A critical review on research design of selected journals in taxation research
A Critical Review on Research Design
of Qualitative and Mixed-Method Approach Papers in Taxation
Assignment 3 - TABL 0400
School of Taxation and Business Law - ASB
University of New South Wales
Research tradition in taxation, regardless of its adopted philosophical framework, is
typically derived from existing concepts, models, and theories in multi-disciplinary
schools of thought. This, obviously, does not necessarily mean that this procedure
reflects all research processes in taxation. Some exceptions, such as in grounded
theory research, exist. Nevertheless, as I will elaborate shortly, these following articles
below adopt existing theories, concepts, or models as their theoretical framework.
However, given that this review primarily focuses on research design, it should be
noted that these articles were selected because of their chosen research paradigm
rather than their adopted theoretical frameworks. In this sense, I believe that the way I
view the relationship between the 'existing concepts, models, and theories' and the
research process provides me useful guidance in critically reviewing the research
design of the reviewed articles.
In these three selected articles, the relationship between objective reality, or the real
world, and the research findings the authors made are drawn from research processes.
From these academic protocols they generate knowledge, which is mainly in the form
of conceptual knowledge. From this standpoint, it should follow that the authors, as
researchers, in a position between existing knowledge and the 'reality' or 'fact' as the
object of working knowledge. Further, as pointed out by Daly (1997), what we call
realities or facts are actually interpreted facts. Thus, as he argues, the concepts or
constructs made by social scientists are second degree, that is the interpretation made
by the researcher is based on the participant's interpretation on certain facts or realities.
This is what Sarantakos (2013) calls "re-constructed reality". Similarly, Denzin and
Lincoln (1994) also argue that the most crucial thing in social science is interpretation.
In these lines of thinking, I concur with the idea that the real world has its own
objective existence, but the way we know this existence is conceptually mediated
through existing theories (Danermark, 2002).
This review mainly analyses these following articles from a research methodology
point of view and will be divided into five main parts in each article. Firstly, it will
summarise the article. Secondly, it will analyse the research approach used in the
article and whether this approach philosophically appropriate to the research question.
Thirdly, it will review the validity and consistency of the claimed knowledge with the
adopted research approach. Fourthly, it will examine the appropriateness of adopted
strategy of inquiries to the research question and how it could be improved. Lastly, the
review will also discuss the strengths and weakness of the adopted methods and how it
could be improved.
2. Boll, K. 2013. Mapping tax compliance assemblages, distributed action and
practices: A new way of doing tax research. Critical Perspectives on
Accounting, (article in press).
2.1 Summary of the article
The purpose of the article is to explore how tax compliance, from the taxpayers' stand
point, is formed. Answering a call for creativity in tax research, this article argues that
two existing approaches to studying tax compliance neglect the importance and the
relevance of practical aspects of how tax compliance is 'produced'. Thus, inspired by
the Actor-Network theory (ANT), this article adopts a new approach to tax compliance
research by focusing on practice-oriented perspectives. Tax compliance, as this article
maintains, is viewed as 'a socio-material assemblage' and the result of 'distributed
action'. Instead of providing an 'eagle view' ─a metaphor to represent the
epistemological view of a deductive researcher─ as typically revealed by a traditional
quantitative approach, this study offers uniquely a 'frog view' ─a metaphor to
represent epistemological view of an inductive researcher─ which captures the
'creation' process of tax compliance right from the source. Thus, in terms of social
science, it offers the reader a relatively new perspective of the 'human view' in
understanding the practical level of tax compliance. Overall, this article unveils how
an alternative approach can be used to study tax compliance in order to gain a unique
perspective of an unexplored 'map' of tax compliance research and points out the
contribution of the ANT approach in further development of taxation studies from a
different angle of social science perspectives.
2.2 Adopted research approach and its appropriateness to the research questions
As pointed out by the author, "...this approach...focuses on how the means to comply
are put together" (Boll, 2013 p. 2), it implies that she attempts to subjectively present
the readers with an understanding of the constructed tax compliance process as part of
social reality. In this study, she argues that an alternative way to study tax compliance
is worthwhile exploring. She posits that by alternatively adopting the actor-network
theory, further theoretical development in taxation studies is advanced. Thus, she
claims her work offers an opportunity to improve taxation knowledge from a
qualitative and interpretative perspective of social science.
