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What makes a good theory practical?, AMS Review


This paper builds upon Zaltman’s call for greater imagination in theory and practice by exploring the role of imagination in building and applying good theories. It begins by juxtaposing everyday associations to the concept of imagination with scientists’ goal of developing theories that are objectively grounded in data. In research, imagination must focus on explaining why an effect may have occurred. Then, the practical value of such theorizing is explored. It is argued that good theories, though imagined, should to be viewed as real in that they offer a valuable viewpoint for solving practical problems. They expand the real world of the practitioner rather than existing in some ivory tower outside that world. A different sort of imagination, however, is required to move from an abstract theory to an intervention that can be implemented in the real world. Good theory can be highly practical but it requires separating research designed to build and test theory from research designed to evaluate the efficacy of theory-inspired interventions to real world problems.




Alice M. Tybout, Bobby J Calder

Date Published



Tybout, Alice M., and Bobby J Calder. 2017. What makes a good theory practical?. AMS Review.: 116-124.


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