Theory Use Bibliography

In HCI and other research communities there is an interest in studying theory use in research publications. But to my knowledge, these communities lack a comprehensive lit review on this topic. I am building a bibliography (and reviewing) the theory use literature. The bibliography currently includes:

  1. Abd-El-Khalick, F., & Akerson, V. L. (2007). On the role and use of “theory” in science education research: A response to Johnston, Southerland, and Sowell. Science Education, 91(1), 187–194.
  2. Achterberg, C., & Clark, K. L. (1992). A retrospective examination of theory use in nutrition education. Journal of Nutrition Education, 24(5), 227–233.
  3. Albrecht, J., & Lim, G.-C. (1986). A search for alternative planning theory: Use of critical theory. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, 117–131.
  4. Alley, D. E., Putney, N. M., Rice, M., & Bengtson, V. L. (2010). The increasing use of theory in social gerontology: 1990–2004. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 65(5), 583–590.
  5. Arts, B. (2012). Forests policy analysis and theory use: overview and trends. Forest Policy and Economics, 16, 7–13.
  6. Beck, J., & Stolterman, E. (2016). Examining Practical, Everyday Theory Use in Design Research. She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 2(2), 125 – 140.
  7. Briar, S. (1961). Use of theory in studying effects of client social class on students’ judgments. Social Work, 91–97.
  8. Chong, E., & Xie, B. (2011). The use of theory in social studies of Web 2.0. In System Sciences (HICSS), 2011 44th Hawaii International Conference on (pp. 1–10). IEEE.
  9. Clemmensen, T., Kaptelinin, V., & Nardi, B. (2016). Making HCI theory work: an analysis of the use of activity theory in HCI research. Behaviour & Information Technology, 35(8), 608–627.
  10. Cleuziou, S., Coudart, A., Demoule, J.-P., & Schnapp, A. (1991). The use of theory in French archaeology. Archaeological Theory in Europe: The Last Three Decades, 91–128.
  11. Colquhoun, H. L., Brehaut, J. C., Sales, A., Ivers, N., Grimshaw, J., Michie, S., … Eva, K. W. (2013). A systematic review of the use of theory in randomized controlled trials of audit and feedback. Implementation Science, 8(1), 66.
  12. Colquhoun, H. L., Letts, L. J., Law, M. C., MacDermid, J. C., & Missiuna, C. A. (2010). A scoping review of the use of theory in studies of knowledge translation. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 77(5), 270–279.
  13. Cornelissen, J. P., & Lock, A. R. (2005). The uses of marketing theory: Constructs, research propositions, and managerial implications. Marketing Theory, 5(2), 165–184.
  14. Davies, P., Walker, A. E., & Grimshaw, J. M. (2010). A systematic review of the use of theory in the design of guideline dissemination and implementation strategies and interpretation of the results of rigorous evaluations. Implementation Science, 5(1), 14.
  15. Dobson, P. J. (1999). Approaches to theory use in interpretive case studies–a critical realist perspective. In Australasian Conference on Information System, Wellington, New Zealand.
  16. DRESSMAN, M. (2007). Theoretically framed: Argument and desire in the production of general knowledge about literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 42(3), 332–363.
  17. Fish, S. (1987). Dennis Martinez and the Uses of Theory. The Yale Law Journal, 96(8), 1773–1800.
  18. Garrigan, P., & Pearce, J. (1996). Use theory? Use theory! Mentoring and Tutoring, 4(1), 23–31.
  19. Greenwald, A. G., & Pratkanis, A. R. (1988). On the use of “theory” and the usefulness of theory. Psychological Review, 95(4), 575–579.
  20. Hall, T., Baddoo, N., Beecham, S., Robinson, H., & Sharp, H. (2009). A systematic review of theory use in studies investigating the motivations of software engineers. ACM Transactions on Software Engineering and Methodology (TOSEM), 18(3), 10.
  21. Hannay, J. E., Sjoberg, D. I. K., & Dyba, T. (2007). A Systematic Review of Theory Use in Software Engineering Experiments. IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering, 33(2), 87–107.
  22. Harley, K. (2008). Theory use in introductory sociology textbooks. Current Sociology, 56(2), 289–306.
  23. Hawley, D. R., & Geske, S. (2000). The use of theory in family therapy research: A content analysis of family therapy journals. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 26(1), 17–22.
  24. Hjørland, B. (1998). Theory and metatheory of information science: a new interpretation. Journal of Documentation, 54(5), 606–621.
