The Logic of Process Tracing Tests in the Social Sciences

James Mahoney*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

154 Scopus citations


This article discusses process tracing as a methodology for testing hypotheses in the social sciences. With process tracing tests, the analyst combines preexisting generalizations with specific observations from within a single case to make causal inferences about that case. Process tracing tests can be used to help establish that (1) an initial event or process took place, (2) a subsequent outcome also occurred, and (3) the former was a cause of the latter. The article focuses on the logic of different process tracing tests, including hoop tests, smoking gun tests, and straw in the wind tests. New criteria for judging the strength of these tests are developed using ideas concerning the relative importance of necessary and sufficient conditions. Similarities and differences between process tracing and the deductive-nomological model of explanation are explored.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)570-597
Number of pages28
JournalSociological Methods and Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1 2012


  • case studies
  • causal inference
  • deductive-nomological model
  • hypothesis testing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science

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