Theory and Research

Theory and Research

Part 1

Theories are a critical aspect of scholarly research, providing guidance on the fundamental relationships among phenomena. Various scholars have attempted to define the term theory. Harlow (2010) asserts that theory lacks a universal or fixed meaning; reason being that definition of a theory depends on the discipline. In the natural sciences, scholars assert that a theory is a “system of laws” (p. 2). On the other hand, the term theory may also refer to a set of constructs that help people in the understanding of phenomena, and mainly in the life and social sciences. A close connection between theory and testing exists. This is because development of theory involves some degree of testing. Stam (2010) defines theory as “a systematic representation of a genuine problem” (p. 2). Further, a theory that articulates phenomena in the natural sciences should employ mathematical terms as much as possible, while a theory that develops a concept in life and social sciences should apply linguistic terms (Stam, 2010; Harlow, 2010).

Stam (2007) examines three popular views on theory common in the 20th century. These views are reductionism, instrumentalism, and realism. Reductionism holds that it is possible to break down theories into observables. Instrumentalism is the view that a theory can act as an instrument for accomplishing things in the world. Lastly, realism holds that theories are statements about things that exist or are real. According to Stam (2007), these are the fundamental aspects of a theory. Before the 19th century, scholars understood theory as a mere collection of sentences that relate in some way to observable variables. In the early 19th century, scholars developed other conceptualizations of theory. The common definition held during this period is that theory was a set of observations (Stam, 2007). Towards the turn of the 19th century, scholars explained theory as statements made to explain particular events or phenomena.

A theory aims at describing relationships; it provides an explanation of how or why particular relationships lead to certain outcomes or events. This leads to another definition of the term theory by Wacker (1999) that a theory represents statements that explain the association between units approximated using empirical means. The major goal of a theory is to respond to questions of how, when, where, and why. As such, theory does not solely rely on the descriptive aspects such as what or who. According to Wacker (1999), theory encompasses four major components. These include the definition of terms and concepts, domain, relationships with phenomena, and predictive claims that help in answering the questions about who, what, where, when, and others. Wacker (1999) further propounds the argument that a ‘good’ theory is one that explores the conceptual relationships in a way that allows empirical testing and one that includes the aforementioned four components.

In examining what holds as a ‘good’ theory, Wacker (1999) identifies several virtues that are characteristic of good theories. The first virtue is uniqueness, which states that one should be able to differentiate one theory from another. If two theories are similar, then they can form a single theoretical framework. This virtue relates closely with conservatism, fecundity, and generalizability (Wacker, 1999). These concepts relate to the theory’s uniqueness. Another virtue is the parsimony theory, which states that a theory should have few assumptions. Internal consistency is another key characteristic that a theory should have. This involves the ability of the theory to explain all relationships between variables and provide robust explanations. A theory should also have empirical riskiness, which the possibility of a refutation of the theory (Wacker, 1999). Lastly, the virtue of abstraction applies, which means being interdependent in terms of time or place.

Gelso (2006) introduces a similar conceptualization of the term theory to that of Wacker. The major proposition here is that a theory comprises of statements that define suspected relationships between or among various variables. In other words, a theory explains how variables in research relate to each other. This contrasts Stam’s (2007) view that a theory is “a systematic representation of a genuine problem” by asserting that a theory explains how variables in a research relate to one another (p, 2). A theory defines abstractions that are carefully thought and hypothesized as bearing a particular relationship. Researchers develop theoretical propositions to explain the relationship among the constructions. For a theory to hold a scientific backing, it should be able to go beyond the propositional level by examining constructs such as why, where, how and others. The theory should be able to describe how the various variables relate or influence one another (Van De Ven & Johnson, 2007).

Most individuals fail to understand what constitutes a theory; instead, most of these hold the perception that theories are only characteristic of the core theoretical frameworks that underpin psychology, such as humanism and behaviorism (Gelso, 2006). However, these are broad and often-untestable philosophies established in the past. In addition, it is difficult to disapprove these comprehensive theories. Another key point to note is that scientifically, they may not be much useful. This is because they do not contribute to testable findings. Gelso (2006) categorizes theories into formal and informal theories. Formal theories are those that are explicitly stated, while informal theories lack an explicit backing.

