Alaszewski, Andy. Using diaries for social research. London: Sage Publications, 2006. viii, 136 p. ISBN 0-7619-7291-9. £19.99. (Introducing qualitative methods series).
The book on using diaries in research by professor Alaszewski is a relatively small paperback, but despite small size and 'small' object, I believe it will be useful for a number of researchers and students, not only in the social sciences but also in the humanities and to my greatest surprise, some natural science students can also benefit from it.
A diary is defined as 'a document created by an individual who has maintained a regular, personal and contemporaneous record' (p. 1).
The author pursues a very pragmatic aim: to explain the method, its advantages and shortcomings and also main ways and routines of usage. In addition, the functions, types, and forms of diaries are described and a historical development of this type of documents introduced. The author also characterizes various technologies for keeping of diaries, including modern ones involving the use of electronic devices.
Readers are taken through the main stages of method application: finding diarists and/or diaries, providing support and guidelines, and data analysis (numerative, content and structural). I found that the chapter on coding the diaries and anlysis of the data is very useful for my purposes. However, others may decide that other chapters will meet their needs more.
Each chapter reveals major pitfalls awaiting the researchers and the ways of dealing with them. The last chapter also discusses different approaches to the data collected through diaries from different methodological perspectives: positivism, social constructionism, and critical realism.
The book follows the structure of a textbook. Each chapter starts with introduction of the key aims and objectives and ends with suggested exercises helping to develop key skills of using diaries, and a list of issues that have to be considered or questions of studies. Some chapters are followed by lists of diaries that can be used for exercises.
The very comprehensive reference list at the end of the book and index allows the reader to follow up some points touched upon by the author and use the book as a reference publication or a guide.
The style is enticing and easy to follow. I have read some pages with great interest as they revealed interesting aspects of the diaries as a form of documents, not only as the source of data. The description of the finding and using the unsolicited diaries caught my attention almost as a detective story. The quotes from other authors at the beginning of the chapters also serve as an additional attraction.
As a summary I can recommend the book to any library serving higher education institutions. I am quite sure that it will increase the numbers of doctoral students using diaries in their research.
Professor Elena Macevičiūtė