THEORY AND RESEARCH:Concepts, Propositions, Role of Theory

<< CLASSIFICATION OF RESEARCH:Goals of Exploratory Research
CONCEPTS:Concepts are an Abstraction of Reality, Sources of Concepts >>
Research Methods ­STA630
Lesson 4
The purpose of science concerns the expansion of knowledge, the discovery of truth and to make
predictions. Theory building is the means by which the basic researchers hope to achieve this purpose.
A scientist poses questions like: What produces inflation? Does student-teacher interaction influence
students' performance? In both these questions there is the element of prediction i.e. that if we do such
and such, then so and so will happen. In fact we are looking for explanation for the issue that has been
raised in these questions.  Underlying the explanation is the whole process through which the
phenomenon emerges, and we would like to understand the process to reach prediction.
Prediction and understanding are the two purposes of theory. Accomplishing the first goal allows the
theorist to predict the behavior or characteristics of one phenomenon from the knowledge of another
phenomenon's characteristics. A business researcher may theorize that older investors tend to be more
interested in investment income than younger investors. This theory, once verified, should allow
researchers to predict the importance of expected dividend yield on the basis of investors' age. The
researcher would also like to understand the process.  In most of the situations prediction and
understanding the process go hand in hand i.e. to predict the phenomenon, we must have an explanation
of why variables behave as they do. Theories provide these explanations.
As such theory is a systematic and general attempt to explain something like: Why do people commit
crimes? How do the media affect us? Why do some people believe in God? Why do people get
married? Why do kids play truant from school? How is our identity shaped by culture? Each of these
questions contains a reference to some observed phenomenon. A suggested explanation for the observed
phenomenon is theory. More formally, a theory is a coherent set of general propositions, used as
principles of explanations of the apparent relationship of certain observed phenomena. A key element
in this definition is the term proposition.
A systematic and
A suggested
general attempt to
explanation for
explain something...
"Why do people
"Why do
commit crimes?"
people get
does the
"Why do kids play truant
media affect us?"
from school?"
"Why do some people
"How is our identity
believe in God?"
shaped by culture?"
Theory development is essentially a process of describing phenomena at increasingly higher levels of
abstraction. A concept (or construct) is a generalized idea about a class of objects, attributes,
occurrences, or processes that has been given a name. Such names are created or developed or
constructed for the identification of the phenomenon, be it physical or non-physical. All these may be
considered as empirical realities e.g. leadership, productivity, morale, motivation, inflation, happiness,
Research Methods ­STA630
Concepts are the building block of a theory. Concepts abstract reality. That is, concepts are expressed in
words, letters, signs, and symbols that refer to various events or objects. For example, the concept
"asset" is an abstract term that may, in the concrete world of reality, refer to a specific punch press
machine. Concepts, however, may vary in degree of abstraction and we can put them in a ladder of
abstraction, indicating different levels.
A Ladder Of Abstraction
For Concepts
Moving up the ladder of abstraction, the basic concept becomes more abstract, wider in scope, and
less amenable to measurement. The scientific researcher operates at two levels: on the abstract level of
concepts (and propositions) and on the empirical level of variables (and hypotheses). At the empirical
level we "experience" reality ­ that is we observe the objects or events. In this example the reality has
been given a name i.e. banana. Moving up the ladder this reality falls in wider reality i.e. fruit, which in
turn becomes part of further wider reality called as vegetation.
Researchers are concerned with the observable world, or what we may call as "reality." We try to
construct names to such empirical reality for its identification, which may referred to as concept at an
abstract level.
Concepts are
Abstractions of Reality
Theorists translate their conceptualization of reality into abstract ideas.  Thus theory deals with
abstraction. Things are not the essence of theory; ideas are. Concepts in isolation are not theories.
Only when we explain how concepts relate to other concepts we begin to construct theories.
Research Methods ­STA630
Concepts are the basic units of theory development. However, theories require an understanding of the
relationship among concepts. Thus, once reality is abstracted into concepts, the scientist is interested in
the relationship among various concepts. Propositions are statements concerned with the logical
relationships among concepts. A proposition explains the logical linkage among certain concepts by
asserting a universal connection between concepts.
Theory is an abstraction from observed reality. Concepts are at one level of abstraction. Investigating
propositions requires that we increase our level abstract thinking. When we think about theories, we are
at the highest level of abstraction because we are investigating the relationship between propositions.
Theory is a network of propositions.