Ontologically, in this article the author implicitly views that 'multi faces of realities'
exist in understanding tax compliance, at certain points ranging from a positivist view,
which is represented by behavioural psychologists in one point and many critical tax
studies on behalf of a non-positivist view in an opposing point. In other words, from
social science perspectives, she opines that tax compliance does not lie in a vacuum
continuum. Thus, given these beliefs, as part of social reality, tax compliance can be
understood, described, and interpreted in different ways. Further, in this article, the
adopted ontological view seems to be followed by the author's view on how the
knowledge of tax compliance is obtained. An epistemological stance of the author is
reflected explicitly in her view of "...an approach to studying tax compliance where it
takes place as well as to show what it is made of" (Boll, 2013 p. 4). This excerpt
implies that the author maintains that the reality which is related to the 'creation'
processes of tax compliance is constructed and can be found in her engagement with
the real world in a real context.
Thus, in my view, given that the nature of the overarching research question in this
article is to understand the 'real world' of the tax compliance process directly from the
taxpayer's point of view, to reveal the meaning of their real-life experience, and to
uncover their tax compliance's living world, I conclude that her adopted research
approach was obviously appropriate to her research question.
2.3 Validity and consistency of knowledge claims with the adopted research
In this contemporary approach, the author outlines several interesting research
findings as her claim to knowledge. In this article, she illustrates a unique in-depth
awareness of the 'creation' process of tax compliance and how heterogeneous entities
are involved in this process in real-life context, in a given time (i.e. 2008) and place
(i.e. various taxpayers' premises). It could be said she demonstrates to the reader that
tax compliance is a result of 'distributed action' by convincingly illustrating 'vivid
descriptions' of multiple cases of the dynamic process of tax compliance practices in
the 'unexplored middle ground' between tax authority and taxpayers. Moreover, as she
claims, her work also significantly contributes to filling the current gap of knowledge
in social science on how tax compliance is 'created', attributable to her claim that both
the existing theory presented by behavioural psychologist and critical tax researchers
failure to provide analytical options of the tax compliance phenomenon. Along the
lines of these findings, I take the view that the basic nature of knowledge claimed in
her work is an in-depth understanding of 'the creation process' of tax compliance cases
over a specific period of time and events, without explicit managerial implications or
generalisations. Therefore, I concede that the knowledge claimed in this study is valid
and consistent with that of qualitative approach.
2.4 Appropriateness of adopted strategies of inquiry to the research question and
how to improve it
Using Yin's (1989) and Creswell's (2007) work, it is possible to show that the
characteristics of the case study approach are found in this article. Initially, the article
examines interrelated socio-material assemblages of tax compliance practise in its
relation with tax administration, in several natural settings. Secondly, it represents how
uniquely tax compliance is 'produced' in a real-life situation involving many
'distributed actions'. Then, a case study approach is typically preferred in studying
complex social phenomena. In this case, tax compliance incorporates many elements
and is highly dynamic as it does not depend on a vacuum continuum. Thus it is
reasonable to consider that tax compliance is an appropriate example of complex
social phenomena. Lastly, in this work, a case study is adopted at an 'explanatory'
level. By adopting case study approach, this article contributes to 'how' tax compliance
is created in a dynamic situation and 'why' tax compliance involves many aspects of
social assemblages at the practical level. Further, according to Creswell (2007), the
case study approach can be applied into multiple cases. Therefore, from Yin's and
Creswell's work it is possible to show that the adopted research approach in this study
is case study research with multiple cases.
Was the case study appropriate to the research question in this article? To determine
whether an adopted research approach is relevant or not in answering the research
question, an appropriate yardstick is needed. Yin (1989) proposes a brief guidance on
this discourse. In my view, this study fits all the cumulative requirements for a case
study. Firstly, as previously mentioned, this work answers 'how' and 'why' question
regarding tax compliance. Secondly, the researcher did not have any control over
interrelated parts in observing the 'creation' of tax compliance practice. All
behavioural events under this study are natural and independent. Lastly, given its
nature, tax compliance is arguably an everlasting topic of research and therefore offers
many contemporary issues, discussions, and idea. In addition, as Merriman (1998)
argues, a case study focuses "...in process rather than outcomes, in context rather than
a specific variable, in discovery rather than confirmation". In this sense, this study was
adopted to capture current issues with regard to the process of how tax compliance is
produced in real-life contexts. Consequently, I consider that the author was right in
adopting a case study approach as her strategy of inquiry.
