The Use of Theories and Theoretical Models in Business Research and How Theory Development Contributes to High Quality Research

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The Use of Theories and Theoretical Models in Business Research and How Theory Development Contributes to High Quality Research

The Use of Theories and Theoretical Models in Business Research and How Theory Development Contributes to High Quality Research

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  • 1. Use of Theories 1The Use of Theories and Theoretical Models in Business Research and How Theory Development Contributes to High-Quality Research Edgardo Donovan RES 620 – Dr. Wenli Wang Module 2 – Case Analysis Monday, November 7, 2011
  • 2. Use of Theories 2 The Use of Theories and Theoretical Models in Business Research and How Theory Development Contributes to High-Quality Research Theory development constitutes the main and probably most important pillar to asuccessful business research project in that it forces the author to take stock of all relevantpreviously produced knowledge, identify gaps/inconsistencies/strengths, deliver clear constructs,and channel theoretical developments to produce new knowledge that is valuable to the field. It has been widely observed that theorizing is not unique to the scholarly enterprise.Instead, it arises from a universal human need to order and explain personal experience (Whetten2002, p. 47). Theory is an organized system of accepted knowledge that applies in a variety ofcircumstances to explain a specific set of phenomena whereas theoretical models are constructsthat represent physical, biological or social processes, with a set of variables and a set of logicaland quantitative relationships between them. Models are constructed to enable reasoning withinan idealized logical framework (Eveland 2011, p. 2). The viewpoints espoused by Weick and Whetten are mostly complementary of each otherand can be useful especially to the aspiring dissertation writer in crystallizing how to approachthe process of creating new knowledge by constructing new theoretical models. Often, thedilemma is whether to focus on attempting to produce ground-breaking work that violentlybreaks away from convention or to continue the theoretical work started by others in one’schosen field. One of the most promising arenas for theory development in our field is theincremental improvement of middle-range theories (Whetten, 1989). Although most scholarsdream of creating a wholly new, full-blown, broad-gauged theoretical perspective, few realize
  • 3. Use of Theories 3this dream. Instead, theory development mostly focuses on improving extant explanations forwhat is readily observable, via a process of incremental change informed by logical, empirical orpractical tests. The management research is perpetually anticipating radical newconceptualizations of motivation, leadership, group dynamics, or strategy, this form of theorizingshould not be thought of as the primary (and certainly not as the exclusive) domain of thescholarly craft known as theory development (Whetten 2002, p. 47). Ideally, the beginning dissertation writer should focus in developing theories related totheir particular area of expertise where they exercise a practical understanding gained througheither years of study or on the job. Theory is practical – it is useful in guiding practice – and,only good theory is practical– bad theory is often dysfunctional, and even harmful. Above allelse, effective theory development practices produce theories that lend themselves to furtherdevelopment (Whetten 2002, p. 46). Once a general familiarity with peer-reviewed bodies ofwork is achieved within a particular subject area, the actual process of theorizing consists ofactivities like abstracting, generalizing, relating, selecting, explaining, synthesizing, andidealizing. These ongoing activities intermittently spin out reference lists, data lists of variables,diagrams, and lists of hypotheses. Those emergent products summarize progress, give direction,and serve as placemarkers. They have vestiges of theory but are not themselves theories (Weick1995, p. 389). Analyzing theories developed by other researchers through graphical models is one of themost effective ways to quickly compare a variety peer reviewed frameworks. Another simple andcompelling justification for using graphical models is to guide the theorizing process is that thefeatures of the tool of choice for constituting and representing theories should exemplify the
  • 4. Use of Theories 4qualities of the ideal theory. Graphical modeling naturally lends itself to developingconceptualizations that are both complete and systematic. In addition, modeling is equally usefulas a theory development tool for constructing emergent explanations of ‘new’ phenomena andfor improving long standing explanations. Alternatively, for researchers who are not goodwriters, a set of diagrams can provide structure to otherwise rambling or amorphous arguments.For those researchers who are talented writers, having a concrete model may prevent obfuscationof specious or inconsistent arguments. (Whetten 2002, p. 50). Apparently, producing an acceptable literature review is a skill that many researchers donot master right away. I was surprised to find that, despite the assumption that dissertationliterature reviews are comprehensive and up-to-date, the dirty secret known by those who sit ondissertation committees is that most literature reviews are poorly conceptualized and written.(Boote 2005, p. 4). A thorough, sophisticated literature review should be the foundation andinspiration for substantial, useful research. The complex nature of education research demandssuch thorough, sophisticated reviews. Although doctoral education is a key means for improvingeducation research, the literature has given short shrift to the dissertation literature review.“Good” research is good because it advances our collective understanding. To advance ourcollective understanding, a researcher or scholar needs to understand what has been done before,the strengths and weaknesses of existing studies, and what they might mean. A researcher cannotperform significant research without first understanding the literature in the field. Notunderstanding the prior research clearly puts a researcher at a disadvantage. (Boote 2005, p. 3).As the foundation of any research project, the literature review should accomplish severalimportant objectives. It sets the broad context of the study, clearly demarcates what is and what
