Center for Contract and Economic Organization
Perhaps it is merely a reflection of my interests, but to my mind, empirical research requires a certain risk-preferent boldness. I like projects that explore how and why particular businesses make important decisions. After I identify a topic, I typically try to gather as much qualitative and quantitative information about it as I can, with the expectation that when I have learned a great deal about the topic something interesting will emerge that relates in some important way to an ongoing academic debate. Those projects usually do not begin with a specific hypothesis to prove or disprove-often either answer will produce a publishable result. The hypothesis I wish to test often emerges only after considerable work has been done, which creates a considerable risk that much effort will be invested to no productive end.
The success of that type of inquiry obviously is in the eye of the beholder, and I certainly am biased in thinking that I rarely have undertaken such a project without finding something that is interesting. It is common, however, that the results of such projects will be far removed from my expectations. Specifically, I often begin a project expecting that it will address a particular question, but finish the project emphasizing a question that was not on my initial list of inquiries. That is particularly true in interview-based projects, where the knowledge base I gain frequently alters my perspective so substantially that my views at the beginning of the project seem unsophisticated or even odd by the time the project is complete. A common pattern is to begin with a rough idea of what the data suggest, do some interviews that generate plausible hypotheses, and then examine those hypotheses in light of a relatively targeted data collection.
Ronald J. Mann,
An Empirical Investigation of Liquidation Choices of Failed High Tech Firms,
Wash. U. L. Q.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/faculty_scholarship/450