Corley and Gioia (2011) also contribute to the meaning of a theory. However, the authors note that there is a lack of a consensus as to what the term ‘theory’ actually means. The duo opines that a theory is “a statement of concepts and their interrelationships,” indicating how or why a particular phenomenon takes place (p. 2). This definition closely relates to Wacker’s definition of a theory, who state that theories show relationships among concepts. Corley and Gioia (2011) further examine the concept of theoretical contribution, noting that a theory should help in solving certain problems in the community. As such, a theoretical paper can only be useful if it includes original research and contains important reads. Failure to contribute original ideas means that the theory does not introduce anything new to the research field. So far, one can deduce that a theory should help in explaining the relationship among concepts or phenomena. In addition, theory aims at solving a particular problem.

Gay and Weaver (2011) provide a conceptual framework for distinguishing theory from related concepts such as hypothesis, paradigm, model, and concept. A hypothesis is a statement that expresses the relationship between variables. A hypothesis enables a researcher to test the variables using empirical methods. Hypotheses comprise of an independent variable and the dependent variable. The dependent and independent variable predict the association between variables. The hypothesis is drawn from a theory and must be empirically testable (Gay & Weaver, 2011). While studying a particular phenomenon, the researcher proposes relationships between various variables, which then undergo empirical tests to determine the nature of the relationships.

Paradigm refers to general ways in which scholars view the phenomenal world. According to Kuhn, paradigms represent an aggregation of shared beliefs as well as a defined framework for solving problems that could emerge (as cited in Gay & Weaver, 2011). A paradigm helps in guiding the research process. Morgan (2007) describes paradigms in four different perspectives. First, paradigm represents the worldviews that a scholar may harbor basing on one’s collective experiences, values, beliefs, and morals. The second perspective is that paradigms are epistemological stances such as constructivism and realism and within a domain of knowledge (Morgan, 2007). The third view is that paradigm represents shared beliefs in a community comprising of researchers. Lastly, Morgan (2007) considers a paradigm as a set of rules applicable in making generalizations, drawing values, establishing models, and providing solutions in a particular field.

Models help in illustrating relationships within a theory. In other words, models are graphical illustrations of various components within a theory. Models do not explain things in theory, but only provides a way of exploring the theory. Although models help in depicting the various relationships within a particular theory, they do not comprise part of the theory. Concepts refer to basic elements of a theory or phenomenon and which are observable. Concepts become the building blocks upon which the development of a theory occurs. In different terms, the concept refers to mental image summarizing a particular set of observations (Bachman & Schutt, 2007). Concepts have different values and each indicating a particular occurrence.

Part 2

There exists an inherent relationship between theory and research. As such, theory cannot have meaning without research and vice versa. According to Harlow (2009), a theory is an integral component of research. When conducting research projects, the investigator begins by reviewing the existing theoretical frameworks surrounding the topic of study. This enables the researcher to get a comprehensive overview of the subject even before going into the field. By studying the existing theories, the investigator can be able to identify the strengths and weakness of existing explanations about the particular phenomenon. The investigator can then be able to identify the best theoretical framework for testing. The theory identified for testing also enables the investigator to identify the case to study, details about data collection, and specific methods of data collection. The investigator can then compare the results of his/her investigation to the constructs of the theory.

During a research project, the researcher applies both inductive and deductive reasoning. These processes occur simultaneously. Further, the processes involving theory development and theory testing are inexplicably linked. The link between theory development and theory testing, also known as retroduction, is critical in developing new knowledge (Harlow, 2009). This is because it enables a researcher to test and reframe ideas until he/she develops logical conclusions. While delving into a research project, the investigator should carefully select the research problem. According to Ellis and Levy (2008), the ability of the researcher to develop an adequate statement about the research problem is critical in the entire research process. The problem statement of the research enables the investigator to show how the research contributes to the development of or improves an existing theory. Moreover, formulating a good statement of the problem while conducting research helps in developing a solution.

