What Makes a Theory Useful

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A useful theory has a mutual and dynamic interaction with research data. First, a theory generates a number of hypotheses that can be investigated through research, thus yielding research data. These data flow back into the theory and restructure it. From this newly contoured theory, scientists can extract other hypotheses, leading to more research and additional data, which in turn reshape and enlarge the theory even more. This cyclic relationship continues for as long as the theory proves useful.

Second, a useful theory organizes research data into a meaningful structure and provides an explanation for the results of scientific research. This relationship between theory and research data is shown in Figure 1.1. When a theory is no longer able to generate additional research or to explain related research data, it loses its usefuhiess and is set aside in favor of a more useful one.

In addition to sparking research and explaining research data, a useful theory must lend itself to confirmation or disconformation, provide the practitioner with a guide to action, be consistent with itself, and be as shnple as possible. Therefore, we have evaluated each of the theories presented hi this book on the basis of six criteria: A useful theory (T) generates research, (2) is falsifiable, (3) organizes data, (4) guides action, (5) is internally consistent, and (6) is parsimonious.

Generates Research

The most important criteria of a useful theory is its ability to stimulate and guide further research. Without an adequate theory to point the way, many of science's present empirical findings would have remained undiscovered. In astronomy, for example, the planet Neptune was discovered because the theory of motion generated the hypothesis that the irregularity in the path of Uranus must be caused by the presence of another planet. Useful theory provided astronomers with a road map that guided then search for and discovery of the new planet.

A useful theory will generate two different khids of research: descriptive research and hypothesis testing. Descriptive research, which can expand an existing theory, is concerned with the measurement, labeling, and categorization of the units employed in theory building. Descriptive research has a symbiotic relationship with

Hypothesis Testing Roadmap
FIGURE 1.1 The Interaction among Theory, Hypotheses, Research, and Research Data.

theory. On one hand, it provides the building blocks for the theory, and on the other, it receives its impetus from the dynamic, expanding theory. The more useful the theory, the more research generated by it; the greater the amount of descriptive research, the more complete the theory.

The second kind of research generated by a useful theory, hypothesis testing, leads to an indirect verification of the usefulness of the theory. As we have noted, a useful theory will generate many hypotheses that, when tested, add to a data base that may reshape and enlarge the theory. (Refer again to Figure 1.1).

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  • Cornelia
    What makes a theory useful?
    3 years ago
  • Edward
    What is makes a therory useful?
    1 year ago
  • kathrin
    What makes theory useful criteria?
    1 month ago

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