Nevertheless, I argue that some area of improvement could be explored to increase the
robustness of the findings. Firstly, given the complex nature of tax compliance, I think
it is essential that the author indicates adequate justification for selecting the cases or
participants. In fact, there are four matrices of taxpayer compliance types, ranging
from intentional-compliant to unintentional-noncompliant (McKerchar, 2002). In this
sense, for example, what is the role of the author's claims of the concept of "sociomaterial assemblages" and "distributed action" in terms of unintentional-noncompliant
or unintentional-compliant? By giving the rationale in selecting the cases or
participants, I therefore contend the findings will be more rigorous, particularly in
terms of its transferability. In this case, the author may adopt a strategy called
"negative case sampling", in which she could locate and analyse cases that disconfirm
her conjecture and tentative interpretation (Johnson, 1997). Secondly, I believe that tax
compliance practices, by nature, are somehow a 'sensitive area'. I notice that during the
research process the author observed 50 encounters between taxpayers and tax
inspectors. In my view, this situation encourages what the social scientists call
reflexivity. In this case, based on the assumption that the author's involvement was
overt observation, I propose the author adopt the so-called "modus operandi approach"
(Maxwell, 2004) in order to increase the validity of her explanation. It is not an easy
approach, yet it has potential given that in tax compliance practices, as the author
claimed, interplay among causal factors is not directly observable. Lastly, in terms of
validity, I think in this paper the author has an inclination to use 'high inference
descriptors' by giving limited descriptions of participants' own words. Using work of
Johnson (1997), as a qualitative researcher, the author could promote the validity of
her findings by adequately providing verbatim descriptions of participants' responses.
2.5 The strength and weakness of the adopted methods and how to improve it
Firstly, it should be born in mind that the term 'methods' in this section refers to the
means of collecting the data (McKerchar, 2010). As stated by Boll (2013, p. 4), for
example, "in 2008, I conducted 12 interviews with bookkeepers and business owners
in e.g. plumbing, carpentry, cleaning and restaurant businesses", it is explicitly clear
that she adopted in-depth interview as the working method in her study. Also, she
declares that during her internship in the Danish Tax and Custom Administration
(SKAT) she observed a total of 50 tax audit encounters. It indicates that she also used
a direct observation method for her study. In terms of adopted method, the author
therefore simultaneously employed at least two methods: (i) in-depth interview and (ii)
It is certainly obvious that both methods have their own inherent strengths and
weaknesses as much literature has already discussed (see for example, Gray and
David, 2004; Kvale and Steinar, 2009). Through direct observation, it was possible for
the author to realistically learn the behaviour of both observed taxpayers and tax
officers, and also the meaning attached to those performed behaviours. She also had
vast opportunities to conclude beyond participants' opinions or statements. As shown,
she vividly described how a bookkeeper in a small carpentry business was 'juggling'
with her clerical job, accessing the company information system, preparing tax
documents, and deciding what to prioritize. Similarly, by conducting in-depth
interviews, the author had the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of how
observed taxpayers interpret tax-related matters or phenomenon, which cannot be
obtained through solely direct observation. In this work, information regarding tax
compliance procedures in the carpentry business, the function of the installed
accounting application, interaction between a bookkeeper and an external accountant,
all are obtained through in-depth interviews. Also by adopting this synchronous mode
of communication, the author was able to reap the benefit of various socialpsychological cues ─such as pitch, tone, facial expression, intonation, or body
language─ of the respondents. In this case, particularly in interpreting and analysing
the 'non-compliant' respondents, the author was able to incorporate these socialpsychological cues as additional information to be added into the verbal response of
the respondent. In brief, it was certainly obvious that by embracing the strengths of
these methods, the author mission of "...to learn about what bookkeepers and/or
business owners do in their daily work in order to be compliant" (Boll, 2013 p. 4) is
However, on the other side of the same coin, given the nature of qualitative research
on which the researcher is the main instrument for data collection, the adoption of
these methods poses some weaknesses. As previously discussed, interpretation is the
primary activity in social science research. In terms of interpretation, as pointed out by
Barkai (1980), two critical stage occur, both in receiving and sending information
attributable to necessary deletion and distortion process in the human mind. Indeed, I
strongly agree with his argument that "no person knows the true reality...human beings
never exactly know what is going on in the world around them" (Barkai, 1980 p. 577).
