Understanding process tracing

This paper, from David Collier, outlines a new framework for carrying out process tracing in order to achieve greater systemisation of qualitative methods.

Collier argues that when process tracing is used often it is not adequately understood nor rigorously applied and therefore through this framework he hopes to address this problem. The article includes links to online teaching exercises to support the model.


"Process tracing is a fundamental tool of qualitative analysis. In the framework presented here, it is defined as the systematic examination of diagnostic evidence selected and analyzed in light of research questions and hypotheses posed by the investigator. Process tracing can contribute decisively both to describing political and social phenomena and to evaluating causal claims. George and Bennett have played the leading role in developing this method as an essential form of within-case analysis, and Fenno’s “soaking and poking” is a kindred research procedure.

Although the idea of process tracing is often invoked by scholars as they examine qualitative data, too often this tool is neither well understood nor rigorously applied." (Collier, 2011)


  • Abstract
  • Teaching Exercises
  • Process tracting, prior knowledge and diagnostic evidence
  • Descriptive inference
  • Causal inference
  • Straw-in-the-Wind Tests
  • Hoop Tests
  • Smoking-Gun Tests
  • Doubly Decisive Tests
  • Causal-Sequence Framework: Auxiliary Outcome Test
  • Conclusion


Collier D (2011) "Understanding Process Tracing", PS: Political Science and Politics, 44:4 pp 823 -830, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved from http://polisci.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/people/u3827/Understandi...

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