Theory and research address similar concerns. According to Ellis and Levy (2009), a research, through the formulation of a suitable problem statement, addresses various questions such as what, where, how, why, and when. It is worth noting that a theory seeks to answer similar questions about who, where, how, and others. Ellis and Levy (2009) further argue that while developing a research problem, the investigators must ensure that they integrate the theoretical perspective relating to the literature of the problem under scrutiny. Before conducting research, the investigator must first examine the research-worthiness of the problem under investigation. A consideration during this process relates to whether there exists a strong conceptual foundation for the research. This is because research is based on a particular theoretical basis as earlier mentioned.

Wacker (1999) argues that theory is a major component of research for three main reasons. First, theory provides a comprehensive view of the practical world. After theory development, it becomes possible to derive measurable aspects from the relevant data. The specific data that an investigator collects enables him/her to test a particular theory. Wacker (1999) emphasizes that quality theories can show the relationship between cause and outcomes of specific happenings. Secondly, theory provides researchers with the basic framework for analyzing problems. Theory helps answer common questions that arise in research work such as where, why, what, when and who. This is similar to Ellis and Levy’s (2009) postulation that theory helps in addressing a particular problem. Thirdly, theory provides researchers with a basis for developing further a particular field of knowledge. The academic field develops through the advancement of theories, which later undergo the process of verification. According to Wacker (1999), theory is abstract. Theory is something that arises from trial and error, rather than a systematic investigation.

Research can contribute to theory in various ways. There are two main categorizations of research: qualitative research and quantitative research. Yates and Leggett (2016) examine the main differences between qualitative and quantitative research. Quantitative research is appropriate when examining the relationship between variables, evaluating opinions, trends, or attitudes of people, and in analyzing the effect of a particular intervention such as treatment. In quantitative research, the investigator distances himself/herself entirely from what is under investigation (Yates & Leggett, 2016). Qualitative research, on the other hand, concentrates on the why and how of the problem under investigation. In addition, the researcher is engrossed deeply in the context of the study. In other words, the researcher has the power to influence the research setting, the nature of data collection, and participants.

Research enables investigators to validate theories. Research is useful in helping investigators test whether the claims made by a theory are relevant or true. Theory and research hold a dialect relationship, whereby theory guides the data collection process in research while the research findings help in challenging the generally accepted theories. When an investigator seeks to test a theory, the theory dictates what type of data to be collected. Conversely, when an investigator seeks to develop a theory, the particular phenomenon of interest guides the data collection method (Ellis & Levy, 2009). For instance, if a theory predicts that patients are more likely to adhere to a particular care plan when their spouses provide emotional support, then the investigator would collect data pertaining to patient adherence as well as the nature of support. This type of data would help in validating whether the statements made by the theory are true or not.

Investigators attribute quantitative research with hard or factual data, while qualitative research offers soft and more insightful findings. In the case of market research, the quantitative research examines such problems as product preferences, brand awareness, product penetration, and others (Barnham, 2015). This yields percentages and other numbers that count as facts. Qualitative research, on the other hand, seeks to understand consumer behavior, motivations, and attitudes. The dimension that quantitative research takes points to ‘what’ questions (Barnham, 2015). For instance, what number of people prefers a certain product to another substitute product? On the other hand, qualitative research attempts to answer ‘why’ questions. For instance, why do people prefer product X to Product Y? Both qualitative and quantitative types of research are important aspects of theory as discussed in the section below.

Qualitative research helps in pushing the boundaries reached by previous theories concerning quantitative empiricism. Qualitative research enables an investigator to acquire information through addressing complex items or situations (Nuttall, Shankar, & Beverland, 2011). For instance, a researcher can use qualitative research to explore why murders are likely to occur at a particular time or place. Qualitative research is key in understanding human behavior. It enables investigators to understand the various forces that affect human behavior. Qualitative research enables the investigator to gain a direct experience of a phenomenon under study (Nuttall, Shankar, & Beverland, 2011). In essence, qualitative research enables investigators to examine complex human interactions, which is not possible with quantitative methods. Qualitative research contributes to theory by providing rich descriptions of a particular phenomenon. This helps researchers to gain a deeper understanding of the particular phenomenon.