Having said that, it is now clear that in adopting interview and observation methods,
the author inevitably takes a certain degree of potential interpretation bias.
Could this method in this paper be improved? To answer this question I need to
initially set out an assumption. I reasonably conjecture, particularly based on the
author's 'rich description' of what a carpentry bookkeeper and a business owner do in
their daily lives to become compliant taxpayers, that most of the interviews were
carried out in 'descriptive ways' with the inclination to use 'introductory-open
questions'. Given the aim of this study is to improve our taxation knowledge by
illustrating how practically tax compliance 'is made', I argue that giving the readers
what Maxwell (2012) called descriptive validity ─a term which refers to the factual
accuracy of the researcher's description─ is arguably not sufficient.
From this stand point, I suggest two recommendations. Firstly, as there are many types
of questions available to use in in-depth interview (Kvale and Steinar, 2009 p. 135), it
is reasonably worth using more determined questions such as probing or hypothetical
questions. Therefore, instead of asking a bookkeeper: "Could you please describe your
planned task in relation to tax compliance?", it is worth the author's asking: "Suppose
you went ahead with this planned task of monthly VAT reporting and it failed. How
would you cope with this situation?" Accordingly, by describing this situation, the
author can emphasize the central point in her work that tax compliance is composed of
many inextricably socio-material assemblages and is obviously constituted by
interrelated distributed actions. Secondly, given the nature of this study is interpretive
research, particularly in seeking an understanding of the creation process of tax
compliance, an additional approach called 'interpretive understanding' should be made.
This approach is essential to eliminate the potential bias made by the researcher in
interpreting participants' statements or mental phenomena and to avoid distortion on
participants' accounts. Maxwell (2012) terms it 'interpretive validity' ─a term which
refers to how the researcher accurately interprets the meaning provided by the
3. Tuck, P. 2010. The emergence of the tax official into a T-shaped knowledge
expert. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 21, 584-596.
3.1 Summary of the article
The main purpose of this article is to illustrate how identity, professionalism, role, and
organisational context of the Large Business Service (LBS) tax officials, are
influenced by both internal and external factors, shaping them into a new style of tax
official. These changes are attributable to three main causes: (i) internal restructured
organisation ─merger of Inland Revenue (IR) and HM Custom and Excise (HMCE) to
the HM Revenue and Custom (HMRC)─; (ii) government modernisation; and (iii)
interconnected governance. In short, all of these factors transformed previously 'Ishaped' technical tax officials into T-shaped strategic tax officials. Adopting a
Foucauldian methodology, this article unveils how 'the horizontal part of T" of tax
officials' expertise is dynamically shaped by subjectivization and objectivization
processes. In brief, based on interviews with a wide spectrum of tax officials and
prominent tax professionals, the author concludes how internal and external powerful
contextual-forces shape and transform tax officials in the UK. She also illustrates the
impact of these forces on tax official's identity and encourages further research of the
impact of organisational and managerial changes on the identity of public servants in
the wider contexts.
3.2 Adopted research approach and its appropriateness to the research questions
As pointed out by Tuck (2010, p. 585), in this article she examines the structure of
how "the tax official being disciplined by the changing working practices of the tax
administration and also on agency: how the tax officials construct meaning and
identity". It implies that she tries to interpret and to construct reality which is related to
those situations. Using Sarantakos's (2013) work, I observe that her main research
endeavour is to provide the reader a "re-construction of reality". In this point, for
example, how IR merged with HMCE to become HRMC is real world or "objective
reality" while how involved tax officials view the transition processes along with all
their implication are "constructed reality". Further, in seeking the answer to the
research question in this article, how the interviewed participants responded and
communicated with the author regarding the impact and process of change is a "reconstruction of reality". Thus, ontologically, it can be inferred that she implicitly
adopts a view that reality has many faces. In this sense, according to Merriman (1998),
as a qualitative researcher the author is "interested in understanding the meanings
people have constructed". By reflecting on the author's research question and the
primary characteristic of the qualitative approach, I take the view that the research
approach used by the author is a philosophically appropriate one with which to address
her research questions.
