The Concept of Theory: Main Aspects


Theory is an important part of study that scholars and students depend on for knowledge. The development of research is dependent on research in every field. Theory is inevitably used in all areas of study and serves many purposes among them solving problems and generating knowledge (Henderikus 2010, p. 1). Research is an important part of theory and has to be conducted according to the principles so as to attain credibility. Theory based on research is highly regarded. More so, a theory that has been developed over a long period of time is believed to be credible.

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The main aim of this essay is to explore the concept of theory and specifically concentrate on issues such as the nature and types of theory, the relationship between theory and research, the contribution of research to theory and how theory relates with the dissertation topic. Other issues tackled in this essay are comparison and contrast between theory and such concepts such as hypothesis, paradigm and model and discussion and analysis on the areas of controversy related to the theory. These areas are discussed in the following paragraphs.

Discussing scholarly views on the nature and types of theory

Theory has been given different meanings by various scholars, depending on the purpose and the other factors that influence the methodology. More so, some have identified different types to distinguish differences in practice.

The nature of theory

Gelso (2006, p. 1) points out that theory has been misunderstood over the years by young scholars. Strongly held beliefs have been often misunderstood to mean theory. During professional practice like in psychology, therapies have also been misinterpreted to mean theory where as in some cases professional experiences may have made some to designate the word theory to untested assumptions. Some theories are part of a broader theory and needs to be integrated to become more meaningful as pointed out by Gelso (2006, p. 2)

Theory has been defined by different scholars. Henderikus (2010, p. 1) says that theory is a systematically organized problem which gives details of the phenomenon and gives a prediction of the results. Gelso (2006, p. 3) states that a theory is a combination of a few abstracts that are therefore related to one another. When the facts are established a theory is then tested. Theories vary in their views and in their application. Some are informal while other are formal. Informal theory refers to the theories that are coined without a clear objective. Theory has also been defined as a set of standards that are constant in a given phenomenon (Harlow 2009, p.1).

Theory performs important functions. In accordance with Gelso (2006, p. 3) theory gives an explanation of why the given variables are related and how they affect each other. A theory describes a phenomenon in details in a precise manner taking note of the most important issues. Furthermore, a theory limits the scope of its study so as to regulate and deal with the given variables adequately and leave room for further studies. Consequently, other ideas are generated from theory leading to growth of the theory. A theory also integrates variables and relates them to establish uniformity. Harlow (2009, p.1) believes that theory forms the foundation for studying a problem, phenomenon or even in an academic setting.

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A good scientific theory should be applicable as pointed out by Gelso (2006, p. 5).A theory should also have clarity of ideas. Besides clarity Szydlowski & Smith (2009) also articulate that theory posses the quality of parsimony where the ideas discussed is made relevant to the theory. Klein et al (2006, p. 594) mentions that the relationship between variables in the theory are comprehensively dealt with within the given scope. This is because theory is about finding the relationship of two or more element. Importantly, the theory must scientifically testable. The units of measurement can be provided in the theory.

Wacker (1999, p365) argues that a scientific theory is unique. If the findings of a research are identical, then the theory is the same as the one documented before. The theory then remains conservative until a superior theory is coined. He also noted that a theory is competent if it is generalized and applicable in many areas. Consequently, he insisted that a theory that lead to the generation of more hypotheses is preferred more than a theory that has fewer hypotheses.

Types of theory

There are three of type’s theories namely: functionalism, empiricism, reflexivity and analytical research Henderikus (2010, p.3) points out that functionalism give the progressive report of the development of a phenomenon by explaining how it functions even if the components of the phenomenon are not understood. Attention is given to the process rather than the constituents of the problem.

Theory that has been purely based on research and is verifiable has been viewed as Empirical research. Empirical research has been widely used by scholar to formulate theories as revealed by Henderikus (2010, p.4). Wacker (1999, p. 374) argues that empirical research establishes the relationship between different variables by testing a theory in the real world.

Reflexity as highlighted by Henderikus (2010, p.4) is a type of theory where the researcher conduct investigation while participating in the society. This way the researcher will be sure to capture the reflexivity in human beings. Being part of the society under investigation may affect the objectivity of the study hence the theory will be based on inaccurate findings of a study.

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Analytical research uses the statistics to arrive at conclusions. According to Wacker (1999, p. 373) has three subcategories that include conceptual research, mathematical research and statistical research. Conceptual research introduces new insights by examining the relationship of different concepts. Mathematical research aims at developing new formulas that explain the relationships of closely related concepts. Statistical research develops theories that are for empirical testing.

Comparing and contrasting three views on what constitutes a theory

There are three views that have been used to explain the constituents of a theory. The first is reductionism, the second is instrumentalism and the last one is realism Henderikus (2007, p. 2). These views embrace the development of theory thorough scientific research.

