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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

Outline










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

is

a

model

or

framework

for

observation

and

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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