Theory development steps

How to Develop a Theory

A theory is a coherent and systematic explanation for a set of phenomena. It’s an idea that makes sense of observations and helps us make predictions.

In other words, a theory is just a hypothesis or educated guess about what’s going on. Developing a theory is not just a mental exercise. There is a scientific method to follow and scientific research to be done. Theories can be tested and refined through observation, experiments, and human trials.

This article will look at the different theory components, the theory development process, the pitfalls to avoid, and much more. Before creating a premise, ask the following questions:

  • What is the problem?
  • How does it affect you?
  • Who are the people involved?

The next step is to develop an understanding of the problem. This is done by asking more questions and doing more research and background checks.

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Components of a Theory

A theory consists of four main components, namely assumptions, constructs, prepositions, and arguments.

• Assumptions
• Constructs
• Prepositions
• Arguments

Assumptions: When developing a theory, it is necessary to assume certain things to test your hypothesis’s validity. The assumptions are hypotheses that are taken to be true.

Constructs: These are the concepts, variables, and ideas that serve as an explanation for your observations and hypothesis. Constructs are also called independent variables. They are the things you manipulate to observe the effects on other dependent variables or concepts.

Prepositions: A preposition is a relationship between an assumption or a construct and another construct. They help to explain the relationship or dependency between each construct.

Arguments: An argument is a statement that delivers a message. Arguments connect all the constructs in your premise. In theory development, arguments make up the body of your theory.

The Process of Theory Development

The theory-building process involves the following steps:

• Ask why you need a theory
• Find out what others have done
• Research for relevant data
• Develop a hypothesis
• Write a background for your hypothesis
• Test the hypothesis
• Modify the hypothesis where necessary
• Make predictions using your theory and test them
• Publish your theory

Ask yourself why you need a new theory.

What phenomena do not fit into existing theories? What predictions can you make that are different from those made by the current approach? Understanding your reasons will help you work towards your desired outcomes.

Find out what others have discovered.

When choosing a problem, try to find one that’s already been explored by someone else. Developing a theory is a cumulative process. Working off someone else’s results makes the process faster. It also helps to avoid common pitfalls and waste less time on dead ends.

Research to gather relevant data.

Data collection is the next step in theorem development. You have to know what you’re looking for before you can find it. To get the data you need, read texts and other publications on your problem.

Look for other people’s results in papers; trace their sources back to the originally published experiments that led to those results. You can also speak with people who have done research that is related to your problem.

Develop a hypothesis

When you have all the relevant information, develop a hypothesis. This is an educated guess about what might be happening that can lead to new experiments.

Your hypothesis should be as concise and precise as possible. It should be testable so that you can find out whether or not it is true.

How to develop a hypothesis:

  1. Start with the general. For example, if you want to figure out what causes a cold virus, begin by looking for what all cold viruses have in common.
  2. Be clear about what you mean by those words. For example, what is it that all cold viruses have in common? They are all in the same family. They infect birds, mammals, and people.
  3. Think of every way that you could disprove your hypothesis. You might form one view, but in reality, there are many ways to be wrong.

For example:

Cold viruses infect mammals and birds.

FALSE: Some cold viruses infect insects.

Keep an open mind and try to disprove your hypothesis. This part of the scientific method involves asking questions and trying to prove theories wrong or right.

Write a background and motivation for your hypothesis.

A background explains why you think something is happening in the way that you do. For example, experiments may have shown that something is increasing or decreasing, but you believe this behavior will change. Or the current model might not be accurate for tremendous values of some variable.

Do the research to test the hypothesis.

 If you have a theory that no other researcher can replicate, how will people know if it’s true? Write out your experiments so you can get others to repeat them if necessary

Modify your hypothesis as necessary.

Theories are never set in stone. After you’ve completed your experiments, go back and make changes to your hypothesis as needed. That way, it can be as accurate as possible.

Qualify your theory.

