Research can be defined as the logical process of collecting and evaluating information or data with the aim of increasing understanding of a topic, issue, or phenomenon of concern. Basically, theory development relies on research and research relies on theory. The relationship between the two is considered by many as dialectic because theory determines the type of data to be collected and in return, the research findings provide challenges to accepted theories.
Research can hence be viewed as the vehicle for theory development. It is the critical method used to gather data and information required for developing a theory or testing an existing theory. If the purpose of carrying out the research is so as to test a theory, the theory in question dictates the data to be collected. If the purpose is theory generation, the phenomenon of interest suggests things to look for. A research endeavor can be viewed as a structure that incorporates a number of distinct but related elements including the research problem that drives the study, review questions, methodology, results, and conclusions. In research, scientists can hardly make any advancement without a statement of the problem. Where theory is concerned, the argument to the problem statement should present how the research builds on previous theory or make a contribution to the development of the new theory.
To best understand the relationship between research and theory, one has to have an in-depth understanding of how the different types of theory determine the research designs used. Scientists carrying out research classify theory as either descriptive or explanatory. Generally, descriptive theories are the most elementary type of theory. They use the commonalities found in discrete observations to describe and classify specific dimensions or characteristics of individuals. Descriptive theories are of great importance when nothing or very little is known about the phenomenon in question. Descriptive research does not have to make use of an empirical method. Nonempirical methods mostly make use of philosophical and historic inquiry. Historic research focuses on the description of the phenomena that occurred previously while philosophical research describes and classifies phenomena through critical discussion.
Explanatory theories are created and verified by experimental research. It mainly makes use of the empirical method of experimentation. The method mainly involves the manipulation of some phenomena to determine their effect on some characteristic or dimension of another phenomenon. It requires quantifiable data to determine whether an experimental treatment makes any change and if so, how much variance.
The research design reflects the objectives of the study. It also varies with theoretical underpinnings in the field. For instance, if little is known about the theory or phenomenon to be investigated, descriptive theory-generating research is appropriate. If the theory has been sufficiently defined and its affiliations to other portents are well known, experiments would be best suited for such a situation. In essence, the theory provides explanations or expectations about the world, and research is used to ascertain, discover, understand, refute or validate the theory. The two are hence conclusively related.