Theory Building Is A Process Of
Increasing Abstraction
Observation of objects
and events (reality )
Theory and Research
Basic to modern science is an intricate relation between theory and research. The popular understanding
of this relationship obscures more than it illuminates. Popular opinion generally conceives of these as
direct opposites: theory is confused with speculation, and thus theory remains speculation until it is
proved. When this proof is made, theory becomes fact. Facts are thought to be definite, certain, without
question, and their meaning to be self evident.
When we look at what scientists actually do when engaged in research, it becomes clear (1) that theory
and fact are not diametrically opposed, but inextricably intertwined; (2) that theory is not speculation;
and (3) that scientists are very much concerned with both theory and fact (research).
Hence research produces facts and from facts we can generate theories. Theories are soft mental images
whereas research covers the empirical world of hard, settled, and observable things. In this way theory
and fact (research) contribute to each other.
Role of Theory
1. Theory as orientation.
A major function of a theoretical system is that it narrows the range of facts to be studied. Any
phenomenon or object may be studied in many different ways. A football, for example, can be
investigated within an economic framework, as we ascertain the patterns of demand and supply relating
to this play object. It may also be the object of chemical research, for it is made of organic chemicals.
It has a mass and may be studied as physical object undergoing different stresses and attaining certain
Research Methods ­STA630
velocities under various conditions. It may also be seen as the center of many sociologically interesting
activities ­ play, communication, group organization, etc.
Each science and each specialization within a broader field abstracts from reality, keeping its attention
upon a few aspects of given phenomena rather than on all aspects. The broad orientation of each field
then focuses upon limited range of things while ignoring or making assumptions about others.
2. Theory as a conceptualization and classification.
Every science is organized by a structure of concepts, which refer to major processes and objects to be
studied. It is the relationship between these concepts which are stated in "the facts of science." Such
terms make up the vocabulary that the scientist uses. If knowledge is to be organized, there must be
some system imposed upon the facts which are observable. As a consequence, a major task in any
science is the development of development of classification, a structure of concepts, and an increasingly
precise set of definitions for these terms.
3. Theory in summarizing role.
A further task which theory performs is to summarize concisely what is already known about the object
of study. These summaries may be divided into two simple categories: (1) empirical generalizations,
and (2) systems of relationships between propositions.
Although the scientist may think of his field as a complex structure of relationships, most of his daily
work is concerned with prior task: the simple addition of data, expressed in empirical generalizations.
The demographer may tabulate births and deaths during a given period in order to ascertain the crude
rate of reproduction. These facts are useful and are summarized in simple or complex theoretical
relationships. As body of summarizing statements develops, it is possible to see relationships between
thee statements.
Theorizing on a still larger scale, some may attempt to integrate the major empirical generalizations of
an era. From time to time in any science, there will be changes in this
It is through systems of propositions that many of our common statements must be interpreted. Facts
are seen within a framework rather than in an isolated fashion.
4. Theory predicts facts.
If theory summarizes facts and states a general uniformity beyond the immediate observation, it also
becomes a prediction of facts. This prediction has several facets. The most obvious is the extrapolation
from the known to the unknown.  For example, we may observe that in every known case the
introduction of Western technology has led to a sharp drop in the death rate and a relatively minor drop
in the birth rate of a given nation, at least during the initial stages. Thus we predict that if Western
technology is introduced into a native culture, we shall find this process again taking place.
Correspondingly we predict that in a region where Western technology has already been introduced, we
shall find that this process has occurred.
5. Theory points gaps in knowledge.
Since theory summarizes the known facts and predicts facts which have not been observed, it must also
point to areas which have not yet been explored.
Theory also points to gaps of a more basic kind. While these gaps are being filled, changes in the
conceptual scheme usually occur. An example from criminology may be taken. Although a substantial
body of knowledge had been built up concerning criminal behavior and it causes. A body of theory
dealing with causation was oriented almost exclusively to the crimes committed by the lower classes.
Very little attention has been paid to the crimes committed by the middle class or, more specifically, to
the crimes labeled as "white collar" and which grow out of the usual activities of businessmen. Such a
gap would not be visible if our facts were not systematized and organized. As a consequence, we may
say that theory does suggest where our knowledge is deficient.
Role of Facts (Research)
Theory and fact are in constant interaction. Developments in one may lead to developments in the
other. Theory, implicit or explicit, is basic to knowledge and even perception. Theory is not merely a
Research Methods ­STA630
passive element. It plays an active role in the uncovering of facts. We should expect that "fact" has an
equally significant part to play in the development of theory.  Science actually depends upon a
continuous stimulation of fact by theory and of theory by fact.