3.3 Validity and consistency of knowledge claims with the adopted research
A research question is the main driver of any research endeavour. It implies that the
selection of a research method should be an indication that the researcher already has a
research question in mind. Therefore, the validity and consistency of knowledge
claims of an adopted research method can be measured by whether the findings
provide what is supposed to be answered.
In this article, the author tries to uncover and to describe the transition process of tax
officials in the UK tax authority, from traditionally 'I-shaped' knowledge professionals
into strategic T-shaped knowledge experts. She demonstrates that this dynamic
formation process is attributable to three primary factors: new public management
(NPM) discourses; modernisation of government; and networked governance. In this
paper, she uses 'T-shaped' as a metaphor to visually represent tax officials who possess
new expertise, both traditionally technical capabilities and contemporary strategic
competencies in dealing with prominent corporate taxpayers.
Clearly, in this paper the author provides richly descriptive data. At least, 22 verbatim
transcriptions are described by the author to prove what she has learned and, at the
same time, to support her interpretation in each topic. As an inductive researcher, the
author seems to successfully adopt several theories that explain her observation data.
In this case, for example, her claims of the changing process of "T-shaped" tax official
are inductively derived from this fieldwork data. Based on the participants' verbatim
data, the author also implicitly illustrates that in the process of producing her
knowledge claims, her understanding of the changing phenomenon under study is
relied heavily on tax officials' perspective Thus, it did not take long for me to conclude
that the claims made by the author in this paper are valid and consistent with that of a
3.4 Appropriateness of adopted strategies of inquiry to the research question and
how to improve it
According to Merriman (1998), a qualitative approach which focuses on studying
human society and culture to uncover and describe how beliefs, attitudes, and values
shape behaviour of a group is ethnography. By conducting ethnography, a qualitative
researcher has an opportunity to describe and to interpret a culture-sharing group or
system. Therefore, the unit of analysis in an ethnographic study is a group that
nurtures common culture (Creswell, 2007). Thus, as an ethnographic researcher, the
author finalizes her work by providing the reader a vividly rich description of how the
shared patterns of culture dynamically shape the mindset and capabilities of
transforming tax officials. Based on this primary characteristic, I take the view that the
author correctly adopts ethnography as the approach to address her research questions.
I highlight that the author examines the structure of several cultural aspects of
transforming tax officials. Further, focus on cultural aspects of a group distinguishes
an ethnography study from any other studies in a qualitative paradigm. It follows that
producing a description and interpretation of a shared socio-cultural context of a group
is generally the knowledge claim made by the ethnographer(s) (Merriman, 1998).
LeCompte and Margaret Diane (1993, p. 2-3) maintain the crucial aspect of culture in
an ethnography study by emphasizing that "ethnographies re-create for the reader the
shared belief, practices, artefacts, folk knowledge, and behaviour of some group of
In details, I found at least four cultural aspects which are examined, described, and
interpreted by the author; they are: (i) how the expertise of tax officials emerges and is
shaped; (ii) how tacit knowledge of the vertical part of 'T' knowledge is obtained by
particular tax officials through implicit training; (iii) how the administrative and
functional structures of the organisation affect the professional development of tax
officials; and (iv) how external business factors enforce the need for specialist
expertise in particular areas of knowledge to assist tax officials. Further, using the
work of Wolcott (1990) in connection with validity in ethnographic research, I notice
that the author implicitly maintains the validity of her findings by providing rich
descriptive data of each discussed topic and lets the readers make their own
interpretations. As previously discussed, there are at least 22 verbatim transcriptions of
interviewed tax officials used by the author to support her findings. Based on these
criteria, I therefore posit that the ethnography study is appropriately adopted by the
author to address her research question.
However, despite the author's view on the benefit of longitudinal study in her work
─over 4 years─ I found the following argument is somehow contextually appropriate
in improving the adopted strategy of inquiry in this paper; "...qualitative researchers
tend to use data collection and analysis methods that emphasize uniformity, such as
relying on key informants and focusing shared themes and concepts..." (Maxwell,
2012 p. 65). Given the overarching aim of this paper is to examine "the changing
identity of the tax official employed by the UK tax administration" (Tuck, 2010 p.