  25. Jaja, C. (2001). Outlining a theory about the practical use of theory: A discourse -practice theoretic analysis of academic public administration symposia genre (Ph.D.). Florida Atlantic University, United States – Florida. Retrieved from
  26. Kim, S.-J., & Jeong, D. Y. (2007). An analysis of the development and use of theory in library and information science research articles. Library & Information Science Research, 28(4), 548–562.
  27. McKechnie, L. E., Pettigrew, K. E., & Joyce, S. L. (2001). The origins and contextual use of theory in human information behaviour research. The New Review of Information Behaviour Research, 2(November), 47–63.
  28. McKechnie, L., & Pettigrew, K. E. (2002). Surveying the use of theory in library and information science research: A disciplinary perspective. Library Trends, 50(3), 406.
  29. Painter, J. E., Borba, C. P. C., Hynes, M., Mays, D., & Glanz, K. (2008). The Use of Theory in Health Behavior Research from 2000 to 2005: A Systematic Review. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 35(3), 358–362.
  30. Pettigrew, K. E., & McKechnie, L. (E. F. . (2001). The use of theory in information science research. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 52(1), 62–73.<62::AID-ASI1061>3.0.CO;2-J
  31. Pitt, L. F., Berthon, P., Caruana, A., & Berthon, J.-P. (2005). The state of theory in three premier advertising journals: a research note. International Journal of Advertising, 24(2), 241–249.
  32. Robila, M., & Taylor, A. C. (2001). The recent use of theory within stepparent and adolescent relationship research. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 35(3–4), 81–92.
  33. Rox\a a, T., Olsson, T., & M\a artensson, K. (2008). Appropriate use of theory in the scholarship of teaching and learning as a strategy for institutional development. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 7(3), 276–294.
  34. Sandelowski, M. (1993). Theory unmasked: The uses and guises of theory in qualitative research. Research in Nursing & Health, 16(3), 213–218.
  35. Scheerens, J. (2013). The use of theory in school effectiveness research revisited. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 24(1), 1–38.
  36. Schiller, S. Z., & Mandviwalla, M. (2007). Virtual team research an analysis of theory use and a framework for theory appropriation. Small Group Research, 38(1), 12–59.
  37. Smith, J. L., & Lopez, L. M. (1991). The application of theory and its relationship to program effectiveness in nutrition education research. Journal of Nutrition Education, 23(2), 59–64.
  38. Thomas, G. (1997). What’s the use of theory? Harvard Educational Review, 67(1), 75–105.
  39. Van Ryn, M., & Heaney, C. A. (1992). What’s the use of theory? Health Education Quarterly, 19(3), 315–330.
  40. Velt, R., Benford, S., & Reeves, S. (n.d.). A Survey of the Trajectories Conceptual Framework: Investigating Theory Use in HCI. Presented at the CHI 2017, Association for Computing Machinery.
  41. Weerakkody, V., Dwivedi, Y. K., & Irani, Z. (2009). The diffusion and use of institutional theory: a cross-disciplinary longitudinal literature survey. Journal of Information Technology, 24(4), 354–368.
  42. Weis, D. L. (1998). The Use of Theory in Sexuality Research. The Journal of Sex Research, 35(1), 1–9.
  43. Wilson, W. J., & Chaddha, A. (2009). The role of theory in ethnographic research. Ethnography, 10(4), 549–564.
  44. Wu, H.-L., & Volker, D. L. (2009). The use of theory in qualitative approaches to research: application in end-of-life studies. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 65(12), 2719–2732.


There is no common understanding of the word theory across these papers. For some it refers to a something like a family of thought. For others it refers to specific scientific explanations or descriptions of phenomena. And still others allow for an understanding of theory (and thus theory use) to emerge through their reading of a body of literature.

Also, a handful of these studies produce some kind of typology to capture different kinds of theory use in research publications, but there has been very little in the way of comparison between different typologies. Yet such a comparison could reveal important similarities and differences in the way different intellectual communities use theory in their publications.

All very interesting stuff!

I am in the process of reading and reviewing. If you’d like to know the current state of the review (or would like to read the outline/draft manuscript) then don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m happy to share updates and collaborate.


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