1. Facts initiate theory.
Many of the human interest stories in the history of science describe how a striking fact, sometimes
stumbled upon, led to important theories. This is what the public thinks of as a "discovery." Examples
may be taken from many sciences: accidental finding that the penicillium fungus inhibits bacterial
growth; many errors in reading, speaking, or seeing are not accidental but have deep and systematic
causes. Many of these stories take an added drama in the retelling, but they express a fundamental fact
in the growth of science, that an apparently simple observation may lead to significant theory.
2. Facts lead to the rejection and reformulation of existing theory.
Facts do not completely determine theory, since many possible theories can be developed to take
account of a specific set of observation. Nevertheless, facts are the more stubborn of the two. Any
theory must adjust to facts and is rejected or reformulated if they cannot be fitted into its structure.
Since research is continuing activity, rejection and reformulation are likely to be going on
simultaneously. Observations are gradually accumulated which seem to cast doubt upon existing
theory. While new tests are being planned, new formulations of theory are developed which might fit
these new facts.
3. Facts redefine and clarify theory.
Usually thee scientist has investigated his/her problem for a long time prior to actual field or laboratory
test and is not surprised by his/her results. It is rare that he/she finds a fact that simply does not fit prior
New facts that fit thee theory will always redefine the theory, for they state in detail what the theory
states in very general terms. They clarify that theory, for they throw further light upon its concepts.
Theory and Research: the Dynamic Duo
Theory and research are interrelated; the dichotomy between theory and research is an artificial. The
value of theory and its necessity for conducting good research should be clear. Researchers who
proceed without theory rarely conduct top-quality research and frequently find themselves in confusion.
Researchers weave together knowledge from different studies into more abstract theory. Likewise, who
proceed without linking theory to research or anchoring it to empirical reality are in jeopardy of floating
off into incomprehensible speculation and conjecture.
Table of Contents:
  3. CLASSIFICATION OF RESEARCH:Goals of Exploratory Research
  4. THEORY AND RESEARCH:Concepts, Propositions, Role of Theory
  5. CONCEPTS:Concepts are an Abstraction of Reality, Sources of Concepts
  7. HYPOTHESIS TESTING & CHARACTERISTICS:Correlational hypotheses
  8. REVIEW OF LITERATURE:Where to find the Research Literature
  10. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK:Make an inventory of variables
  12. THE RESEARCH PROCESS:Broad Problem Area, Theoretical Framework
  13. ETHICAL ISSUES IN RESEARCH:Ethical Treatment of Participants
  14. ETHICAL ISSUES IN RESEARCH (Cont):Debriefing, Rights to Privacy
  15. MEASUREMENT OF CONCEPTS:Conceptualization
  19. RESEARCH DESIGN:Purpose of the Study, Steps in Conducting a Survey
  23. TOOLS FOR DATA COLLECTION:Guidelines for Questionnaire Design
  24. PILOT TESTING OF THE QUESTIONNAIRE:Discovering errors in the instrument
  25. INTERVIEWING:The Role of the Interviewer, Terminating the Interview
  26. SAMPLE AND SAMPLING TERMINOLOGY:Saves Cost, Labor, and Time
  28. TYPES OF PROBABILITY SAMPLING:Systematic Random Sample
  29. DATA ANALYSIS:Information, Editing, Editing for Consistency
  30. DATA TRANSFROMATION:Indexes and Scales, Scoring and Score Index
  31. DATA PRESENTATION:Bivariate Tables, Constructing Percentage Tables
  32. THE PARTS OF THE TABLE:Reading a percentage Table
  33. EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH:The Language of Experiments
  34. EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH (Cont.):True Experimental Designs
  35. EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH (Cont.):Validity in Experiments
  36. NON-REACTIVE RESEARCH:Recording and Documentation
  37. USE OF SECONDARY DATA:Advantages, Disadvantages, Secondary Survey Data
  39. OBSERVATION STUDIES (Contd.):Ethical Dilemmas of Field research
  40. HISTORICAL COMPARATIVE RESEARCH:Similarities to Field Research
  41. HISTORICAL-COMPARATIVE RESEARCH (Contd.):Locating Evidence
  42. FOCUS GROUP DISCUSSION:The Purpose of FGD, Formal Focus Groups
  43. FOCUS GROUP DISCUSSION (Contd.):Uses of Focus Group Discussions
  44. REPORT WRITING:Conclusions and recommendations, Appended Parts
  45. REFERENCING:Book by a single author, Edited book, Doctoral Dissertation