584), I argue that this phenomenon can be studied from both a 'frog view' ─as
previously discussed, a metaphor to represent the epistemological view of an inductive
researcher─ and an 'eagle view' ─a metaphor to represent the epistemological view of
a deductive researcher─. Thus, to obtain a clearer and comprehensive picture to
address the research question, a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods is
arguably the most appropriate method ─as I previously called it, 'a human view'─. On
a complementary basis, as I believe, the quantitative approach can provide systematic
evidence and inter-relational or causal relationship among observed variables, which a
solely qualitative approach cannot.
3.5 The strength and weakness of the adopted methods and how to improve it
In this paper, the author adopts interviews and some document reviews as tools for
data collection. Using a semi-structured interview format, the author has more
flexibility in collecting various categories of conversational data and, at the same time,
opportunities to directly clarify ambiguous responses. Also, as an interviewer, the
author can explicitly observe socio-psychological cues of the interviewed tax officials
which may contain invaluable 'unspoken' signals with regard to the explored topics.
Thus, the author can simultaneously adopt this method, for exploration and
confirmation purposes. Furthermore, given that this study is a longitudinal study, it
can be assumed that the author has established a good rapport with the participants.
Thus, it has the advantages to the process of interview of minimizing unproductive
'psychological barrier' between the interviewer and the interviewees. In this paper, it
could be said that the author reaps the benefit of interviewing as "a process of
knowledge collection" and takes a metaphorical position as "a miner" rather than "a
traveller" interviewer (Kvale and Steinar, 2009 p. 48).
Aside from these advantages, the use of interviewing undoubtedly has inherent
weaknesses. For instance, based on the facts that she had conducted 59 interviews ─33
interviews in 2003/2004 and 26 interviews in 2005/2006─ and given that it could have
taken seven stages of validation (Kvale and Steinar, 2009), interviewing was
inevitably time consuming and expensive to adopt. In detail, for example, according to
Bryman (2001) verbatim transcription of one hour's recording is equal to five to six
hours of transcribing. Indeed, there are some potential limitations in adopting
interviewing as a means of data collection; reflexivity, interviewer bias, interpretation
bias, and perceived low anonymity to name a few.
Nevertheless, to improve the robustness of the findings in this study I propose some
recommendations. Given the interpretive nature of qualitative research, I think it is
important that the author provides detailed information for and elaborate adequate
explanation of the facts that some of the participants refused to allow to be recorded.
Indeed, given that meaning is context-dependent, the 'deep structure' of reason of
participants' refusal could provide essential information. Secondly, I argue that the
quality of research validity in this work can be enhanced if the author includes
participant feedback in interpreting her research findings. In this case, her
interpretation bias is minimized by participants' confirmations.
4. Mammen, S. & Lawrence, F.C. 2006. How Rural Working Families Use the
Earned Income Tax Credit: A Mixed Methods Analysis. Journal of Financial
Counselling and Planning, 17, 51-63, 96.
4.1 Summary of the article
As an explanatory research, the aim of this article is to answer three questions
regarding the implementation of the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in
terms of eligibility of the recipients, recipients' level of awareness of the EITC, and
recipients' behavioural aspects toward the EITC in spending and saving. The rationale
of this work is lack of studies which examine the behavioural and attitudinal aspects of
tax credit of rural families. Embracing the behavioural life-cycle (BLC) theory as a
working framework to analyse the behaviour of the samples, the authors conclude that:
(i) the EITC provided economic benefit for a significant number of working rural
families in terms of increasing their purchasing power and their savings potential; (ii)
continued involvement of financial practitioners is needed due to several practical
issues, such as a quite significant number of eligible recipients not applying the EITC
scheme; most of the sample of recipients used 'lump sum payment' instead of 'advance
payment'; and few families used the commercial services of tax agent in administering
their EITC. In a nutshell, this article unveils socio-demographic descriptions and
behavioural aspects of the implementation of the EITC of low-income rural families,
and suggests some areas of improvement for future research to obtain a clearer picture
of the socio-economic impact of the EITC.
