Determining a Theory
While you may see a theory as an absolute, such as
the theory of gravity or the theory of relativity,
it is actually a changing phenomenon, especially in
the soft or social sciences.
Theories are developed based on what is
observed or experienced, often times in the real
In other words, a theory may have no
additional backing other than an educated guess or a
hunch about a relationship.
For example, while teaching a college course
in research, I notice that non-traditional students
tend to be more involved in class lectures and
perform better on class exams than traditional
My theory, then, could be that older students
are more dedicated to their education than younger
At this point, however, I have noticed only a trend
within a single class that may or may not exist.
I have developed a theory based on my
observations and this theory, at least at this
point, has no practical applications.
Most theories are less concerned with
application and more concerned with explanations.
For example, I could assume, based on my
observations, that older students have witnessed the
importance of education through their work and
interactions with others.
With this explanation, I now have a
theoretical cause and effect relationship: Students
who have had prior experience in the workforce are
more dedicated to their education than students who
have not had this experience.
moving beyond this point it is always wise to do a
literature review on your topic and areas related to
Results from this search will likely help you
determine how to proceed with your research.
If, for example, you find that several
studies have already been completed on this topic
with similar results, doing yet another experiment
may add little to what is already known.
If this is the case, you would need to
rethink your ideas and perhaps replicate the
previous research using a different type of subject
or a different situation or you may choose to scrap
the study all together.