Process tracing is a fundamental tool of qualitative analysis, and improving the understanding and application of this tool is a central goal in the second edition of Rethinking Social Inquiry (RSI-2). Too often, process tracing is not adequately taught and it is not adequately understood among researchers who claim to use this tool.
This deficit motivates us to include in RSI-2 three chapters that explore different facets of process tracing. It also leads us to present here a further overview of this method, along with exercises for teaching it. The exercises address two examples from international relations, one from American politics, two from comparative politics, and one from public health/epidemiology. A seventh example is based on the Sherlock Holmes story “Silver Blaze,” which is also a running illustration in the Introduction (below). It may be useful to read the Holmes story before the Introduction, although the presentation should be self-explanatory on its own. Methodological ideas from two other Sherlock Holmes stories are also introduced in the text. Obviously, Sherlock Holmes is not social science, but it engagingly illustrates key ideas that are central to the six social science exercises.
The following text includes (1) an overview of process tracing, (2) teaching exercises, (3) a bibliography, and (4) the Sherlock Holmes story.