4.2 Adopted research approach and its appropriateness to the research question
In this article, the authors seem to philosophically adopt a pragmatic perspective. As
pointed out by McKerchar (2010), pragmatist researchers are similar to critical realist
researchers ─both of them lie in-between a continuum of two extreme poles of
positivist and non-positivist─ but pragmatists have a tendency towards flexibility in
choosing the approaches, methods, and procedures to best satisfy the needs and aims
of their research. In this case, the authors employ both the quantitative and qualitative
approach using face-to-face interviews as strategy of inquiry. Using semi-structured
format, the authors employed trained interviewers to simultaneously collect
quantitative data (i.e. socio-demographic characteristic data, employment, and some
objective measures of income) and qualitative data (i.e. subjective measure of income,
themes, rules, principles, and factors) from participants who were selected on
In this article the authors explicitly state that they adopt a mixed-methodology
approach. Accordingly, given that adopted research approach should be based on
research questions, it is essential to elaborate the research questions in this article to
determine whether this approach was appropriate. There are three exploratory research
questions in this paper; "Do all eligible working rural families receive the EITC? Do
rural low-income families understand the EITC? How does the EITC affect the
consumption patterns and asset behaviours of rural working families?" (Mammen and
Lawrence, 2006 p. 52). In my view, the first research question deals with several
'quantitative measurements' to obtain the eligibility criteria and to capture the sociodemographic data of respondents while the other two concern ideational and mental
data. In this quantitative approach, the authors clearly take an 'observers' point of view'
by deductively analysing the data obtained from the respondents. On the other hand, in
answering the two latter questions, the authors attempt to capture the level of
understanding and the spending and saving behaviour of the respondents with regard
to EITC by using qualitative approach. In this case, the authors depended heavily on
the participants' point of view in addressing these research questions. In terms of
timing, the authors concurrently adopt different research approaches to address
different research questions. In relation to the use of this mixed-methodology
approach, following McKerchar's (2010) argument, I consider the authors are driven
by these three research questions rather than their epistemological consideration. Thus,
in terms of the appropriateness of adopted research approach, I consider the authors
are right in so far as employing mixed-methodology to address the 'mixed-nature' of
their research question.
4.3 Validity and consistency of knowledge claims with the adopted research
Given the adopted research approaches, the knowledge claims in this article can be
broadly divided into two parts, quantitative and qualitative findings. In presenting the
findings, the authors tend to elaborate them sequentially on a complementary basis. In
the beginning, the quantitative data is presented to provide the 'objective' numericalfindings and then followed by 'subjective' ideational-findings. For example, Mammen
and Lawrence (2006, p. 54) explain that "although 237 families were entitled to the
EITC, only 62% (147 families) claimed the tax credit..." and then followed with "...the
qualitative data were analyzed to determine the reasons for not receiving the EITC." It
is easy to conclude that the quantitative findings in this article as well as the
qualitative findings are presented in a 'descriptive way'.
In the quantitative section, despite the fact of authors' acknowledgement regarding the
absence of its generalisability ─attributable to adoption of convenient sampling─, the
authors claim that the findings "provide an extremely useful account" (p. 54) in terms
of how rural families treat the EITC. Further, since the authors do not clarify how they
measure the usefulness of their findings, I therefore assume that its 'extremely useful
account' of their findings is in relation with practical and policy implications. In my
view, the author's claim that "many financial practitioners are and should continue to
be involved in implementing the solutions to a variety of concerns associated with the
EITC" (p. 60) without giving certain boundaries is something of a generalisation and
therefore questionable. It was arguably opposed to their own claim of "...the findings
cannot be generalized to the entire rural population." From a qualitative perspective,
given the aim of this research is "...to explore rural working families' experiences with
the EITC...", I find that all qualitative findings were employed by the authors to
support the quantitative findings in descriptive way. Having said that, I consider that
qualitative approach in this article is appropriately used to address the qualitative parts
of research questions. In a nutshell, I conclude that the knowledge claims in this
article are appropriately based on the adopted research approach, with a little bit of
clarification needed, particularly in its generalisation of practical implications.
4.4 Appropriateness of adopted strategies of inquiry to the research question and
how to improve it?
In my view, as previously discussed, in this article the authors adopt mixedmethodology approach. In seeking the answer for the three research questions, the
authors employ descriptive statistic for quantitative parts and narrative research for
qualitative parts. Given the nature of the purpose of the research, the authors used
'common descriptive statistic' to describe and to elaborate the socio-demographic data
of respondents in terms of their eligibility and their filling status. On the other hand, a
narrative research approach is adopted to unveil both the level of understanding of the
respondents and their economic behaviour with regard to the use of the EITC. Since
the main purpose of this research was neither to test nor to generate some theoretical
hypothesis, I consider that the use of descriptive statistic and narrative research are
appropriate to address the exploratory research questions.