Quantitative research is useful in theory development since it enables investigators to view, assess, measure, and analyze data. This is critical in theory development since the analytical methods employed can help in identifying trends. Some scholars argue that multivariate quantitative approach is particularly useful in identifying trends in data (Du & Kamakura, 2012). This helps investigators in refining and developing new theories. In operation management research, quantitative approaches form the basis of research. Quantitative research focuses on collecting data and analyzing it using statistical methods. An investigator working with quantitative data is able to draw conclusions by analyzing complex data sets (Du & Kamakura, 2012). The use of quantitative research methods helps in enhancing the validity of the results.

A major role of research is in the development of new theories. According to Yates and Leggett (2016), grounded theory research helps in developing entirely new theories. While applying grounded theory research, investigators often employ an iterative process, which involves repetitive procedures or processes. The researcher collects data from the field or natural setting, with minimal distractions to the participants. The researcher can employ both qualitative as well as quantitative methods of data collection. The researcher collects data while conducting the analysis on numerous occasions. This ensures that the investigator collects all relevant data. Comparisons of data to emerging categories follow. The themes emerging from the subjects’ shared experiences helps the investigator in identifying patterns, causal factors, intervening conditions, and among other observations (Yates & Leggett, 2016). In this way, a new theory or hypothesis is born.

The other way that research contributes to theory is in refuting or supporting a theory. Research can also provide additional insight into a theory, or help in developing a particular area of knowledge further. Different research designs help in developing or validating theories. The general classification for the research designs falls under three categories namely correlational, descriptive, and experimental designs. Conversely, theories fall under three categories respectively. These include relational, descriptive, and explanatory research. The descriptive theories are the basic forms of theories. They help in answering the question of ‘what is.’ In other words, descriptive theories describe the characteristics or the dimensions of situations, events, or individuals by making comparisons to commonalities that are seen in discrete observations. Descriptive research helps in testing descriptive theories. Descriptive research is qualitative in nature, although there are special occasions when the investigator may use a quantitative approach.

Part 3

Wacker (1999) provides a robust view of what constitutes a theory. He asserts that a theory describes relationships by providing an explanation of how a particular relationship leads to particular events or outcomes. In other words, a theory explains the association between various elements or items through empirical analysis. While conducting research on a particular theory, the investigator should aim at drawing comparisons among different domains to increase the accuracy of the results. To develop a ‘good’ theory, the investigation should be able to define all variables, build internal consistency, establish the domain, and make certain predictions (Wacker, 1999). Thus, while exploring how organizations can improve job satisfaction in the workplace, it is imperative to take into consideration the critical points identified by Wacker.

Hertzberg’s Two Factor Theory is a significant theory in the understanding of employee job satisfaction in modern day organizations characterized by generational differences. According to the theory, job satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not opposites. In addition, they do not belong to the same dimension (Hur, 2017). The opposite of job satisfaction is no satisfaction, rather than dissatisfaction. On the other hand, the opposite of dissatisfaction is no dissatisfaction, rather than satisfaction. Hertzberg identifies factors known as motivators that lead to job satisfaction. The motivators are factors relating to the work itself and include responsibility, achievement, opportunities for self-development, recognition, meaningfulness of work, and others. On the other hand, the hygiene factors are those factors in the workplace whose absence may lead to dissatisfaction. The hygiene factors cannot lead to sustained positive satisfaction in the workplace. These factors include pay, fringe benefits, status, physical work conditions, organizational policies, job security, and interpersonal relations.

Job satisfaction is key to improving the employees’ motivation levels. Higher satisfaction levels among employees can lead to improve work performance. The employer must provide suitable working conditions to the employees in order to increase their motivation levels. If employees perceive need deficiencies in the organization, they may become less effective in performing their duties. This may lead to poor performance of the organization as well as high employee turnover rate. Hertzberg’s theory indicates that various factors contribute towards improving job satisfaction levels of employees. These factors include both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. However, the leadership must take into consideration the generational differences among employees when deciding on the appropriate factors or rewards to give employees.

Job satisfaction determines how happy the employees are and how satisfied they are with their job. Job satisfaction represents the overall positive feeling that employees may hold towards their work and the organization. In addition, job satisfaction is a key element in the accomplishment of organizational goals and objectives. According to Zaid and Lily (2017), job satisfaction leads to better service delivery and improved retention rates for employees. Employees can either develop negative or positive feelings towards their organization. This will depend on how the organization fulfills the particular needs of the employees. A major force influencing the needs and perceptions of employees in any particular organization is the generational differences. Employees who belong to different age groups have different expectations and needs from their employers. Hertzberg’s theory will help in expounding how leaders can meet some of their employee’s needs.

