Chapter 6: Theories, concepts and variables




Research that is not theoretically informed, not grounded in the existing body of knowledge, or of the ‘shotgun’ variety that fails to raise and investigate conceptually grounded questions, is likely to generate findings of a narrow and ungeneralisable value.

( Yiannakis 1992, p.8)


Think about:

1 – your discipline

2 – the field

3 – the theory, e.g.

Discipline Field Theory

Sociology Socialisation into sport Donnelly and

Young’s (1988) model of group socialisation

Think about how theories may be applied:




Crowd effects

Theory Application

Zajonc’s (1965) Crowd effect on on performance theory of social facilitation hockey matches


The conceptual framework describes and explains the concepts to be used in the study, their relationships with each other, and how they are to be measured.

Developing your conceptual framework requires five main steps:

1. Identifying the relevant concepts.

2. Defining those concepts.

3. Operationalising the concepts.

4. Identifying any moderating or intervening variables.

5. Identifying the relationship between variables.


Nominal scales group subjects into different categories, for example grouping football players on the basis of the team they play for.

Ordinal scales have a rank order, but do not indicate the difference between scores.

Think, for example, of placement on a squash ladder.

The person on top has performed better than the person second, and so on.

Thus data is ordered, but there is no indication of how much difference there is between players. The player assigned a score of ‘1’ is not necessarily twice as good as the player assigned ‘2’.

Interval scales have equal intervals of measurement, for example a gymnastics scoring scale.

There are equal intervals between each score, i.e. there is the same difference between an 8.00 and a 9.00 as there is between a 9.00 and a 10.00.

It is not the case, necessarily, however, that a 10.00 is worth twice as much as a 5.00.

Ratio scales are also based on order, with equal units of measurement, but they are proportional and have an absolute zero.

For example, if a basketball team scores 50 points, then that is worth twice as much as a team that scored 25 points.


Measuring a construct turns it into a variable.

Variable − any construct that can take on different values.

An INDEPENDENT variable influences a DEPENDENT variable.

( IND VAR )  ( DEP VAR )

Social class affects attitudes.

May also be a MODERATING variable:

Social class affects attitudes past experience ( MOD VAR )

Fewer moderating variables = more confidence in findings. Less chance of spurious relationship.

What is the effect of the crowd upon performance ?

• Weather?

• Referee?

• Luck?

• Opposition? etc.

May also be a INTERVENING variable:

Social class  education  attitudes


NO link between social class and attitudes.


Reliability generally refers to the consistency of the results obtained.

Inter-observer reliability assesses the extent to which different observers would give similar scores to the same phenomenon.

Test –retest reliability is the extent to which the research would provide the same measurements if repeated at a different time.

Internal consistency reliability refers to the extent to which each question within a measure is actually measuring the same phenomenon.

Threats to reliability

• Subject error.

• Researcher error.

• Subject bias.


‘How do I know that the method I am using is really measuring what I want it to measure?’

• Face validity . Does your method appear appropriate to measure what you want it to measure at first glance?

• C ontent validity . This is similar to face validity, except that it refers to the initial assessment from an expert’s point of view.

• Predictive validity . Can your measures predict future behaviour?

• Construct validity . Does your data correlate with other measures?


• Reliability/Dependability.

• Rigour.

• Credibility.

• Authenticity.

• Fairness.

• Ontological authenticity.

• Educative authenticity.

• Catalytic authenticity.

• Tactical authenticity.


1. Theory plays a crucial role in most research projects.

Having an understanding of the importance of theory, and of the particular theories to be used in your research is an important element of the research process.

2. Developing your conceptual framework is also an important stage of the research process. Undertaking this process will allow you to clarify the important concepts within your study, their relationships to each other, and their measurement.

3. For Quantitative research you need to consider issues of validity (the extent to which what you are measuring actually reflects the phenomenon under investigation) and reliability (the extent to which the findings would be the same if the research was repeated).

4. If you are undertaking qualitative research, then how will you ensure your approach is trustworthy, authentic, reliable, rigorous, and credible?