Monday, April 11, 2011

What is an innovation in research methods?

Fisher Fuller raised some challenging questions in a comment, copied here:

I'm suspicious of the whole project. What is a methodological innovation anyway? How do you presume to be able to identify them? Are you trying to create another set of restrictive canonical guidelines? If you can describe an innovation in a summary chapter, is it really an innovation any longer? 

These are serious questions.  Fuller is surely right that the idea of an innovative canon in research methods is almost a contradiction in terms.  If it’s canonical it chokes off innovation.

The short answer to the question of how we identified innovations in the Handbook is that we asked our colleagues, both informally in chats and more formally in some fairly extensive e-mail polling.  We had discussions with anyone who would talk with us, starting with Chris Rojek, our editor at Sage Publications who originally suggested the idea for the Handbook. 

We tried to be inclusive rather than restrictive in our understanding of what constitutes a methodological innovation in social research and we uncovered several broad classes of innovation.  Here are some examples:
  • Some innovations arise because new developments in social life and the need to develop novel ways of studying them.  An example is Mike Thelwall’s studies (in chapter 9) of human communication on the Web.  Another is Elizabeth Griffiths’ discussion of geographic information systems (in chapter 21).
  • A fertile area of innovatory growth occurs in fields that are not brand new but that are undergoing rapid development, often by generating links between separately developed methods.  One such pair of methods, developing separately and together, is multilevel modeling and structural equation modeling.  For discussions of their joint development see chapters 26 by Rex Kline and 27 by Keenan Pituch & Laura Stapleton. 
  • Combining methods is a common source of new ideas about old methods.  An illustration is chapter 13 by John Hitchcock & Bonnie Nastasi on using mixed methods for construct validation.
  • A last example is applying a new method to an area of research where it had not been used before.  For instance, Qualitative Narrative Analysis (see Ragin & Schneider’s chapter 8) is applied to program evaluation (see Vogt et al., chapter 15).
 We won’t be surprised to hear from readers who wonder how we could have missed this or that innovation or how we could have mistaken a short-lived fad for a new approach.  We welcome such discussions, questions, and criticisms because they are a key source of further innovation.


  1. Vogt did not reveal any criteria for deciding what is and is not an innovation in research methods. He only told us that he talked to some people and informally polled others. Consensus among friends and vote counting do not add up to principles of decision making on this important issue. I agree that Williams and Vogt discovered what seem to be some important innovations, but I disagree that they have a reliable method other researchers could use in the future to discover more.

  2. There are so many apa style research proposal which will provide wide range of proposal to design your papers. One such pair of methods, developing separately and together, is multilevel modeling and structural equation modeling.