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Meanings of Theory

Professor Gary Thomas

To cite this reference: Thomas, G. (2011) The meanings of theory, British Educational Research Association online resource. Available online at: [INSERT WEB PAGE ADDRESS HERE]. Last accessed [insert date here].

I give some of the main meanings of theory – generalising theory, personal theory, bodies of explanation, scientific theory and Grand Theory ¬– and discuss what theory is for in a piece of research: is it a product or a tool? Should theories be seen as the purpose of our inquiries, or should they be seen as instruments that help our understanding of phenomena?  I also discuss how theory may be drawn out of a piece of inquiry.
I hope this will help students and practitioner-researchers in:

a) understanding why theory is taken to be important; and

b) developing it from their research.