Reductionism believes theory constitutes areas of study that can be explained in different contexts. The theory can be evaluated in a different field to make explanations depending on the purpose of study. On the other hand Realism and Instrumentalism views differ in their purpose for research. Realism as the name suggest attempts to account for an event as it is and hold that the outcomes of research that lead to formulation of research should be considered as true. On the other hand instrumentalism perceives scientific research as an attempt to arrive at the truth but fails to do so. Therefore instrumentalism views theory as a tool for giving descriptions.

Another difference between realism and instrumentalism is the content. Realism argues that recent developments in scientific theory are true while instrumentalism dwell on the history and some doubt the success of the scientific theories that have been constructed (Fumertone 2007, p. 589).

Distinguish theory from concepts such as hypothesis, paradigm, model and concept

Whereas theory is a body of knowledge, Mayer et al (2011, p. 10) argues that a hypothesis is a proposition in a theory that explains a phenomenon by relating two variables. A theory can have several hypotheses. Paradigm is a word used to differentiate diverse concepts as used by Pelletier & Kottke (2009, p. 85). A model differs from a theory in that a model is representative of a group of concepts that have been derived from a theory (Hardman 2010, p. 2). Concepts differ from theory in that a theory may be made up of one or more concepts or relate to concepts. Concepts are developed from repetitive units of ideas.

Review of the relationship between theory and research

The definition of research as given by Ellis &Levy (2008, p. 28) is research is the organized process that includes collection of data and data analysis so as to make conclusions concerning a specific area of study.

According to Gelso (2006, p. 6) theory leads to generation of research topics. Gaps that arise during the application of existing theories lead to construction of a hypothesis. Research findings are recorded as a development of the theory and then other scholars engage in research to test the theory. Theory then leads to research and the cycle of theory and research begins.

Gelso (2006, p. 6) describes the relationship between theory and research as synergetic. This is because they complement each other in the process of scientific research. While contributing to the argument that theory and research is cyclic, he noted that the process involves invention and justification. He also added that innovations lead to modification of the existing theories hence new theories are proposed. The new proposed theory is then tested and the cycle continues. What is more is that research relies on theory for guidance. They assist the researcher make conclusions, generate hypothesis as well as come up with new ideas. Mayeret al (2011, p. 10) in their study depend on theory to develop a working hypothesis that direct the study. This is derived from propositions given in the theory. When they engage in research confirm the accuracy of the propositions by noting the findings at the end of the study.

Researchers refer to existing theories before engaging into research as mentioned by Harlow (2009, p.1). Depending on the theory the researcher will be able to choose appropriate topics and the relevant objects of study. The researcher presents their findings by stating what the research findings and then the theory is related depending on the findings of the study. The researcher indicates if the findings are in line with the theory and if the theory needs to be modified.

Additionally Ellis &Levy (2008, p. 28) argue that theory which is in the form of literature is essential in guiding the researcher to formulate the research question. This means that prior to going to the field to collect data or make observations, the researcher must engage in extensive literature review.

Ekaterini (2010, p.3) conducts an empirical study to establish the relationship between four models that have been used in the organizations. His aim is to generate knowledge that may be useful in improving the models and lead to more efficiency in the organizations. His findings add to the existing theories.

Research leads to solutions to the problems as revealed by Pelletier& Kottke (2009, p. 90). The researchers conducted a study to solve a problem that had emerged by finding what the causes are and made possible recommendations. The recommendations given then assisted the organization to take control of the problem. The findings obtained are considered as new information and add on to the existing theories. Moreover, a new theory can emerge as a new theory depending on the findings of the study.

Szydlowski & Smith (2009, p.4) argue that discovery of new technologies that improve the way we handle today’s problems lies in the development of theories. Existing theories allows the researcher to go to the next level like in the invention of more effective medical equipment that improve efficiency.

Discussing ways research contributes to theory

In accordance with Harlow (2009, p.3) research contributes to the body of knowledge. Research findings can give additional information concerning a specific area leading to increased information. The information obtained can be used to solve issues when applied in a similar phenomenon. Research in a new area can be conducted and lead to formulation a theory. Moreover before generalizing a theory similar research findings have to be made. Research can also challenge the hypothesis in theories and lead to developments.

Research can contribute to theory by generating entirely new theory as argued by Wacker (1999, p365). Problem in society can trigger investigations. Several researchers who conduct investigation in similar problems may end up with similar findings which lead to a new theory. The theory can be effective in dealing with an uncontrolled problem in the society.

Research makes it possible for people to share knowledge. Harlow (2009, p.3) in his study found out that institutions that conduct own study end up with findings and eventually theories. The studies are considered credible by other institutions and when they are published they are used to solve similar problems in similar institutions.

Qualitative research is essential in providing explanations for certain problems by giving an account. The findings of a research may give a outcome that require an explanation, qualitative research gives the explanations better than quantitative research which in most cases is transformed into numerical data. Qualitative research says how something occurs and why it occurs (Detert & Trevino 2010, p. 249).