  • 5. Use of Theories 5is not within the scope of the investigation, and justifies those decisions. It also situates anexisting literature in a broader scholarly and historical context. It should not only report theclaims made in the existing literature but also examine critically the research methods used tobetter understand whether the claims are warranted. (Boote 2005, p. 4). There are many characteristics of a good theoretical model. Theories provide meaning.They allow us to understand and interpret data. Theories specify which variables are importantand for what reasons, describe and explain the relationships that link the variables, and identifythe boundary conditions under which variables should or should not be related (Campbell, 1990).Theories help identify and define problems, prescribe a means for evaluating or solving theproblems, and facilitate responses to new problems. They permit generalization beyond theimmediate sample and provide a basis for making predictions. Theory tells us why somethingoccurs, not simply what occurs. Research in the absence of theory is often trivial—a technicalfeat more likely to yield confusion and boredom than insight. In contrast, research that is guidedby theory, or that develops theory, generates understanding and excitement (Klein 2004, p. 931). Good theory teaches readers and researchers something new, something they could nothave learned elsewhere. Good theory offers more than old wine in new bottles. In reading goodtheory, one has a sense of discovery and illumination. Good theory renders real-world processesand phenomena clear and coherent by simplifying and structuring our inchoate understanding ofthem. This is only possible if the theory itself is clear and coherent. To offer novel insights, anauthor must know in detail prior theory and research that have addressed his or her chosen topic.Authors who are unaware of relevant prior theory and research risk recreating the wheel; theirinsights may be new to them but not to others (Klein 2004, p. 932).
  • 6. Use of Theories 6 Asides from extensively learning previous related literature one must attempt todelineate clear constructs in order to be successful. Clearly defined constructs are the buildingblocks of good theory. A construct that seems clear and meaningful to the author who has beenthinking about it for months or years may seem vague and confusing to the reader first exposedto it. The author’s duty is to be as clear as possible. The review process can be a great aid in thisprocess, prompting authors to revise and refine their construct definitions. Klein 2004, p. 932).When constructs are clearly defined and specified, and links among the constructs are explainedand justified thoroughly, researchers seeking to test the theory are likely to have a very good ideaof how to do so. Conversely, when a theory’s constructs and propositions are vague andimprecise, two researchers may set out to test the theory but ultimately test very differentinterpretations of the theory. (Klein 2004, p. 933). Theory development constitutes the main and probably most important pillar to asuccessful business research project in that it forces the author to take stock of all relevantpreviously produced knowledge, identify gaps/inconsistencies/strengths, deliver clear constructs,and channel theoretical developments to produce new knowledge that is valuable to the field.
  • 7. Use of Theories 7 BibliographyBoote, David and Beile, Penny (2005) Scholars before researchers: on the centrality ofthe dissertation literature review in research preparation. Educational Researcher, Vol.34, No. 6, pp. 3–15Comer, Douglas (2005) Ways to measure research. Purdue University. Retrieved May19, 2008 from: http://www.cs.purdue.edu/homes/dec/essay.research.measure.htmlEveland, JD (2011) Theoretical model development and presentation. College of BusinessAdministration and College of Information Systems, Touro University InternationalTouro University InternationalGoodhue, Dale and Thompson, Ronald (1995) Task-technology fit and individual performance. MIS Quarterly. Vol. 19. Issue 2.Klein, Katherine J. & Zedeck, Sheldon (2004) Introduction to the special section ontheoretical models and conceptual analyses -- theory in applied psychology: lessons(re)learned. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 89, No. 6, 931–934Weick, Karl E. (1995) What theory is not, theorizing is. Administrative ScienceQuarterly. 40(3):385-390Wang, Wenli (2011) RES620 - Theory. TUI University, Retrieved athttp://cdad.tuiu.edu/Presentation.aspx?course=488&term=98&presentation=59913
  • 8. Use of Theories 8Weaver, G. R., Trevino, L. K., & Cochran, P. L. (1999). Integrated and decoupledcorporate social performance: management commitments, external pressures, andcorporate ethics practices. Academy of Management Journal, 42(5), 539-552.Whetten, David (2002) Modeling as theorizing: A systematic method for theorydevelopment. David Partington (ed.), Essential Skills for Management Research. SagePublications.