However, there are some areas of improvement that could be explored to enhance the
quality of this article. Firstly, I think it is essential that the authors acknowledge the
rationale of adopting convenient sampling. Without adequate consideration, the claims
of knowledge are vulnerable to some threats to their robustness. Secondly, in
maintaining the rigorousness of research findings, the justification of adopting the
criteria of eligibility in selecting respondents (see p. 53-54) should be acknowledged
to ensure the validity, credibility and transferability of the knowledge claims. Thirdly,
I argue that it is better to conduct the adopted approach on a sequential instead of a
concurrent basis ─as the authors did─. In this case, the quantitative approach is firstly
adopted as an exploratory tool and then followed by the qualitative approach,
confirming the exploratory findings. By adopting this sequential approach, the authors
open the possibility to provide more detailed findings rather than relatively 'blunt'
findings. In this case, the authors can use semi-structured survey question to provide a
more detailed explanation to combine quantitative findings with qualitative findings.
In this case, ideational or mental responses from respondents in relation to certain
quantitative data are converted into a form of statistical data. For example, by using
this approach the authors have an opportunity to clarify the detailed portions of those
eligible to receive the EITC but fail to claim it instead of just concluding that "...there
was confusion and a lack of understanding even among those who received it." (p. 60).
Fourthly, given the extensive coverage of sampled area ─23 counties of 13 states─,
the authors have a potential opportunity to increase their 'level of research questions',
particularly in quantitative section, from exploratory research to explanatory research
by adopting appropriate inferential statistics instead of standard descriptive statistics.
This result can be achieved by adding specific survey instruments to obtain the
empirical 'construct' data from respondents at the data collecting stage.
4.5 The strength and weakness of the adopted methods and how to improve it
As a means of research, interviews are an essential method both in quantitative and
qualitative approaches. Indeed, interviewing can be considered the most essential part
of human interaction. In this article, the interviews were conducted on a one-on-one
basis or personal interviews by trained interviewers in respondents' choice of premises.
The data were then transcribed, coded, and analysed. By using this approach the
interviewer has an opportunity to explore a large amount of more detailed information.
Also, the interviews are more focused given that the answers are based solely on the
respondents being interviewed. Further, the interviewers can directly clarify the point
of responses which are easily confusing during personal interviews. Lastly, compared
to other methods of interviews, one-to-one interviewing offers more socialpsychological cues such as pitch, expression, intonation, tones, which can provide
useful additional information in answering research question.
However, given the crucial role of the interviewer in a qualitative approach, the use of
'trained interviewers' in this work may pose some additional inherent weaknesses. In
interviews, there is some degree of non-verbal behaviour (such as tone, pitch, or facial
expression) of the interviewer which may affect the interviewee's response to the
question. This is known as 'interviewer bias' (Saunders et al., 2003). It also happens
when the interviewer interprets the respondent's response in a different way.
Participating in an interview could also be intrusive. In this case, the interviewees may
be willing to respond, but might only reveal the 'surface structure' of their experience
or knowledge. Indeed, this method relies heavily on the respondents' willingness to
provide complete and accurate information. Do the authors sense this situation and
communicate this with their trained interviewers?
It is certainly obvious that the authors should take into account this situation to
maintain the robustness of the research. Therefore they need to ensure that their
trained interviewers have appropriate interviewing skills and credibility in conducting
interviews. In this sense, there are two crucial stages involved, planning the interview
and conducting the interview. In the planning stage, the interviewer should have a
well-formed outline of the issues to be explored. It is also essential at this stage that
the interviewer be aware of appropriate appearance in the interview, as it could
influence the perception of the interviewee. Building a good rapport and giving a
warm opening is also essential in this stage. In the next stage, during interview, the
interviewer needs to have an appropriate approach to questioning and improvising
techniques, ability to maintain control of the interview, active and attentive listening
skill, ability to conduct behavioural observation during the interview, and an
appropriate approach to note-taking and recording the information.
In summary, I can reasonably opine that I did not discover any noticeable
methodological misfits among these three articles. All of them, regardless of the
authors' philosophical stances, adopt appropriated research approaches. Nevertheless,
some areas of improvement are worthwhile exploring to enhance their quality.
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