Qualitative Research

How the same unified theory of inference underlies quantitative and qualitative research alike; scientific inference when quantification is difficult or impossible; research design; empirical research in legal scholarship.

Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research

The Importance of Research Design in Political Science
Gary King, Robert O Keohane, and Sidney Verba. 1995. “The Importance of Research Design in Political Science.” American Political Science Review, 89: 454–481, June.Abstract
Receiving five serious reviews in this symposium is gratifying and confirms our belief that research design should be a priority for our discipline. We are pleased that our five distinguished reviewers appear to agree with our unified approach to the logic of inference in the social sciences, and with our fundamental point: that good quantitative and good qualitative research designs are based fundamentally on the same logic of inference. The reviewers also raised virtually no objections to the main practical contribution of our book– our many specific procedures for avoiding bias, getting the most out of qualitative data, and making reliable inferences. However, the reviews make clear that although our book may be the latest word on research design in political science, it is surely not the last. We are taxed for failing to include important issues in our analysis and for dealing inadequately with some of what we included. Before responding to the reviewers’ more direct criticisms, let us explain what we emphasize in Designing Social Inquiry and how it relates to some of the points raised by the reviewers.
How Not to Lie Without Statistics
Gary King and Eleanor Neff Powell. 2008. “How Not to Lie Without Statistics”.Abstract
We highlight, and suggest ways to avoid, a large number of common misunderstandings in the literature about best practices in qualitative research. We discuss these issues in four areas: theory and data, qualitative and quantitative strategies, causation and explanation, and selection bias. Some of the misunderstandings involve incendiary debates within our discipline that are readily resolved either directly or with results known in research areas that happen to be unknown to political scientists. Many of these misunderstandings can also be found in quantitative research, often with different names, and some of which can be fixed with reference to ideas better understood in the qualitative methods literature. Our goal is to improve the ability of quantitatively and qualitatively oriented scholars to enjoy the advantages of insights from both areas. Thus, throughout, we attempt to construct specific practical guidelines that can be used to improve actual qualitative research designs, not only the qualitative methods literatures that talk about them.

In Legal Research

Building An Infrastructure for Empirical Research in the Law
Lee Epstein and Gary King. 2003. “Building An Infrastructure for Empirical Research in the Law.” Journal of Legal Education, 53: 311–320.Abstract
In every discipline in which "empirical research" has become commonplace, scholars have formed a subfield devoted to solving the methodological problems unique to that discipline’s data and theoretical questions. Although students of economics, political science, psychology, sociology, business, education, medicine, public health, and so on primarily focus on specific substantive questions, they cannot wait for those in other fields to solve their methoodological problems or to teach them "new" methods, wherever they were initially developed. In "The Rules of Inference," we argued for the creation of an analogous methodological subfield devoted to legal scholarship. We also had two other objectives: (1) to adapt the rules of inference used in the natural and social sciences, which apply equally to quantitative and qualitative research, to the special needs, theories, and data in legal scholarship, and (2) to offer recommendations on how the infrastructure of teaching and research at law schools might be reorganized so that it could better support the creation of first-rate quantitative and qualitative empirical research without compromising other important objectives. Published commentaries on our paper, along with citations to it, have focused largely on the first-our application of the rules of inference to legal scholarship. Until now, discussions of our second goal-suggestions for the improvement of legal scholarship, as well as our argument for the creation of a group that would focus on methodological problems unique to law-have been relegated to less public forums, even though, judging from the volume of correspondence we have received, they seem to be no less extensive.
Lee Epstein and Gary King. 2002. “The Rules of Inference.” University of Chicago Law Review, 69: 1–209, Winter.Abstract
Although the term "empirical research" has become commonplace in legal scholarship over the past two decades, law professors have, in fact, been conducting research that is empirical – that is, learning about the world using quantitative data or qualitative information – for almost as long as they have been conducting research. For just as long, however, they have been proceeding with little awareness of, much less compliance with, the rules of inference, and without paying heed to the key lessons of the revolution in empirical analysis that has been taking place over the last century in other disciplines. The tradition of including some articles devoted to exclusively to the methododology of empirical analysis – so well represented in journals in traditional academic fields – is virtually nonexistent in the nation’s law reviews. As a result, readers learn considerably less accurate information about the empirical world than the studies’ stridently stated, but overconfident, conclusions suggest. To remedy this situation both for the producers and consumers of empirical work, this Article adapts the rules of inference used in the natural and social sciences to the special needs, theories, and data in legal scholarship, and explicate them with extensive illustrations from existing research. The Article also offers suggestions for how the infrastructure of teaching and research at law schools might be reorganized so that it can better support the creation of first-rate empirical research without compromising other important objectives.