Original Research

Pitfalls and possibilities in literacy research: A review of South African literacy studies, 2004–2018

Claire Biesman-Simons, Kerryn Dixon, Elizabeth Pretorius, Yvonne Reed
Reading & Writing | Vol 11, No 1 | a238 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/rw.v11i1.238 | © 2020 Claire Biesman-Simons, Kerryn Dixon, Elizabeth Pretorius, Yvonne Reed | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 28 March 2019 | Published: 12 March 2020

About the author(s)

Claire Biesman-Simons, Foundation Studies Wits School of Education, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Kerryn Dixon, Foundation Studies Wits School of Education, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Elizabeth Pretorius, College of Human Sciences, School of Arts, Department of Linguistics and Modern Education, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
Yvonne Reed, Wits School of Education, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa


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Abstract

Background: Given the comprehensively documented literacy crisis in South Africa and the gaps in what is known about the effective teaching of reading and writing in schools, high-quality literacy research is a priority.

Objectives: This article evaluates South African research from two annotated bibliographies on reading in African languages at home language level (2004–2017) and South African research on teaching reading in English as a first additional language (2007–2018). It also aims to provide guidelines for addressing these weaknesses.

Methods: Examples of 70 quantitative and qualitative research studies from the annotated bibliographies were critically analysed, identifying key weaknesses in the research as a whole and examples of excellent quality.

Results: Weaknesses evident in the research reviewed, suggested greater consideration is needed to lay sound methodological foundations for quality literacy research. Three methodological issues underlying local literacy research that require greater attention are research design, selection and use of literature and research rigour. High-quality research examples are referenced but, for ethical reasons, examples of what we consider to be flawed research are described generally. Guidelines are offered for addressing these pitfalls that, in our view, contribute to research of limited quality. Since many universities require submission of a journal article as a requirement for postgraduate students, preparation for such an article is considered.

Conclusion: While this article is not intended to be a comprehensive guide, we hope it is useful to supervisors, postgraduate students and early career researchers currently undertaking, or planning to undertake, literacy research and to writing for publication.


Keywords

Literacy research; Annotated bibliographies; Review of research; Guidelines for research; Research rigour.

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