What do I do with the theory?

The theory/theories you use in your project will position you in the field. The theory determines your approach to the phenomenon – i.e. what you want to examine or explain. Selecting a theory means choosing a certain perspective from which to argue and which lets your readers know where you are standing. If you work with approach X, you will pursue a different premise in your academic paper than with approach Y.

The chapter on theory provides a framework for the phenomenon which you are about to examine, and thus creates a basis for analysis. Deciding to use a certain theory implicitly includes adopting the terminology, models and concepts that relate to it.


Get an overview
You need to get an overview before you choose a theory. Each discipline has textbooks that provide insight into common theoretical approaches. Consider the theoretical positions that have been presented in seminars – and whether or not you find them convincing, and why.

Let’s say you’ve got five pairs of sunglasses with lenses in different colours. Each of them makes you see your environment in another shade. The same applies to theories. Theories are verbal models of reality, and ‘colour’ your point of view, or the explanation for a phenomenon.

How do I 'write' theory?
The theoretical sections of a paper tend to be very abstract because they attempt to explain the world in a simplified way. Carefully read through the theoretical sections and the discussions in publications in order to get a feeling for the application of theories. Check your understanding of what you have read by summarising the questions presented by authors, the (hypo)theses related to the questions, as well as the discussion of results in the article in question.

This helps you learn how to integrate a question into a theoretical background, how to derive (hypo)theses from it, and how the theory/theories can finally be used to arrive at theory-driven conclusions. Think of authors who have awakened your interest or curiosity. Use edited volumes and/or textbooks on fundamentals to get a general idea of working with theories.