How to Approach your Theoretical Contribution with Ease

by | Nov 1, 2021

How to Approach your Theoretical Contribution with Ease

Research Topic

theoretical contribution

Many students worry about their theoretical contribution. Is my research original enough? What exactly is involved? In upcoming posts, we’ll tackle many theory-related questions. Today, we outline an effective way to think about and approach your own contribution with ease.

In our first Butterfly Effect blog series, I emphasised the need to avoid thinking that you need to develop an original theory all by yourself. The other end of the spectrum is not liking the idea of being critical in the first place—such as challenging expert assumptions, unpicking arguments, etc.

Doubts start to creep in: ‘Who am I to challenge the experts?!’

Yet these doubts, including the ability to overcome them and progress towards a sound theoretical contribution, soon dissipate when we realise that research involves taking part in a conversation.

As talking about the weather is a conversational ice-breaker, this post is our second post in our butterfly effect blog series. So how do we break the ice when it comes to your theoretical contribution?

How to initiate your theoretical contribution

To kick start your theoretical contribution, a powerful metaphor helps – a party conversation (hat tip: Professor Lorelei Lingard)

Let’s imagine you arrive at a party. It’s noisy, with not a familiar face in sight. Nervous, you head to the drinks bar. While sorting out your drink, you eavesdrop on a nearby conversation.

By listening intently, you quickly grasp the gist of the conversation—a hotly discussed issue you find fascinating. You courageously introduce yourself to the group.

Your Theoretical Contribution Starts with Eavesdropping

At first, you signal your shared interest by nodding along to the conversation. And as it unfolds, you amplify some aired thoughts with your unique take on the issue.  And because you want to help solve the problem, when a gap opens up in the discussion, you add something new—the metaphorical equivalent to a theoretical contribution.

Research as Conversation: Step by Step

#1. We don’t barge into a conversation; instead, we listen to others—the conversational equivalent to a literature review.

#2. And only after listening (to the literature) do we echo their thoughts—signalling our ‘intellectual debt’.

#3. In real life, we wouldn’t repeat what others say verbatim; acting like a parrot is a social faux pas. In a dissertation, that’s plagiarism.

#4. We also identify with the problem to stake our stance in the conversation—the equivalent of making a problem statement.

#5. Nor do we set about making our contribution before we spot a gap—the research opportunity.

#6. What’s more, if we want our contribution to spark interest, we need to convince others the gap is appropriate and worth probing further—our research justification.

Every school of thought involves a conversation. And your research project is simply joining in—perhaps not so daunting after all.

Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below. For instance, what you are worried about in terms of your contribution? Your comments will give us some valuable ideas for new posts.

As you’re here…

Once our Applied Self Leadership Course is live, we’re thinking of putting together an academic writing guide. Please contact us if this would be of interest – thank you.