Every theory has limitations. Make sure you tell your readers about any that exist in yours that are relevant to the problem. For example, your approach may only apply within a specific temperature range.

Make predictions based on your theory and test them.

Your theory must make novel, testable predictions to be considered valid. If you can’t test your predictions, how will others know if they’re correct?      

Publish your theory.

Once you’ve tested and qualified your theory, publish it. If no one knows that you’ve done the work, how will other researchers build on it?

Common Errors in Developing a Theory

There are several common errors that researchers make when developing a theory.

Failure to define terms.

Testable– The ability for something to be proved right or wrong.

Constructs– Symbolic devices used to represent the elements of a theory.

Arguments– A proposition that is supported by evidence.

If you don’t define any of the words or phrases you use, your results will be meaningless. For example, if you say something is ‘increasing,’ specify how much or why. Otherwise,  your audience will have no way to follow your line of thought.

Ignoring the limitations of the theory.

A good theory will make testable predictions; it’s not enough to suggest that something might happen. If you can’t make a prediction and test it, how will you know if what you’ve developed is useful?

Use of improper data collection methods.

To have the best results, you need to go about systematically collecting data. This means using the same methods each time you collect data. If you change your approach, how will it be comparable to other results?

Many external factors affect data collection, so use the most accurate methods to achieve the best. Consider both artificial and natural phenomena when making your data collection plans.

Failure to consider alternative explanations.

A good theory needs to rule out other approaches that might explain the same results. If another explanation is possible, your theory won’t be considered valid. People will always consider existing knowledge before new ideas.

Too vague or overly specific.

If your hypothesis is too vague, it will be impossible to test and therefore useless. Likewise, if it’s too specific, you won’t be able to explain results that don’t fit with your theory.

Little or excessive emphasis on results.

It’s important to acknowledge the results of your experiments, but if you make a big deal out of some and ignore others, your results will lack credibility.

Theory Development Assumptions

The theory creation process is based on the following critical assumptions:

  • There is a phenomenon of interest. The interested party has an understanding of the background and literature on the topic.
  • The more you know about the topic, the better your theory will be. You’ll have a deeper understanding of what has already been done and what still needs to be done.
  • There is a need for the theory. For example, even if you develop a grand idea about making toast, no one will care unless toasters exist and people want to toast.
  • There is an opportunity for the theory to be tested and used. Unless someone can test and use the approach, it’s unlikely that anyone will take notice.
  • The interested party has sufficient time and resources to develop the theory. If you don’t have the materials or time you need, your approach won’t be considered.

The Theoretical Framework Structure

Theoretical frameworks explain how concepts are related to one another. They allow you to see the big picture and understand what your research is addressing.

The process for developing a theoretical framework consists of three steps:

  1. Identify the problem
  2. List the concepts that are related to the problem
  3. Develop a relationship between concepts

A theoretical framework takes the structure of a Venn diagram, with the variables in one circle being related to another variable in another circle. All of the concepts are linked together through one or more relationships.

Qualities of a Good Theory

A good theory should have the following characteristics:

  • Testability. The theory you develop should be testable. This means having a clearly defined process for doing so. Also, it should be testable by anyone, not just you.
  • Usefulness. The theory should have some application or suitability for your readers or audience. Your approach should consider the audience’s social and economic context and offer a solution to relevant problems. Only develop a theory if you have something new to say about the problem you are addressing.
  • Credibility. Ask yourself if your theory is credible. Would anyone believe it’s true if they didn’t know you created it? Does the evidence support the claim you’re making? Is your evidence consistent?
  • Achievability. If your theory is impractical, it won’t be of any use. It needs to be something that can realistically be worked towards or accomplished.
  • You should consider developing a theory if you have the available resources, time, and interest in exploring your topic.
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Theory Development Tips

The following tips can help you develop a theory more effectively:

