Coping With Null Results in Quantitative Sociological Research


This article discusses one of the biggest challenges for quantitative sociologists in the early stages of their career: how to cope with results that are statistically insignificant. As good scientists, we know that statistical insignificance does not mean social insignificance. Still, the incentive structures for publishing quantitative work in sociological journals still lean in favor of positive results. For this reason, early career researchers may be disappointed to uncover null results and may hold back in attempting to get them published. To help with this, I share my experience writing up and publishing null results. I argue that researchers should scrutinize their null results as heavily as they would with positive results. Researchers should also be encouraged to investigate potentially significant interaction effects even if direct effects are insignificant. Yet, once a researcher has confirmed-and resigned him or herself to-the insignificant effects, the process of seeing the intellectual value in the null results begins. I suggest how to make null results notable enough to warrant publication, namely framing an article with null findings as somewhat surprising, explainable and consequential. I conclude with some thoughts on how to select the appropriate outlet for publication in the case of insignificant results.

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