BOOK AND SOFTWARE REVIEWS
Orna, Elizabeth and Stevens, Graham Managing information for research. Practical help in researching, writing and designing dissertations. Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press, 2009. 271 p. ISBN 978-0-33-522142-4. £19.99 (Open UP Study Skills).
Graham Stevens says that 'In well designed academic books... the reader should not be aware that the book has been designed, but to achieve a total synthesis of all the design elements in a seamless way requires a great deal of time and experimentation'. In this book the authors embody this principle to the full.
It is a very risky task to review a book about writing scientific texts, done by specialists in the field, even if it takes only two pages. You must think thrice before writing any comment. So at the beginning I will state my biggest reproach: the cover. The handwritten 'Open UP Study Skills' on the very top may be the name of series designed for English-speaking students, but not being well acquainted with the British higher education landscape I had lost the designation of the book. The subtitle is even more visually lost, so I considered this book as a very sophisticated scientific research on managing information in some mysterious fields of investigation (from practice I know that biggest mistakes are done in the greatest fonts). Only the title page declared clearly that it is a practical guide on how to write scholarly papers (e.g., dissertations). That's the end of my criticism; the praise follows.
The foreword is written by a compatriot of mine and it fully replaces any review of the book I could compose. I fully agree with her that this is one of the best handbooks on how to manage continuously the handling of information throughout the whole process of formulating initial hypothesis towards the end product – the dissertation – and I dare to say that the same principles could be easily applied in the fields of politics, journalism and the debates of Non-Governmental Organizations, and these principles may become the essential criteria of the rhetoric of debate in our times (a commercial suggestion: could the authors write series of booklets in these or other fields based on the research? Just change the terminology a bit?)
Most of all, I liked the design and structure of the book. All "i"s in the text are dotted, all illustrations fit perfectly into the themes (could it be different having in mind that it is created by best professionals?). At the first reading I somehow missed the critical approach to the responses of students doing or having ended their research projects but then I found the rationale for this method: each answer is equally valuable, and readers must have a choice of which one suits them best. The variety of practices experienced by the respondents and one's own practices can be best matched and fused by a reader.
Here I return to the cover of the book and want to praise the scheme on it: it is a most comprehensive graphical representation of how the management of research information, in essence and in time, should be done. Here the authors maybe have also lost some audience of buyers: this one scheme is sapienti sat to use but does not encourage buying it. It covers all five components of research work: setting the goals (once only), information management, case studies, writing and designing, and submitting the dissertation - and shows possible impediments on all stages.
The typographical solution and design of the book fuses different kinds of text: continuous, individual researchers' answers to the questionnaire, epigraphs, tables, lists, footnotes, text related to examples, references and others into an integrated whole.
And my advice to the students is that the last two stages are most vulnerable: nowadays most institutions have established rigorous templates for the official documents, so if you find more advanced ideas in this book, please follow your own institution's bureaucratic demands since it is up to you finish your studies successfully. But you may learn much from this book not only how to organize and manage your data and other information but also how to present your work more creatively and consistently. It would be useful to translate this book into other languages.