It is worth noting that the modern-day organization comprises of employees from three generational cohorts, mainly the Baby Boomers, Generation X, and the Millennials (Generation Y). Each of these generational cohorts has different expectations concerning the organization (Stewart, Oliver, Cravens, & Oishi, 2017). Although all groups may have similar expectations from the management such as the need for higher salaries, they exhibit a different degree of expectations. In other words, each generational cohort holds stronger preferences compared to other groups for certain things. Ahmad and Ibrahim (2015) examine four generational cohorts that characterize the modern organizations. These include Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z (Ayudhya & Smithson, 2015). Each of the generational cohorts has certain unique characteristics that differentiate them from the rest. The unique characteristics are the result of an interplay of various factors such as cultural influence, technological advancement, political environment, social environment, demographic trends, and among other factors (Ahmad and Ibrahim, 2015).

By examining the generational differences in the workplace, leaders can be able to identify the challenges facing employees in an organization. Organizational differences look at organizational productivity, issues concerning employee motivation, organizational changes, and teamwork (Moore, Grunberg, & Krause, 2015). If managers in organizations could understand the interplay of these factors, they could be able to identify tools that can enable them to retain employees by improving their satisfaction levels. Organizational leaders face the challenge of how they can best understand the generational cohort. Leaders must use new approaches in handling employees rather than the traditional approaches. Baby Boomers have a low technology appreciation since they were born and brought up in a period when technology was not widespread (Becton, Walker, & Jones-Farmer, 2014). This information is important since it can enable one to understand why different generational cohorts react in unique ways towards technology adoption.

There are certain areas of controversy relating to the general differences in the workplace topic. One of the major controversies relates to the ambiguity of the topic in describing how the generational cohorts acquire the unique values and attitudes because of the influence of political and social factors (Yi, Ribbens, Fu, & Cheng, 2014; Moore, Grunberg, & Krause, 2015). The vast research available fails to address the specific ways in which generational cohorts adapt values and attitudes from the interplay of cultural, technological, political, social, and demographic factors. The result of this is a research vacuum that exists on how generational cohorts acquire their unique values and attitudes. A part of this problem is attributable to the use of cross-sectional study design in evaluating the various factors that influence generational cohort perceptions in the workplace (Yi, Ribbens, Fu, & Cheng, 2014; Moore, Grunberg, & Krause, 2015).

One of the unanswered questions pertaining to Hertzberg Two Factor Theory concerns its disregard of the concept of individual differences in the workplace. The theory assumes that there are general factors that cause employees to achieve satisfaction, and a set of other factors without which employees may experience dissatisfaction. The motivator factors and the hygiene factors apply to everyone within the organization. The theory fails to consider the fact that individual differences may play a vital role in the expectations of various employees. While some employees may put more value on extrinsic rewards such as gifts, higher pay, and better physical working conditions, others may value more the intrinsic rewards such as growth and development, meaningful work, and recognition. Thus, as much as the theory claims that these factors generally apply to everyone, this might not be true. Moreover, the needs of employees are not static but may change according to age, gender, occupational level, and other personal factors.

Controversy surrounds the way motivation factors influence the general job satisfaction among employees. Hertzberg Two Factor Theory does not provide a link of connection between different motivation factors and job satisfaction (Hyun & Oh, 2011). Furthermore, there is lack of qualitative research that can help leaders understand why certain motivational factors do not have close link with job satisfaction among employees. Some current research indicates that the motivational factors are important in both job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction, contrary to Hertzberg’s assertions. Some studies have also refuted Hertzberg’s assertion that hygiene factors do not contribute towards job satisfaction. Extrinsic factors such as salaries, fringe benefits, good working conditions and among others also contribute to job satisfaction.


Ahmad, H., & Ibrahim, B. (2015). Leadership and the characteristic of different generational cohort towards job satisfaction. Social and Behavioral Sciences, 204: 14-18. Doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.08.104

Alfayad, Z., & Lily Suriani Mohd Arif. (2017). Employee voice and job satisfaction: An application of herzberg two-factor theory. International Review of Management and Marketing, 7(1).

