Definition of Theory in Research

 Definition of Theory in Research

One of the important components of conducting research is determining what theory to use to explore the formulation of the problem. In quantitative research, researchers often test various theories to answer the formulation of the problem. In a quantitative dissertation proposal, all sections in it can be designed to present the category to be studied. 

In quantitative research, the use of theory is more varied. In fact, qualitative researchers can develop a theory from the results of their research and put the theory at the end of a research project, for example in grounded theory research. 

In qualitative research, theories can also appear at the beginning of the study as perspectives that can later shape what is seen in the formulation of what problem is proposed, such as in ethnographic research or advocacy. 

In mixed Research, researchers can test or create a theory' in fact, research with the mixed method can be based on one theoretical perspective, such as focusing on feminist issues, race, or class, which can later guide the entire research phase.

Definition Of Theory

A theory is a set of interrelated constructs (or variables) associated with propositions or hypotheses that detail interrelationships (usually in the context of magnitude or direction). A theory in research can serve as an argument, discussion, or reason. Theories usually help explain (or predict) phenomena that arise in the world. Labovitz and Hagedorn (1971) add to this definition of theory the notion of theoretical rationality, which is defined as "the attempt to know how and why variables and relational statements relate to each other".

Why does the independent variable, X, affect or have an effect on the specified variable, Y? In this case, the theory will provide an explanation for the expectations or predictions of this connectedness.

The discussion of theories usually appears in the literature section or in specialized sections, such as theoretical foundations, theoretical logic, or theoretical perspectives, although I prefer the term theoretical perspective because it is more widely used as an integral part of research proposals, especially in papers presented at seminars of the American Educational Research Association.

In addition, the theory also has a different range, Neuman (2000) divided the theory into three levels: micro-level, meso-level, and macro-level. Micro-level theories provide explanations that are limited to time, space, and a specific journal" such as Goffman's theory of facial motion (face work) which explains how people act face to face when in religious rituals. Meso-level theory connects micro-level theory and macro-level theory. 

This theory generally includes theories about organizations, social movements, or communities, such as Collin's theory of control in organizations. The macro-level theory describes broader aggregates, such as social institutions, empowered systems, and society at large. Lenski's theory of social stratification, for example, explains how the surplus of a society can increase as it develops.

Theories may appear in various social science disciplines, such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, education, and economics, as well as in other subfields. These theories can, of course, be accessed, for example, by searching literature databases (e.g., Psychological Abstracts, Sociological Abstracts) or reviewing literature manuals that explain them (e.g., see Webb, Beals, & White, L986).

Forms Of Theory

In a research proposal, the researcher confirms his theory in several forms, such as a hypothesis, an "IF-THEN" logical statement, or a visual benefit. 

  1. First, the researcher confirms the theory in the form of interconnected hypotheses. 
  2. Second, the researcher states the theory in the form of an “If-Then" statement that shows why one should expect the independent variable to affect the dependent variable.
  3. Third, the researcher can present the theory in visual form. This form is important for translating variables into visual images. Blalock (1969, 1985, 1991) presents causal modeling by forming verbal theories into causal models so that the reader can visualize the relationship between variables.


Creswell, J.W. (1999) Mixed method research: Introduction and application. In G.J. Cizek (Ed.). Handbook of educational policy (pp. 455-472). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Creswell, J.W. (2007). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choos¬ing among Five Approaches ( 3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Creswell, J.W. (2008). Educational Research: Ptoming, Conducting and Evaluating Quantitative and Qualitative Research (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.
Creswell, J.W. & Brown, M.L. (1992, Fall). How chairpersons enhance faculty research: A grounded theory study. The Review of Higher Education, 16(1), 41-62.
Creswell, J.W., & Miller, D. (2000). Determining validity in qualita¬tive inquiry. Theory into Practice, 39(3), 124-130.
Creswell, J. W., & Creswell, J. D. (2017). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approach. Sage publications.
Creswell, J.W. & Piano Clark, V.L. (2007). Designing and Conducting Mixed Methods Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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