In the book: Theory Construction and Model building skills, Jaccard & Jacoby outline 16 ways to make a theoretical contribution when conducting research. These are introduced in chapter 3, and numbered from 1 to 16. Each is elaborated on in subsequent chapters.

I have grouped these into five levels, for contributions:

  • At the variable level
  • Between variables
  • Contexts variables are in
  • Interpretation of relationships
  • Refining theories

All 16 are presented, though grouped. I have kept the numbering from the book for ease of reference.

At the variable level

1) Clarify, refine, or challenge the conceptualization of a variable/concept:

    • Clarification involves making a variable/concept more precise and well-defined. For example, distinguishing between different types of social capital.
    • Refinement means adding nuance or depth to the existing understanding of a concept. For instance, breaking down the concept of motivation into intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
    • Challenge refers to questioning the current conceptualization and proposing a fundamentally different way of understanding it. For example, redefining job satisfaction not just as a personal feeling but as a collective organizational phenomenon.

2) Create a new variable or constellation of variables that are of theoretical interest:

    • Variable Creation involves inventing new variables or combinations of variables to better capture complex phenomena. For instance, creating a variable that measures “technostress” in the context of digital workplaces.
    • Constellation Creation involves combining multiple variables to form new constructs. For example, developing the “dark triad” of personality traits in psychology, which includes narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.

9) Develop a theory of measurement:

    • Measurement Theory addresses how concepts are quantified and validated. For example, proposing new ways to measure organizational commitment that capture both emotional and rational components.

Between Variables:

3) Add one or more explanatory variables for an outcome that have not been considered in prior work:

    • New Explanatory Variables involve introducing previously overlooked factors that can explain an outcome. For example, adding “organizational culture” as an explanatory variable for employee retention, which was previously explained mainly by job satisfaction and salary.

Njål’s Notes/Thoughts: This is for a situation where we have an explanation, but want to propose a variable that can explain additional variance, or better explain variance that another variable already explains.

4) Identify the mechanisms or intervening processes responsible for an effect of one variable on another:

    • Mechanistic Explanation delves into the processes or pathways that link variables. For example, exploring how leadership communication impacts employee morale through the mediating role of trust.

Njål’s Notes/Thoughts: this is a classic mediation analysis, to see how much of the association is explained through a mediating variable. Valuable when there is a large distance /black box, between the explanatory and outcome variable. Eg. A lot within personality research.

5) Identify the boundary conditions of an effect of one variable on another:

    • Boundary Conditions define the limits within which a theory or relationship holds true. For instance, identifying that the positive relationship between job satisfaction and performance is stronger in high-autonomy jobs than in low-autonomy jobs.

Njål’s Notes/Thoughts: Under what circumstances may an association not work? When will it work? How generalizable is it.

6) Identify variables that moderate the effect of one variable on another:

    • Moderator Variables are factors that influence the strength or direction of the relationship between independent and dependent variables. For example, the impact of leadership style on team performance may be moderated by team cohesion.

Njål’s Notes/Thoughts: how does the relationship differ between eg. groups/situation. Is the effect stronger or weaker for some?

15) Develop typologies/taxonomies:

    • Typologies/Taxonomies involve categorizing phenomena into meaningful groups. For example, creating a typology of organizational cultures such as clan, adhocracy, market, and hierarchy.

Context of variables

7) Extend an existing theory or idea to a new context:

    • Horizontal Contrasting: Applying a theory developed in one context to a different but related context at the same level of analysis. For example, applying a theory of couple dissatisfaction for married couples to cohabiting couples.
    • Vertical Contrasting: Extending a theory developed for one level of analysis (e.g., individual-level) to another level (e.g., organizational-level). For instance, adapting theories of individual decision-making to organizational decision-making.
    • New Construct Specification: Adapting the definition of a theoretical construct to reflect the realities of the new context. For example, redefining leadership styles to fit the context of virtual teams.
    • Construct Splitting: Dividing an existing construct into more nuanced, multidimensional constructs. For example, breaking down job satisfaction into different dimensions such as work-life balance satisfaction and career development satisfaction.
    • Structuring Specific Relations: Describing new relationships between theoretical constructs that are unique to the new context. For instance, explaining how trust and communication interact differently in virtual teams compared to traditional teams.
    • Structuring Sequence Relations: Exploring how the ordering of variables might change in the new context. For example, examining the different stages of policy implementation in specialized vs. general hospitals.
    • Structuring Recursive Relations: Identifying how reciprocal causal dynamics between theoretical constructs might change due to the new context. For example, how the feedback loop between employee satisfaction and performance might differ in remote work settings compared to on-site settings.

8) Import or apply grand theories and frameworks from other disciplines:

    • Cross-Disciplinary Application utilizes broad frameworks from other fields to inform new theoretical insights. For instance, applying chaos theory from physics to understand the dynamics of organizational change.

14) Apply and test theories in different contexts:

    • Contextual Testing involves applying theories to new settings or populations to test their generalizability. For instance, applying organizational justice theory to non-profit organizations to see if the principles hold outside the corporate sector.

16) Utilize computer simulations to generate and refine theory:

    • Computer Simulations use modeling to test theoretical predictions and observe emergent behavior. For example, using agent-based models to simulate organizational behavior under different management strategies.

Interpretation of how variables relate to each other

10) Pit opposing theoretical explanations against one another:

    • Comparative Theory Testing involves conducting empirical studies that test the predictions of competing theories. For example, testing whether job satisfaction is more accurately explained by Herzberg’s two-factor theory or Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

11) Propose alternative explanations to established phenomena:

    • Alternative Explanations offer new theoretical insights that challenge established views. For instance, suggesting that employee turnover is driven more by organizational culture than by individual job satisfaction.

Refine theories

12) Conduct qualitative studies to enrich, elaborate, build upon, or revise existing theories:

    • Qualitative Research uses methods like interviews, case studies, and ethnography to provide deep insights. For example, using in-depth interviews to explore the experiences of remote workers and how these experiences inform theories of work-life balance.

13) Conduct studies with research designs that have the potential to substantially revise existing theories:

    • Innovative Research Designs involve employing novel methodologies or experimental setups to challenge and potentially revise existing theories. For example, using longitudinal studies to observe changes over time and offer new insights into organizational behavior.

These detailed descriptions provide a robust framework for researchers to make significant theoretical contributions in their respective fields.

The book in question is:

Jaccard, J., & Jacoby, J. (2019). Theory construction and model-building skills: A practical guide for social scientists. Guilford publications.


Theory Construction and Model-Building Skills: A Practical Guide for Social Scientists (Methodology in the Social Sciences Series)

Theory Construction and Model-Building Skills: A Practical Guide for Social Scientists (Methodology in the Social Sciences Series): 9781462542437: Medicine & Health Science Books @

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