  • Limit the scope of your theory. Try to focus on one aspect of the problem. If you try to do too much, your work will end up lacking depth and being unfocused.
  • Explain why you are developing a theory. Before you start, explain to your reader the purpose of your approach and why you are creating it. This will help them better understand your work and know what to expect.
  • Leverage existing theories. Building off of other people’s ideas is a great way to jump-start your development. Just remember that this requires you to acknowledge the work of others and give them credit.
  • Add some new ideas to existing theories. Sometimes adding your twist and spin to an existing approach can be helpful. Doing this can allow you to show off your creativity while also testing the theory for yourself.
  • Proofread. When creating a theory, take the time to proofread it several times. You want your work to be perfect and in its best form before you share it with anyone.
  • Go beyond the facts. Theory development isn’t about describing specific facts or findings; it’s about explaining these things in a new and meaningful way.
  • Know when it’s time to stop. Once you’ve developed your theory, stopping is sometimes the most challenging part. You might be tempted to keep adding or refining it, even if you are already satisfied with your work.

An Example of How to Develop a New Theory

Problem: Too many businesses fail within the first year.

Concepts: Business concept, business idea, new business creation, marketing strategy, customer service, business failure

Relationships: A new business can fail due to a lack of marketing strategy, poor customer service, or poorly thought out business ideas.

Hypothesis: A new business with a comprehensive marketing strategy, excellent customer service, and an effective business idea will be less likely to fail within the first year.

Existing theories:

The marketing mix theory. This traditional marketing model suggests businesses should offer four product dimensions: quality, value for money, functionality, and promotion. When combined, these dimensions are thought to create a marketing mix that will appeal to the target market.

The experience economy theory. It suggests that as societies progress, businesses and individuals will value experiences over physical goods.

The innovation theory. It is the idea that a successful business cannot rely on current products and services to maintain success. New ideas, processes, or methods are needed for businesses to continue thriving in the market.

Gaps identified in existing theories:

  • Innovation requires a forward-thinking business that lacks in the existing theories.
  • Marketing strategy, customer service, and business ideas are only three ways to avoid failure.
  • Innovation is seen as a way to solve today’s problems but not those of the future.

New theory addressing the gaps:

A new business will create a better future for itself by offering the best possible product or service. Successful businesses can identify problems that need addressed and innovate solutions to these problems.

This way, a new business can build a strong customer base before its competitor even has time to get started. With a strong customer base, the business can also fund further research and development that will allow it to stay ahead of the curve.

The strengths and weaknesses of existing theories:

The marketing mix theory has been around for decades, and there is a great deal of research to support it. This makes the approach easily accessible to anyone looking for information. The marketing mix theory also differentiates between product and promotion, which gives it more depth.

On the other hand, the marketing mix theory is not as forward-thinking as it could be. The approach focuses on what is happening in the business world today. It doesn’t consider what will happen tomorrow.

The experience economy theory is a new idea that has not been proven yet. The theory suggests that society places more value on experiences than material things, but there are counterexamples. For example, with the rise in e-commerce, it seems as though people are more interested in purchasing physical goods rather than experiences.

The innovation theory explains why businesses fail but doesn’t offer solutions to avoid failure. This theory also does not address the future, only the present and recent past.

The new theory started by answering the problem of how to make new businesses sustainable. By focusing on what will happen in the future, this theory provides more value to businesses than existing theories. By focusing on innovation, this theory ties in closely to the other existing approaches.

The new theory has not been proven yet, so it’s too early in development for anyone to use.

Further research:

The possible relationship between the experience economy theory and the innovation theory needs to be analyzed.

The perceived value of a new business coming to market should also be explored.

The cultural differences in how products are marketed across the world also need to be analyzed.

The new theory needs to be developed further so it can provide businesses with insights into the future.

Take Away

The theory development process is recursive. You may go through each step several times before you get it right. Considering what other scientists have done before can help you run your ideas up the flagpole to see if they fly.

Remember developing a good theory is an important skill. To get better at it, consider the tips above.

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