis have spent teaching introductory qualitative research classes. Each chapter begins with a conversation among a fictional trio of characters enrolled in a fictional qualitative research class. These characters struggle with their research, dealing with issues that Rossman and Rallis have found are the “puzzles and tensions that beginning students encounter” (p. xii). Along with these fictional characters, Rossman and Rallis have included examples from their own research and the research of their students as they demonstrate the complexities of engaging in qualitative research. Each chapter ends with a section called “Using the habits of mind and heart,” which highlights the most important lessons from each chapter. The appendices present the data and analysis from the research projects of the fictional characters. There are examples of interviews, field notes, analytic memos, and final projects, along with commentary from the authors about the strengths and weaknesses of the data and analysis.

    Learning in the Field is a helpful introductory book for qualitative researchers. Students who learn more from stories than textbooks will especially appreciate following the fictional characters and their research projects while undertaking their own.

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