What is the theory?
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The theory is a set of basic principles (that are accepted as given), and of research methods that allow to derive new conclusions from these principles and/or to explain existing phenomena by employing them. The most telltale definitions and examples of theories can be provided by mathematics. In mathematics, a formal theory is a set of axioms together with a set of inference rules, as well as all the statements (theorems) that might be derived from these axioms with these inference rules. To prove a theorem means to show how it is possible to derive that theorem from the set of axioms by using the inference rules. In most other disciplines, the “axioms” and “inference rules” are not so rigorous, but the principle remains the same: new phenomena are explained by using a given set of principles to which some methods are applied. As a theory develops, new principles and new “inference rules” may be added to it.
Why is it important?
Theory plays an essential role in any research. It is impossible to conduct research or derive any conclusions without using any theoretical statements. For instance, even to conclude that a person is intoxicated, one needs to know that alcohol causes several characteristic symptoms (it might be called theoretical knowledge, however, limited it is). In any research, some basic knowledge is always used, and some methods are employed to draw inferences, which means that some theoretical knowledge is utilized in any case. Explicitly articulating which theory is made use of in a study makes the scholar (and the future readers of their texts) conscious and aware of how they examine their subject, what they draw their inferences from, and how they draw them. Therefore, identifying which theory is being used can allow the scholar both to analyze the phenomena in question and to make conclusions about them more effectively.
What is its purpose in research?
The purpose of using theory (or, rather, clearly stating what theory is being used) in research is to improve the effectiveness of the analysis by clearly articulating the methods and using them thoroughly and to their full potential, to make the classification of the obtained results easier, to make the results more easily understood by the audience as well as by the scholars themselves, etc. Besides, explicitly stating the principles upon which the study is based can help avoid possible bias, which can be various. Any high-quality research is grounded in theory; therefore, creating and developing theoretical tools are an essential method of advancing any scientific discipline (Defee, Williams, Randall, & Thomas, 2010, p. 404). Using a theory in studies can help formulate the problem, provide tools and methods for its solution, point at possible complications and other problems, etc. Unfortunately, it should be highlighted that in logistics only approximately 50% of studies “explicitly note… or impl[y] the use of existing theory” (Defee et al., 2010, p. 419).
How will you employ theory in your research topic?
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Knowing how important it is to clearly state what theory is being used in a study, we are planning to explicitly articulate what theoretical findings will be used in our research. Because our study is concerned with EPA regulations and their impact on transportation standards, we are planning to employ, among others, the microeconomic theory (because it is concerned with limited resources allocation), possibly some ecological findings (for they are used in formulating the EPA regulations, and it should be useful to analyze how the consequences of regulations, i.e. transportation standards, actually affect the environment), as well as some vehicle routing models (Simchi-Levi, Chen, & Bramel, 2014, pp. 301-303).
Defee, C. C., Williams, B., Randall, W. S., & Thomas, R. (2010). An inventory of theory in logistics and SCM research. International Journal of Logistics Management, 21(3), 404-489. Web.
Simchi-Levi, D., Chen, X., & Bramel, J. (2014). The logic of logistics: Theory, algorithms, and applications for logistics management (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Springer.