Ayudhya, U. C., & Smithson, J. (2015). Entitled or misunderstood? Towards the repositioning of the sense of entitlement concept in the generational difference debate. Community, Work & Family, 19(2): 213-226

Bachman, R. & Schutt, R. (2007). The practice of research in criminology and criminal justice (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Barnham, C. (2015).Quantitative and qualitative research: Perceptual foundations. International Journal of Marketing Research, 57(6): 837-854.

Becton, J. B., Walker, H. J., & Jones-Farmer, A. (2014). Generational differences in workplace behavior: Generational differences in behavior. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 44(3), 175-189. doi:10.1111/jasp.12208.

Corley, K. G., & Gioia, D. A. (2011). Building theory about theory building: What constitutes a theoretical contribution? Academy of Management Review, 36(1), 12-32.

Du, R. Y., & Kamakura, W. A. (2012). Quantitative trendspotting. Journal of Marketing Research, 49(4), 514-536. doi:10.1509/jmr.10.0167

Ellis, T. J., & Levy, Y. (2008). framework of problem-based research: a guide for novice researchers on the development of a research-worthy problem. The International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline, 11: 17-31.

Gay, B., & Weaver, S. (2011). Theory building and paradigms: A primer on the nuances of theory construction. American International Journal of Contemporary Research, 1(2): 24-32. Doi: 10.1111/j.1469 – 5812.2007.00349.xs

Gelso, C. (2006). Applying theories to research: The interplay of theory and research in science. In F.T. Leong & J.T. Austin (Eds.), The psychology research handbook. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Retreived from psychrsch/Article_n32

Harlow, E. (2009). Contribution, theoretical.  In Mills, A, Durepos, G., & Wiebe, E. (Eds.)Encyclopedia of Case Study Research (pp.237-239).  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.  doi:10.4135/9781412957397.n89

Hur, Y. (2017). Testing Herzberg’s two-factor theory of motivation in the public sector: Is it applicable to public managers? Public Organization Review, doi:10.1007/s11115-017-0379-1

Hyun, S., & Oh, H. (2011). Reexamination of herzberg’s two-factor theory of motivation in the korean army foodservice operations. Journal of Foodservice Business Research, 14(2), 100-121. doi:10.1080/15378020.2011.574532


Moore, S., Grunberg, L., & Krause, A. J. (2015). Generational Differences in Workplace Expectations: A Comparison of Production and Professional Workers. Current Psychology, 34(2): 346-362.

Morgan, D. L. (2007). Paradigms lost and pragmatism regained: Methodological implications of combining qualitative and quantitative methods. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 1 (1), 48-76.

Nuttall, P., Shankar, A., & Beverland, M. B. (2011). Mapping the unarticulated potential of

qualitative research. Journal of Advertising Research, 51153-163. Doi:10.2501/

Stam, H. J. (2010). Theory. In Neil J. Salkind. Encyclopedia of Research Design. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Stam, H. (2007). Theoretical psychology. In Pawlik, K. & Rosenzweig, M, (Eds.), The International Handbook of Psychology (pp.551- 570). London: Sage Publications Stam, H. Ltd.  doi:10.4135/9781848608399.n29

Stewart, J. S., Oliver, E. G., Cravens, K. S., & Oishi, S. (2017). Managing millennials: Embracing generational differences. Business Horizons, 60: 45-54.

Van De Ven, A.H., & Johnson, P.E. (2007). Knowledge for theory and practice. Academy of Management Review, 41, 802-821. doi: 10.5465/amr.2006.22527385

Wacker, J. G. (1999). A definition of theory: research guideline for different theory-building research methods in operations management. Journal of Operations Management, 16, 361-385.

Yates, J., & Leggett, T. (2016). Qualitative research: an introduction. Writing & Research, 88(2): 225-231.

Yi, X., Ribbens, B., Fu, L., & Cheng, W. (2015). Variation in career and workplace attitudes by generation, gender, and culture differences in career perceptions in the United States and china. Employee Relations, 37(1), 66-82. Doi:10.1108/ER-01-2014-0005

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *