Interview with Dr. Shaofeng Li, SLS Alum and Editor-in-Chief of Research Methods in Applied Linguistics

Second Language Studies alum, and current Associate Professor and Program Leader of Second and Foreign Language Education at Florida State University, Dr. Shaofeng Li, is the Editor-in-Chief of the new journal Research Methods in Applied Linguistics (RMAL). The journal is the first and only journal devoted exclusively to research methods in applied linguistics and aims to provide a publication outlet for researchers across the globe to discuss methodological matters and innovations as they relate to the specific aims and commitments of applied linguistics.

Dr. Shaofeng Li agreed to be interviewed about the new journal, including questions regarding the focus of the journal and what he hopes it can achieve, as well as advice for graduate students and beginning researchers. The full interview can be viewed below. More information concerning the journal, including recent articles, announcements, and a list of the editorial board, can be found here.

–Adam Pfau, Second Language Studies Program

What is the focus or scope of your journal, and what sort of research does it welcome? 

The journal is the first and only journal on research methods in applied linguistics. The journal spans all areas of applied linguistics, including, but not limited to, bilingualism and multilingualism, computer-assisted language learning, conversation analysis, corpus linguistics, critical studies, discourse analysis, forensic linguistics, identity, language assessment, language policy and planning, language and migration, literacy, pragmatics, psycholinguistics, raciolinguistics, second language acquisition, sociolinguistics, teacher education, and translation and interpreting. The journal encompasses all aspects of research methods, including research design, data collection, data coding, data analysis, reporting practices, and manuscript preparation. It welcomes research from all paradigms, be they quantitative, qualitative, or mixed, and methods of all kinds, whether they are utilized to observe the occurrence of a phenomenon or behavior, explore correlations, or examine causal relationships. The journal encourages submissions that examine (1) methods for common, significant, or novel topics, (2) new or innovative methods for previously examined topics, or (3) methods that bridge subdomains of applied linguistics or that build conduits between applied linguistics and other disciplines. 

What was the motivation behind creating the journal, and what do you hope it will be able to contribute? 

Applied linguistics is a discipline where research is primarily empirical and where practitioners and policy makers draw on research findings in decision-making. Evidently, the value of research findings relies crucially on the validity of the methods used to carry out the research. The validity of a research method cannot be assumed, and evidence must be collected to verify whether the method can effectively achieve its goal. Prior to the launch of this journal, there had been no journal devoted exclusively to research methods, although several journals have designated sections for research methods. Therefore, this journal fills a significant gap in the field of applied linguistics. We hope that the journal will place research methods center stage in the field, provide methodological guidance, take the lead in introducing methodological innovations, and contribute to the methodological rigor of the field.      

What do you think will set it apart from other journals out there? 

This journal is an academic outlet and forum for research methods, unlike journals that focus on articles that solve substantive problems. The journal also values diversity and does not focus on any particular research paradigm, nor does it favor certain topical areas or methodologies. This mission is represented in all aspects of the journal, including the editorial board, the author guide, and the types of research that have been published.

Is your journal open to different kinds of methods, or research that is quantitative, qualitative, or a mixed-methods design? 

The journal publishes studies on all kinds of methods, including quantitative, qualitative, or mixed-methods research. The journal encourages submissions that examine the same topic using different methods and that demonstrate how different methods complement each other and how data can be triangulated to reveal a more holistic picture of the examined phenomenon. 

How often do you hope to publish volumes of your journal? Are you publishing in print, electronically, or both? 

The journal aims to publish four issues a year, but at the initial stage where there are fewer submissions, it may publish only two or three issues. The journal is published primarily electronically, but it may be published in print upon request.

What kind of backgrounds do the members of the Editorial board come from, and what sort of advantages does the board bring to the journal?  

Selection of board members was based on several factors, including research interests, region, and representativeness of different research paradigms. The board members are leading researchers in their respective areas, and some are also seasoned journal editors. Example areas of expertise of the board members include corpus linguistics, eye-tracking, narrative inquiry, second language acquisition, second language writing, translanguaging, teacher cognition, research methods, second language pragmatics, second language pronunciation, statistics, and task-based language teaching. The board members contribute significantly to the quality control of the journal by serving as manuscript reviewers and as consultants in in-house evaluations. They also provide consulting on the direction of the journal and propose ways to maximize its contributions to the field.       

What advice do you have to graduate students, or emerging researchers, for preparing a paper for journal submission? 

Emerging researchers may start by reflecting on the methods for their own research such as their Ph.D. dissertations and considering whether there are methodological issues that need to be resolved. A straightforward starting point is to conduct a methodological synthesis of the empirical research on the topic they investigated and/or that they are familiar with. The objective of a research synthesis is to provide a comprehensive, retrospective account of relevant methods, evaluate their validity, and suggest solutions to identified issues based on empirically justified expert advice and methodological guides. If the researcher introduced or developed a new method that may pose a challenge for other researchers, a viable option is to contribute a method tutorial providing step-by-step guidance on how to implement the method.

What are some common mistakes that you think graduate students make when submitting articles for publication early on? 

I would like to address three topics: literature review, methods, and statistical analyses. To start with, a literature view is a critical evaluation of existing research rather than a mere summary. A common problem is providing an anthology of previous studies without making connections between them by identifying themes and accounting for disparities. Second, methodological rigor is key to the publishability of an empirical study. Researchers including graduate students should read the literature thoroughly and make informed decisions on methodological choices. Third, statistical analyses should not rely only on p values but also effect sizes, which must also be reported and consulted when discussing the results. Also, one misconception about statistical results is that significant effects must be found in order for the article to be accepted for publication. However, null effects are equally valuable so long as the study addresses an important topic and uses rigorous methods.  

Regarding this journal, one pitfall relates to the confusion over the distinction between methodological and substantive studies. Methodological studies examine research methods and address “the how” of empirical research, while substantive studies examine a phenomenon, process, behavior, intervention, or outcome and address “the what”. This journal only publishes methodological studies. Submissions reporting empirical studies investigating substantive topics are desk-rejected in in-house evaluations and not sent out for external review.