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 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 ultimate activities in social science is interpretation. In this 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 articles from a research methodology point of view and will be divided into five main parts in each article. First, it will summarise the article. Second, it will analyse the research approach used in the article and whether this approach philosophically appropriate to the research question. Third, it will review the validity and consistency of the claimed knowledge with the adopted research approach. Fourth, 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.
B. 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)
B.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 us a complete perspective of the ‘human view’ in understanding 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.
B.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.
B.3 Validity and consistency of knowledge claims with the adopted research approach
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 a qualitative approach.
B.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. Second, 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. First, as previously mentioned, this work answers ‘how’ and ‘why’ question regarding tax compliance. Second, 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. First, 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 “socio-material 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). Second, 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.
B.5 The strength and weakness of the adopted methods and how to improve it
First, 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) direct observation.
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 social-psychological 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 social-psychological 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 achieved.
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 standpoint, I suggest two recommendations. First, as there are many types of questions available to use in an 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 emphasise 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. Second, 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 participant.
C. Tuck, P. 2010. The emergence of the tax official into a T-shaped knowledge expert. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 21, 584-596.
C.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 ‘I-shaped’ 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.
C.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 “re-construction 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.
C.3 Validity and consistency of knowledge claims with the adopted research approach
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 on 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 has 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 qualitative approach.
C.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 finalises her work by providing the reader with 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 emphasising that “ethnographies re-create for the reader the shared belief, practices, artefacts, folk knowledge, and behaviour of some group of people”.
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. 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.
C.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 minimising 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. Second, 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 minimised by participants’ confirmations.
D. 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.
D.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.
D.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 convenience sampling.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 socio-demographic 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 a 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.
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 socio-demographic 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 a 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.
D.3 Validity and consistency of knowledge claims with the adopted research approach
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’ numerical-findings 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 the 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.
D.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 mixed-methodology 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. First, 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. Second, 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. Third, 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 initially 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.
D.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 social-psychological 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 find 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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