The rise of process tracing (in Google Books)

For what it’s worth, I wanted to see how often ‘process tracing’ is mentioned in the offerings on Google Books. I was just curious and wanted to play around with the ngram R package which allows you to query Google Ngram containing data about Google Books books and retrieve it from within R. (You might as well use the Google Ngram viewer.)

The following figure contains the results for the simple query “process tracing” (code is below).


The results are telling because of a clear upward trend. It would be stronger if one were doing a case sensitive search (Process tracing; Process Tracing), but this is not so important here because the general picture would remain the same. This should not be surprising. What might be somewhat surprising is that the trend started in the 1980s and, after a plateau in the early 1990s, continued on from the mid-1990s. The intense discussion of process tracing in the methods literature only got started in the late 1990s, so one would have expected that the rise of process tracing started in the 2000s. However, the empirical literature sometimes rushes ahead of the methods literature and, after the publication of Designing Social Inquiry, it might have entered empirical research as a buzzword before the methods literature picked up on it.

In the end, however, this is all speculation, as a search on Google books is not a super-valid indicator for the prominence of a term. The query cannot be limited to the social sciences and an unknown share of mentions of ‘process tracing’ might belong to other disciplines using a different definition of this term.

If you want to play around with ngramr, here is all you need.


install_github("ngramr", "seancarmody")
pt <- ngram(c("process tracing"), year_start = 1970)
ggplot(pt, aes(x=Year, y=Frequency, colour=Phrase))
+ geom_line()

About ingorohlfing

I am Professor for Political Science, Qualitative Methods at the Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences (BIGSSS, co-hosted by University of Bremen and Jacobs University) and Associate Editor of the American Political Science Review. My research interests are social science methods with an emphasis on case studies, multi-method research, and philosophy of science concerned with causation and causal inference. Substantively, I am working on party competition and parties as organizations.
This entry was posted in causal mechanism, process tracing, qualitative, R and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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