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The role of theory in research

Division for Postgraduate Studies (DPGS)
Post-graduate Enrolment and Throughput Program

Dr. Christopher E. Sunday


Some definitions of ‘theory’.
Some characteristics of ‘theory’.
Theories vs. hypotheses.
How to evaluate the quality of a theory or explanation.
The dynamic relationship between theory and research.
Deductive theory.
Inductive theory.
Example of theories relevant to a particular research question.
Theories and findings related to second language learning.

The Behaviourist Approach

The Cognitive Approach

Linguistic Universals

Social Models

The Humanist Approach

Some definitions of ‘theory’
 Theory









understanding, which shapes both what we see and how we see it. Theory allows the researcher to make links between the

abstract and the concrete; the theoretical and the empirical; thought statements and observational statements etc.
 Theory is a generalised statement that asserts a connection between two or more types of phenomena – any generalised explanatory principle.
 Theory is a system of interconnected abstractions or ideas that condenses and organises knowledge about the world.
 Theory explains and predicts the relationship between variables.

Some characteristics of ‘theory’
 Theory guides research and organises its ideas. The analogy of bricks lying around haphazardly in the brickyard: ‘facts’ of different shapes and sizes have no meaning unless they are drawn together in a theoretical or conceptual framework.
 Theory becomes stronger as more supporting evidence is gathered; and it provides a context for predictions.
 Theory has the capacity to generate new research.
 Theory is empirically relevant and always tentative.

Theories vs.…...

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