Developing a theory

It is also important to consider whether there is a theoretical background to any research being undertaken. Sometimes, theories are developed as hypotheses based on previous research that a new research study seeks to explore. Alternatively, theories can become a lens through which to explore the research question. Other times, theories may emerge from the data. At a basic level, there may be no consideration of theory in a research project (see Table 10.6, level 1). However, many research projects at least reference previous theories as a way of framing the research question being explored (level 2). On a more specific level, a study may be grounded in a number of previous theories and be putting these to test in the research project, either as a way of providing further validation of the initial theories or assessing whether they apply with a new intervention or a new participant group (level 3). As the study becomes more theory-focused, hypotheses may be made up front about what the researchers are expecting to find or a theory may be used as a lens through which to undertake the study,

Table 10.5 The spectrum of options for developing research questions relating to artistic outcomes







The research study will not examine artistic outcomes, or artistic outcomes are not applicable.

the study will look at basic artistic outcomes, such as whether participants enjoy the artistic process or learn basic artistic skills.

the study will look at the artistic impact on participants in greater detail, such as whether participants expand their knowledge, appreciation, or experience of an art form.

the study will look in detail at the artistic learning and development including skill acquisition of participants and explore whether there are lasting effects.

the study will examine the artistic effects of the project as a major strand of research, such as whether the intervention leads to participants learning the artistic skills necessary to lead their own projects in the future.


the study will focus exclusively on

individuals involved in the


the study will look at how the artistic experience impacts on the wider life of the individual involved.

As well as focusing on the individual, the study will also look at the possible impacts on the artists/arts leaders involved too.

the study will additionally explore whether those connected to the individual are affected and change their attitude towards or become more engaged with the arts as a result.

the study will look at whether the artistic involvement of the individual (and perhaps the artistic outputs) lead to a shift in public perception towards the target group.

Table 10.6 the spectrum of options for developing a theory






No use of theory.

there will be some reference to theoretical underpinnings but no

application or specific theories to be tested in this study.

there will be comprehensive reference to theoretical underpinnings and their application in selected parts of the research study but no new theories will be tested.

there will be a clear theoretical grounding leading to detailed application of theory within the research study and the development of theory/theories building on these previous ideas to be tested in the study.

there will be a clear theoretical grounding which will be used as a springboard for the exploration and development of a new theory, culminating in a strong new theoretical model.

with the aim of building on this and expanding the theoretical framework at the end of the study (level 4). Finally, a project may set out from the standpoint that there is not a suitable current theory that matches the intervention and participant group, and so attempt to build a new theoretical model or framework (level 5). For this much larger theoretical step to occur, it may be that previous pilot studies have already been undertaken to provide the research team with the confidence that such an ambition is feasible (see ‘Piloting and feasibility’, next).

For more information about theory in research, Theory and Methods in Social Research edited by Bridget Somekh and Cathy Lewin (2011) covers a range of theories, including core quantitative and qualitative theories as well as theories that address issues of power such as feminist, race, and queer theory.(4)

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