Here is a research tip: We write the theory into a separate section in a research proposal so that readers can clearly identify the theory from other components. Such a separate passage provides a complete explication of the theory section, its use, and how it relates to the study.
Using these ideas, the following presents a model for writing a quantitative theoretical perspective section into a research plan. Assume that the task is to identify a theory that explains the relationship between independent and dependent variables.
Look in the discipline-based literature for a theory. If the unit of analysis for variables is an individual, look in the psychology literature; to study groups or organizations, look in the sociological literature. If the project examines individuals and groups, consider the social psychology literature. Of course, theories from other disciplines may be useful, too (e.g., to study an economic issue, the theory may be found in economics).
Examine also prior studies that address the topic or a closely related topic. What theories did the authors use? Limit the number of theories and try to identify one overarching theory that explains the central hypothesis or major research question.
As mentioned earlier, ask the rainbow question that bridges the independent and dependent variables: What explains why the independent variable(s) would influence the dependent variables?
Script out the theory section. Follow these lead sentences: “The theory that I will use is _____ (name the theory). It was developed by _____ (identify the origin, source, or developer of the theory), and it was used to study _____ (identify the topics where one finds the theory being applied). This theory indicates that _____ (identify the propositions or hypotheses in the theory). As applied to my study, this theory holds that I would expect my independent variable(s) _____ (state independent variables) to influence or explain the dependent variable(s) _____ (state dependent variables) because _____ (provide a rationale based on the logic of the theory).”
Thus, the topics to include in a quantitative theory discussion are the theory to be used, its central hypotheses or propositions, information about past use of the theory and its application, and statements that reflect how it relates to a proposed study. Example 3.1, which contains a passage by Crutchfield (1986) from her dissertation, illustrates the use of this model.