Theory Testing and Extension or Development: The Two Outcome Oriented Research Approaches

What is theory testing and extension or development? These two outcome oriented research approaches are discussed in detail below. Read on to appreciate the importance of these approaches.


Almost in every undergraduate or post graduate research methodology class, the originality of the research outcome, or the anticipated knowledge contribution of a research work is emphasized. However, the extent of originality certainly depends on the student’s capacity, time devoted for the research, the level of study (i.e., Undergraduate, Post graduate or Doctoral), etc. Furthermore, the presence of a pertaining theoretical base is highly valued in academic research despite the level of the study mentioned above.

The presence of a pertaining theory leads to different outcomes, say, to test the existing theoretical base, to propose an extension or to develop new theoretical inferences. Usually in undergraduate level, students propose theoretical testing approaches whereas in post graduate level, say doctoral students propose theory extension or development oriented outcomes provided the level of study. Therefore, in this concise article, the value of theory testing and extension or development approaches are introduced.

Theory as a governing body of a research

The need of a theoretical base is not overstated in research. In fact, as I mentioned in the topic, it governs the research.

Generally, theory is defined as a set of interrelated concepts or propositions that explains situations or events by determining relations among variables. So, the presence of a theory act as a framework (usually known as theoretical framework in research) and researchers determine causal effects within the limits set.

Say for an example, Trait theories of leadership. The trait model discusses the characteristics of leaders, both successful and unsuccessful, also it discusses how to predict leader’s effectiveness. Usually researchers on leadership identify physiological, demographic, intellective, task-related, and social characteristics in assessing the leader’s effectiveness. Provided that, if a particular researcher who is interested in researching trait attributes in effective leadership is inevitably guided by the said traits above. Thus, it indicates the presence of a theoretical framework.

Furthermore, depending on the capacity and the objectives of research, a researcher can determine, say, the intellective characteristics as leadership traits. Thus he/she identifies intelligence, decisiveness, judgment, and knowledge as attributes of the intellective characteristics. All these attributes are supported by the theory and thus, on the other hand, governs the researcher.

At this point, will the researcher be able to produce a novel outcome (new knowledge) if the researcher tests the existing theory? That question is answered in the proceeding section. It is important to determine the presence of a theoretical body as the governing body of academic research.

Theory testing approach

This section starts with the question raised above. Will the researcher be able to produce a novel outcome (new knowledge) if the researcher tests the existing theory?

Frequently, testing of a theory in a different context, say in a geographical location (usually in a country), brings novel outcome only if that context has not been addressed with the desired theory. Such cases are known as context specific research. Context specific research attempts are relatively easy to pursue. Mostly, this approach is anticipated in undergraduate levels.

Continuing from the previous example, a researcher can determine intellective leadership traits to be tested in a different context with the attributes of intelligence, decisiveness, judgment, and knowledge. If a researcher tests these intellective leadership attributes which have not been addressed in the desired context, he/she may certainly be able to produce novel outcome out of the attributes of intelligence, decisiveness, judgment, and knowledge as per the context studied. However, this attempt does not create or extend the existing theoretical base. Rather, this confirms the theory in a different context and thus theory testing approach.

Theory extension approach

Theory extension approach is comparatively a hard attempt. As the term implies the objective of such an attempt is to extend the existing theoretical base by incorporating different theories imposing rationality.

Usually, doctoral students produce theoretical extensions as their knowledge accumulation since their scope and capacity are comparatively broad. In order to extend the existing theory, incorporating two or more subject domains with rationality are required. Say, strategic management and marketing are subject domains which can be incorporated with the objective of proposing theoretical extension.

Importantly, when a researcher is incorporating two or more subject domains, he/she should provide supportive evidences from the literature. For instance, the Resource Based View (RBV) theory in strategic management discusses the importance of rare, valuable, inimitable, non-substitutable resources for a company in acquiring competitive advantage in a firm.

Let’s assume that there are research evidences stated in the literature highlighting the need of scholarly inquiry of market orientation (a theory in marketing) referred to as how “the organizational culture that most effectively and efficiently creates the necessary behaviors for the creation of superior value for buyers and, thus, continuous superior performance for the business” (Narver & Slater, 1990). Thus, a research attempt can be brought forward incorporating the subject domains of marketing and strategic management to propose a theoretical extension.

In this example, researcher may assess how the competitive advantage (inference of RBV) be achieved provided the inference of market orientation. This example demonstrates how the theoretical extension is executed with the objective of producing new knowledge incorporating two subject domains. Very importantly, the incorporation of two or more subject domains should be followed by literature evidences.

Putting it very simple, there should be literature evidences stating that such an importation is required for scholarly inquiry. Perhaps, theoretical extension does not always require incorporation of two or more subject domains. Rather, it can assume two theories in one single domain as well. Finally, whatever the approach followed in producing new knowledge there should be literature to support it.


Research is an attempt to create or to update the knowledge base. Different approaches are available in this process. However, this knowledge accumulation process can either be theory testing or extension. Depending on the capacity, time consumed, among others, these two research approaches may be perceived as feasible.

Literally, theory testing refers to the knowledge accumulation process of an identified theory tested in a different context provided that the context has not been research using the desired theory. Whereas, theory development refers to the knowledge accumulation process incorporating two or more subject domains or two theoretical inferences in the same subject domain.

Work Cited

Narver, J. C. & Slater, S. F., 1990. The effect of a market orientation on business profitability. The Journal of Marketing, pp. 20-35.

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