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Special Issue on Inductive Research in Organizations Journal of Business and Psychology


Special Feature Editors
Ann Marie Ryan, Michigan State University
Neal Schmitt, Michigan State University
Paul Spector, University of South Florida
Robert Vandenberg, University of Georgia
Sheldon Zedeck, University of California Berkeley
Steven Rogelberg, University of North Carolina Charlotte

For the past two decades the field of organizational psychology has evolved toward demanding more and more theory, making it increasingly difficult to publish descriptive or exploratory research papers. The deductive approach now dominates where editors and reviewers often demand that every paper must ground results in theory-based hypotheses, and with some journals, that nearly every paper must make an original theoretical contribution. Whereas there is no doubt that the deductive approach has value, our science is also dependent upon the generation of data as the raw material upon which new theories are based. Thus inductive approaches that focus on observations not based on a priorí theory can be as valuable as observations designed to test theory. Such inductive approaches are commonly found in medicine and the natural sciences where many papers describe studies that are descriptive and exploratory rather than confirmatory.

This special issue solicits paper submissions that describe studies that are inductive rather than deductive, that is, they report results of studies that are not positioned as tests of theories. This might include studies that describe phenomena (e.g., the incidence of certain problems across organizations), or are exploratory (e.g., the study of new phenomena or phenomena that have received little attention). Also appropriate for the special issue would be intervention studies that would not have a strong theoretical basis. This might include a study demonstrating that a particular intervention had an effect on an important organizational variable, such as task performance. 

            As authors prepare their submissions for this special feature, it is important to keep in mind the following:

  1. Papers are due by June 1, 2013
  2. Papers should be submitted online to:
  3. As we recognize that this is not a typical call for papers, we encourage authors to reach out with questions at any time (
  4. A compelling rationale is essential to good inductive research.
  5. For this special feature, our specific focus is on inductive research that is quantitative in nature.  We are also not seeking conceptual papers.
  6. Seeking meaningful connections to extant literature is critical.
  7. A paper must show how the results contribute to our understanding of the phenomena of interest.
  8. Good inductive research analyzes the data so as to rule out alternative explanations.
  9. Inductive research requires the authors to be highly transparent in their analytic methods.
  10. While inductive research typically follows the standard intro, methods, results, and discussion format, it is not atypical to see in inductive research a comparatively longer results and discussion section, and a comparatively shorter introduction section than what is typical in deductive research.
  11. We will be forming a special feature editorial board composed of individuals open to inductive research so that all papers are reviewed fairly and appropriately. 

This special feature will also serve as a case-study of sorts of the inductive approach to advancing our science. To that end, additional pieces will be included in the special feature that discuss the challenges
of inductive research from an author, reviewer, and editor perspective.  

Additional context for the special feature

Science 23 March 2012: ?Vol. 335 no. 6075 p. 1439?

Finding a Good Research Question, in Theory
Newton needed an apple, Franklin a flash, Galileo a telescope, and Archimedes a crown. What do these people have in common? They observed a phenomenon that they could not explain, devoted their lives to investigating it, and in doing so achieved groundbreaking discoveries. From observations to hypotheses, from experiments to potential explanations, they conducted every part of the research required to answer the question they had chosen.

Nowadays, rarely—if ever—can a single scientist start at the beginning of the research process and follow it through all the way to its conclusion. Rather than a marathon, research today resembles a relay race: We focus on a small part of a larger question and then pass the baton to the next scientist. In a system where most advances are incremental, many scientists struggle to pursue original research questions. We identified and evaluated several methods that scientists use to select the subject of their research.

Some scientists approach the task by picking a theory and reading all the papers within its theoretical framework in search of a question not yet asked. However, the mere fact that some aspect has not been explored yet does not necessarily make it interesting. Others create a problem they think they can solve by applying one of the solutions their theories or methodologies have already provided to them. This may be an engaging intellectual exercise, but it usually leads to sterile research questions, unlinked to the real world. These question-generation strategies lead to smart and creative solutions to problems that do not exist—a phenomenon called Type III error: finding the right answer to the wrong question (1). It seems to us that too much research is based on these approaches, especially in behavioral economics and behavioral sciences.

There is another way to generate a research question: Go back to the basics. Observe the world, and when you encounter a phenomenon that intrigues you, investigate it. Theories should not be the only source of research questions or  the benchmark against which we define what is right and wrong. Shall we abandon a research question when there is no theory from which we could derive our hypotheses? Should we feel compelled to conform our own results only to the mainstream theoretical framework to be accepted in the field? Should we be more concerned about the theory than about the actual problem under investigation? Research runs the risk of growing too dependent on theories, neglecting real-world problems as a result and constraining perspectives and methodologies. If Newton had been preoccupied with established theories, he might have been too busy in his office to realize how surprisingly interesting an apple falling from a tree could be.

Nicolai Bodemer*,
Azzurra Ruggeri
Max Planck Institute for Human Development, 14195, Berlin, Germany.