Although the main role of theory is played in more advanced research stages, such as review literature or adopting a research philosophy and approach, the truth is that its importance begins earlier than this: “it should inform your definition of research questions and objectives” (Saunders, 2009). The word theory is probably one of the most misused and misunderstood in education” (Saunders, 2009). What is in texbook is usually seen as “theories”, whereas what is happening in the “real world” is practice. Equally, in the previous post under the title #thenatureofresearch was highlighted that many managers still base their decision making on personal experience rather than in research.
But theory consists of a relationship between cause and effect that it is not only present in the research world but also in our daily life. We all attempt to solve the daily problems that we have to face up in a similar way as scientist. We all constantly make hypotheses and check them according to our experience. Why do you usually take the bus number 3 if the 12, 22 and 48 also go to your destination?. Perhaps because according to your experience, the bus 12 is the least crowded. This schemata that you have in your mind derive in a theory, in your own theory. In doing your own research it works in much the same way. Following the example given in How to turn a research idea into a research question when #formulatingaresearch about unemployment in European Union, you may develop your own theory after identify, for instance, a great relationship between unemployment rate and Gross Domestic Product evolution.
But coming back to the question that head this post, why is theory important in formulating a research, you must bear in mind that before setting such research questions as Why northern European countries registered higher unemployment rate? You must be aware of whether this question has already been answer in previous researches. Would you avoid looking up the buses bulletin board to check the prices that most suit you? In this way you will save the money and time require to check it by yourself. In much the same way, a preliminary review of literature will contribute to know whether your research question has been answer and whether you should formulate a different and not yet answered question such as, How affect unemployment rate in the different European countries in terms of suicide?, just for giving an example. In other words, to create new knowledge and to contribute to see further in your area of knowledge, you must account for the works created by other researchers.
And this idea leads us to the very famous sentence in the science world: “Stand on the shoulders of giants“. To illustrate the importance this idea, below you can see a video of a very nice tradition that take place in Terrasa (Catalonia–Spain) so called “Minyons de Terrassa” In this video, a student graduate would probably be represented by the little girl who reach the top while the rest would be the preivous researchers who has worked on your topic. Not every year the little girl achieves the top. Hopefully you will.