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How to Evaluate a Theory Essay Sample

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How to Evaluate a Theory Essay Sample

The purpose of a good theory is to provide a conceptual framework for viewing and understanding phenomena. From this perspective a theory is either useful or not useful. A theory helps guide and focus attention, identify and define important variables, and postulate the relationships among them. A good theory is not just another ‘good idea,’ but it is based on empirical data that makes it an adequate map of the territory for the current time. Furthermore, a good theory is never “proven,” which would mean that it holds up under all known conditions–that simply cannot be tested. Instead, scientific method finds it easier to “disprove” or eliminate certain alternate explanations (hypotheses) which means that what is left over is more probable and closer to the “truth.” Knowing how to evaluate a theory is an important skill in deciding which framework is most appropriate for examining a given situation. Alternately, if you must use a weak theory, at least you will know the precautions for interpreting its data. The following aspects should be considered in evaluating a theory. Parsimony

Parsimony is a long-standing criterion for evaluating theories based on the assumption that one of the purposes of a theory is to explain reality by simplification. This means that the explanation is sparing and frugal; it requires assumptions and explanations within generally accepted parameters. If exceptional assumptions are required, the theory is not parsimonious and extensive data and/or rationale would be necessary to justify their use. * Does the theory require a ‘leap of faith’ in making unconventional assumptions? * If unconventional assumptions are used, are these justified by reason or empirical evidence? * Does it really add to our understanding of a phenomena, or is it just a restatement of something already accounted for adequately by another theory? Operationality

A good theory should have key terms and concepts that are operationally defined. That is, the means used to specifically demonstrate or measure them are part of the definition. Many interesting ideas are untestable because they cannot be sufficiently reduced to their operations. An operational definition enables different researchers to conduct similar studies and derive similar conclusions. * Are the definitions spelled out in terms of the measurements required to obtain them? * Are the definitions sufficiently clear so that two or more people could follow them and obtain similar results? * Does it clearly identify the central variables and their relationships that are critically important? Generativity

A good theory should generate hypotheses about events within the scope of the theory. Also referred to as a ‘heuristic’ quality of theories, it should suggest ideas or even stimulate controversy, disbelief, and resistance as a means of extending inquiry. It should stimulate thinking and offer tentative explanations that account for a phenomena. * Does this formulation of the theory allow hypotheses to be formulated? * Are the assertions stimulating to thinking and discussion? * Is much research generated by this theory?

Power or usability refers to the ability of the theory to account for events with increasing accuracy and utility. There are four levels of power: * Description: The theory provides a language to make discriminations in experience, label variables And their relationships. This answers the question, ‘What is it?’ * Explanation: The theory emphasizes relationship among the variables in the theory, their direction, magnitude, and influence (causation) of outcomes. This answers the question, ‘How does it work?’ * Prediction: Understanding of the relationship among variables under different conditions and across time enables extrapolation of expected outcomes that have not yet been observed. This answers the question, “What happens next?” * Control/intervention: A thorough understanding of the variables, their relationships, and influences may permit intervention to change the outcome. This answers the question, ‘What can be done about it or how can we influence it?” Falsifiability

A good theory must be defined clearly enough and have propositions questionable enough to enable experiments designed to disprove it. That is, a theory must be open to change and disconfirmation. It is through rejection of incorrect ideas that knowledge is advanced. Premises that are inviolate and unquestionable reflect faith and not theory. * It is possible to test and to challenge the basic premises? * Are the criteria clear that would justify rejection of the premises? Importance

Important and relevant events should be accounted for by the theory. It’s scope (e.g., macro/micro) is not as important as whether the theories are dealing with questions of importance and relevance-the implications and consequences of its being accurate. * What difference does using this theory make?

* Does the explanation derived from its use really make a difference? Internal consistency
The concepts and propositions contained within a theory must be logically consistent with each other. They should be logically related, build on each other, or contribute to the explanatory power of each other. * Do the concepts contradict each other? If so, is there an acceptable explanation of the contradiction? * Do the concepts logically build on each other and form a rational explanation? * Are the premises on which the conclusions justifying the concepts are based, justified and logically consistent? Scope

Theories vary in their range or comprehensiveness with which they purport to account for various events. ‘Micro’ theories deal with selective, perhaps even obscure events, while ‘macro’ theories attempt to include many variables over a larger context. * What does it purport to account for and NOT account for? * Do the propositions cover all relevant elements within the declared scope? * Does it operate within its range of convenience or is it inappropriately extended outside its scope? Organization

A useful theory attempts to bring together several concepts and discuss them in a meaningful way. It does not treat concepts in isolation, but helps describe their relationships. In addition, it systematically builds on and expands current knowledge. * What are the assumptions and value biases underlying the propositions of the theory? Are they acceptable, consistent, and justifiable? * How are the concepts related to each other?

* Is previous knowledge used as a foundation for extending current theory, or is it just a patchwork of known information and goes no further? * If the theory is hierarchical (one level includes or operates on another), are use of these levels adequately supported? Empirical support

A sound theory should enable itself to be tested in ways that provide evidence whether its propositions should be accepted or rejected. * Have experiments been conducted that shed light on the accuracy and utility of the theory? * How is contradictory evidence handled?

* Are the research designs appropriate for drawing conclusions about the adequacy of the theory? * Is there evidence, not just logic, that tends to support the assertions of the theory? Measurement

Related to empirical support, measurement refers to the qualities of the instrumentation used to obtain empirical data. To evaluate this aspect you might ask: * What is the level of measurement of data available (e.g., nominal, ordinal, interval, ratio)? Are the conclusions based on this level of measurement justifiable? * Does the format of the measurement really allow variability along important dimensions? * How are the measured constructs defined? Are they consistent with the theory? * Is the normative sample appropriate and sufficient?

* Are the statistics used in treating the data and describing the results appropriate? * Does the research design really control for internal and external sources of influence (design controls) so that sound conclusions can be drawn? * Are reliability and validity adequate to draw conclusions?

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