The society is dynamic and people keep changing their behavior. Harlow (2009, p.2) notes that the society can experience challenge when problems develop out of the changing behavior of human beings. Besides building knowledge, Szydlowski & Smith (2009, p.4) argue that existing theories may become out dated and inadequate in solving emerging problems. Therefore research becomes inevitable and contributes by giving new solutions to emerging problems. Time change and development in the contemporary world lead to new problems that did not exist. Consequently research based theories are most effective in developing applicable solutions for such problems. As already mentioned the cycle of research is continuous and this cycle is also created when new problems emerge and hence the need for theories becomes increased.

Relating theory with the topic of dissertation

Contributions of the theory to the field or research topic

Theory enables researchers to identify areas that have not been adequately researched on. Hardman (2010, p. 1) says that theory is developed in a long period of time and areas within the broad topic emerge as the theory develop. For this reason realism is adopted as the most recent developments are considered to be most effective. Moreover, the research findings are also believed to be true because they have been developed over a long period of time. Research topic on theory of management is given in details and most often explanations on different aspects are given.

Shapiro (2011. p. 413) argues that management theory is important in a wide range of field and can be helpful if adopted. Reviewing existing theories that have been developed in the recent past are likely to be more relevant and be of help in solving current problems. He notes that what could lead to further research is if the theory does not bear any fruit it solving the current problems.

Theory adds to the research topic by providing insights about the research topic that are relevant. The elements to be used in the study are selected on the basis of the information available. This is possible because the researcher determines the best elements and the number by reviewing theories (Harlow 2009, p.1).

Casalegno (2009, p. 2) takes note of the theories that have been applied in Europe to understand the management of organizations. Consequently he makes note of the precedence and attempt to make a prediction on what the future. Harlow (2009, p.1) indicates that theory gives the available information on the topic of research. Before conducting any theory, literature review is an inevitable step that informs the researcher on the research topic extensively. From the explanations given on the research topic in the literature review, one can develop a research problem that is researchable. Then the research problem designed and the researcher then sets the goals for the research also based on the information provided in the theory.

Tumasjan et al (2011, p. 610) argue that theory cures curiosity for more information. The research topic is therefore relevant in guiding one to get the correct information. It is important to note that theory is essential in giving the research direction from general areas to a specific area. Usually a theory may provide classifications and categories that make it possible for the readers to comprehend the given descriptions and explanations. For instance the researcher can make follow steps to arrive at research question from the generalized area of research topic. Therefore, conducting research after consulting information from theory is inevitable, without theory researchers have to use a lot of time and resources before making constructive progress in the research topic. An example of such a study that develops its steps around the available theory is the study conducted by Muller (2009, p. 70). The literature review is used to develop the purpose, the research design and to make judgment on the results obtained.

Theory contains information that is used by the researcher to choose the best methodology for the research topic. This is made possible by the fact that other researchers may give own views and recommendations that may be a guide to choosing the best methodology considering past experiences and new developments and areas that have not been covered. More so results as well as conclusions are compared with theory to note any variations or consistency.

Crespell & Hansen (2008, p. 6) argues that theory enables the researcher to chose the most accurate research topic for a particular study. While following the principles of the theory, the research may confirm the accuracy of the theory and give more information concerning the outcomes that are similar to the propositions of the theory.

Theory makes it possible for a researcher to conduct ethnographic study. Testing a theory in differently on the same problem is possible if theory on the same problem is documented. Therefore, theory allows for testing on a particular topic. It also makes it possible to compare the results and conclusions of different studies (Crespell & Hansen 2008, p. 127).

Discussing and analyzing areas of controversy related to the theory

The management theory fails to give details concerning the misconduct of the employers. In most cases punitive measures are given to the employees for and the employer and the top management rarely fall culprit of the punitive measures although they do exist (Mayer 2011, p. 8). On the contrary, Shapiro et al (2011, p. 413) argue that employers and the top management may be experience injustices due to the punitive measures that are bestowed on them. For this reason they plan to escape from such punitive measures and may pull out of the organization way before investigations or if they remain they fall short of commitment in the organization. Pelletier & Kottke (2009, p. 78) does raise concerns on the issue of punishing the employers. In their argument they examine if the employers consider morality as an important aspect in management.


Theory being systematically organized knowledge is important in solving problems, giving new information and making it possible to predict the future. Moreover, theory is generated from research. The process is theory and research cyclic because theory leads to research and research leads to theory. Furthermore, research informs theory and theory informs research. Scientific research is verifiable, conservative, is applicable within a given scope among other qualities. There are various types of research that include functionalism, empiricism, reflexivity and analytical research. Reductionisms, instrumentalism together with realism are views held about what constitutes a theory.

The relationship between theory and research is mutual. Research depends on the existing knowledge to formulate a research problem, a hypothesis, a research design and to be able to know areas that have been neglected in previous research. Theory depends on research for development by giving further explanations and to make changes whenever there are changes on the conditions of the variables. Research is a means of testing the accuracy of the theory.

Theory contributes to the research topic by making it possible to understand the existing knowledge, noting the areas of contradiction and narrowing down the area of study. More so theory makes it possible for a researcher to choose a working research problem, hypothesis and get guidance in the research process. Again, theory makes it possible to make conclusions in the given research topic by comparing results with the principles of the theory.

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