What is the role of theory in research Data analysis?

, Welcome to “Research Supported Tips.” You’re here because you’ve typed in your browser words that match this post content! In this post, Oscar walks you through what the role of theory is an especially implications of theory in research data analysis. Stay on this post and read until you finish, please: this is the only you CAN listen to me whisper my point of view…..Here we go!

What is theory or scientific theory

In any sound research, you always see that a researcher reviews some aspects of what is written on the variables he/she’s has investigated. But why on earth that? Every researcher reviews what is written, they are showing us that theories are important to researchers: they guide scientists in making sound conclusions.

The word “theory” in research or world of academia is remote in the past. The key dates and works that explained it are:

1952: with Hempel (1952: 36) who made a parallelism that theory is “a complex spatial network” in which “system” and “observation” are like floating devices remote-controlled or guided by “rules of interpretation.”

In the same year, Homans (1952: 812) took a stance saying that there is no theory unless one is clear or manages to explain “properties” and “propositions” involved in such a theory and especially if there is a sound deduction on what is theorized or why things occur.

There is a great range of more classic definitions but those I judged worth mentioning are the following:

A theory is an organized body of concepts and principles intended to explain a particular phenomenon,” (Leedy and Ormrod (2005, p.4). Following the definition given by the two experts, one can deduce that theories explain the “How something operates” and “Why” it does so (Johnson and Christensen, 2007, p. 7).

It should then be noted that “Theorizing” means systematically formulate and organize ideas to explain or understand a particular phenomenon (Boss, Doherty, LaRossa, Schumm, & Steinmetz 1993).

How does theory matter for data analysis?

This is the piece the résistance of this post! If you’re a data analyst or researcher in social sciences, be aware that you may make inconclusive conclusions if you fail to grasp the usefulness of theory and how this affects your statistical analysis. But how that?


Let’s journey together through this instance in education:

A lecturer of “English Language Teaching Simulation” class wanted to know the Effect of two teaching methods/strategies (Discussion and Discovery, X1 and X2) on teacher students’ Practicum scores (Y1) and teaching plans writing (Y2). He would have made errors in his analysis hadn’t he discussed his research design and analysis preview with his colleague.

A. Here is how I plan to analyze data for my article…..I have all data on the students’ IQ (Intellectual Quotient), scores and a random plan to assign students to use either a discovery or discussion method. Do have any suggestions?

B. Uuhm…Let me see….You think that only IQ will be into play, right?

A. Yep….anything else you doubt my sway my results in a way or another?

B. Sure….Your students’ Emotional Intelligence!

A. Oh my God…what’s that and how does it effect on my experiment?

B. Just go and check it yourself….Publishing in international journals requires that you make a thorough review of relevant theories to REALY make an epistemological contribution, to add or broaden the domain of knowledge.


This is not a joke ….if you’re a researcher or considering become one! Guess what? When the lecturer surfed about emotional intelligence, he found that there is a lot of theory about it! You could read in his diary the astonishing lines from Thaib (2013: 398) who emphasized that low EQ (Emotional Quotient)/Emotional Intelligence may affect someone although they have a high IQ.

When someone has a high IQ but low emotional intelligence level, they tend to be stubborn, hard to get along, easily frustrated, not easy to believe in others, insensitive with environmental conditions and tend to desperate when experiencing stress.

On the contrary, people who have an average IQ but have a high emotional intelligence are more successful in the different organizations they work for (Translation from Indonesian into English, Mine).


Let’s connect dots and be back scientific theory

As you see, the lecturer who did not know about Emotional intelligence theory was bound to commit a monumental mistake in designing his experimental research, consequently in his data analysis plan. Reading about that theory showed much about how EQ would have affected or swayed the learners’ or experimental subjects’ performance/scores.

Emotional intelligence and school achievement

Up to today, some educational researchers may still really see a high learning achievement as if it would only result from learners’ high intellectual quotient (IQ).

However, the results of the study by experienced psychologists (Curso, and Solvery, 1999) found that Emotional Intelligence is a sound theory. This means that IQ is not the only factor that affects a person’s learning achievements, but there are many other factors,  among which emotional intelligence.

The latter is defined as a person’s ability to recognize emotions, managing emotions, motivating oneself, recognizing emotions in others and the ability to build relationships with others.

Mistake avoided

How mistaken would have that researcher been hadn’t he sought validation of his research design from his colleague? As you have seen, theory has a huge effect on the way data are analyzed.

The researcher later had to “control the effect of his students’ EQ” to decide whether his treatment, i.e., “use of Discovery and Discussion method” in the “English Language Teaching Simulation” course had effect on his students’ scores in the Practicum and Teaching plan writing.

Have you now seen the role of theory in research and its implications on data analysis? I hope you have.

Theory plays a paramount role in research. But it also means a lot to research data analysis because data are analyzed according to how a research is designed.

The researcher’s experiment would have been void to failure or scientific scorn if he had rushed and analyzed his data without controlling a trait or variable that would have damaged his experiment. We should read before we write and be aware that theory itself is part of knowledge.

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