Why seek criteria that will lead to a coherent quality theory with explanatory power?
A recipe is not a prescription. The former lists raw materials with brief specifications and describes how to process them. The latter is a description of something used to treat, cure a disease (a problem) or alleviate symptoms. One is a process and the other is a remedy. A recipe results in a finished product, a prescription can have undesirable side effects and may not work. A recipe always works if it is well written and nothing critical is left out, but the finished product may not be popular. In any event, the finished product of this chapter is a recipe for developing a theory. We will start with preparation and move on to a list of ingredients and their specifications. A good recipe lists the ingredients in order of importance and for those creative chefs may include some surprises.
Here I turn to a paper written by David McDonald and Scott Schneberger entitled Scientific Inquiry – Theory Construction: A Primer (2006). They presented three approaches for identifying a phenomenon of interest, in a concise manner.
#1 Research – Then – Theory – This approach selects a phenomenon that is an integral element of a research project. The process lists all the characteristics of the phenomenon, measures all the characteristics, analyzes the resulting data and then formalizes the results in to patterns as theoretical statements.
#2 Theory – Then – Research – This approach develops a theory either in the axiomatic or process description form, compares statements with the results of empirical research, designs a research project to test the statements correspondence with empirical research, makes appropriate changes in the theory depending on statements and empirical data, selects further statements if there is no correspondence.
#3 Composite Approach – A composite approach divides scientific activity into three stages.
Stage One: Exploratory. Research is designed to allow an investigator to just “look around” some phenomenon, looking for ideas. There should be some structure to the research in order to provide guidance to stage two.
Stage Two: Descriptive. The goal is to develop careful descriptions of patterns suspected from the exploratory research – developing empirical generalizations or intersubjective descriptions. A generalization that is considered worth explaining is worth a theory.
Stage Three: Explanatory. This stage develops explicit theory to explain the generalization formed in stage two. It is actually a continuous cycle of theory construction, testing, and reformulation.
McDonald and Schneberger had this to say about the composite approach.
This approach seems to contain all the advantages and avoid all the disadvantages of the first two approaches. Resources are not wasted in gathering a massive amount of information expecting to find laws by searching through the data. Theories are not invented until there is information about the phenomenon that will help in the development of a useful initial theory. Finally when a theory is ready to be tested, a wealth of experience in doing research on the phenomenon allows for a sophisticated comparison of the theory with the empirical world.
In my next post, Step 2 – The Recipe – Preparation – Goals