Making a Theoretical Contribution

Schedule and location

Tuesday June 13th – Thurdsay June 15th  

University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Agora building (visiting address: Mattilanniemi 2)

Tuesday: room Lea Pullkisen sali (4th floor, 9.00-15.00) and room Ag Delta (2nd floor, 15.00-17.00).

Wednesday: room Alfa (1st floor)

Thursday:  room Ag Delta (2nd floor)



Registration is open March 31st - May 25th.


Professor Shirley Gregor, Australian National University


Professor Tuure Tuunanen, University of Jyväskylä, Finland


Extending human knowledge is a seen as the primary goal of research. When it comes to publishing in journals, this goal is reflected in the criteria of “making a theoretical contribution”. Sadly, most of us have experienced the disappointment of being told that our work does not make a sufficient theoretical contribution and our work is rejected. Feldman (2004b, p. 565) in an editorial in the Journal of Management, comments:

We tell authors that their papers do not make theoretical contributions, but often do not give authors much insight into what counts as a theoretical contribution or how to build stronger theories.

The goal of this workshop is to help redress this situation and allow participants to better understand what counts as a theoretical contribution and how this can be achieved. We will look at several different ways in which a theoretical contribution can be made. Participants will be given guidance in how to improve their own work through the study of seminal work on theory and theorizing and exemplar articles for different types of work.  They will work in groups to discuss and improve their own ideas and the work-in-progress they bring with them and complete a “Theoretical Contribution Canvas”.

Detailed Program




Primary Readings


Identify a piece of work with which you are engaged that you can work on in the class: e.g. a research project that is at a relatively early stage or an article that is being prepared for publication.

Colquitt and Zapata-Phelan (2007)

Gregor (2006)

Gregor (2017) (to appear)

Gregor and Hevner (2013)

Peffers et al. (2007-8)

Sein et al (2011)


Complete Assignment 1


Read the primary readings and as many of the other readings in the reference list as you can manage..



Day 1: Setting the Scene – Theorizing and Theories 




Primary Readings

9:00 – 10:30

Class introductions

Theory and Theorizing


  • What is theory?
  • How does theorizing occur?
  • What makes research work “interesting”?

Alvesson and Sandberg (2011)

Barley (2006)

Feldman (2004)

Gregor (2006)

Gregor (2017)

10:30 – 11:00

Coffee break

11:00 – 12:30

Theory and Theorizing (cont.)

12:30 – 13:30


13:30 – 15:00

Presentation of critiques of theory building papers (assignment 1) and discussion


Coffee break

15:30 - 17:00

Introduction to the Theory Building Canvas.

Completion of the Introduction section in your own canvas (Problem, Importance, Goals)

Day 2: Establishing a Theory Base



Primary Readings

9:00 – 10:30

Literature Reviews


  • What existing theory is relevant to your own project?
  • How will you organize your literature review?
  • Defining foundational concepts/constructs? Do you need to define new constructs?
  • What is the place of theory and review articles? How do theory and review articles compare with literature reviews that are part of an article or thesis?

Bem (1995)

Bem (2003)

Neuman (2006) Ch 5

Paré et al. (2015)

Rivard (2014)

Schultz (2015)

Webster and Watson (2002)

10:30 – 11:00

Coffee break


11:00 – 12:30

Literature Reviews (cont.) and Choice of Genre


  • What types of theoretical contribution can be made in a single project or journal article?
  • Consider the taxonomy by Colquitt and Zapata-Phelan (2007) that identifies: (i) testers; (ii) qualifiers, (iii) builders, and (iv) expanders. Where does your work fit?


Colquitt and Zapata-Phelan (2007).


12:30 – 13:30



13:30 – 15:00

Exemplars showing use of the Theory Building Canvas

Komiak and Benbasat (2006)

and others

15:00 –15:30

Coffee break


15:30 –17:00

Completion of the Theoretical Background and Empirical Study sections in your own canvas.

Gregor (2017 to appear)



Day 3: The Special Case of Design Science Research and Participant Presentations



Primary Readings

9:00 – 10:30

Design Principles, Theory and Theorizing in Design Science Research (DSR)


  • What do we know about the theorizing process in DSR?
  • How does the theorizing process in DSR compare with the theory building versus testing distinction in behavioral/natural science?
  • Can prescriptive design theory be arrived at deductively from explanatory descriptive theory?
  • How are design principles extracted?
  • When is full design theory possible?

(Vigorous debate is expected.)

Gregor and Hevner (2014)

Gregor, Müller and Seidel (2013).

Keuchler and Vaishnavi (2012)

Peffers et al (2007-08)

Sein et al (2011)

10:30 – 11:00

Coffee break


11:00 – 12:30

Theorizing in DSR (cont.)


12:30 – 13:30



13:30 – 15:00

Presentation of participants’ canvases to class (assignment 2)

Gregor (2017)

15:00 – 15:30

Coffee break


15:30 - 17:00

Presentation of participants’ canvases to class (assignment 2) (cont.)







Due Date


Pre-course Critique of Theory Building Article


2 weeks before class (1 June 2017)


Presentation of completed Theory Contribution Canvas to class


16 June (final session)


Class Participation


In class


Post-course Essay on Theory Development in DSR


Within 4 weeks after class (14 July)

Assignment 1                    Critique of Theory Building Article   

Select an article  from a reputable journal or conference that can be classified as being in the “theory building” genre: that is, it builds a theory but does not test the theory within the article. The theory developed can be of any type in the Gregor (2006) taxonomy of theory types.

Write a one-page critique of the paper including:

-        A short summary

-        What type of theory is developed, using Gregor’s 2016 taxonomy?

-        What method is used to build the theory?

-        Strengths of the article

-        Weaknesses of the article

-        How could the article be improved?

Be prepared to present your critique in group work on day 1 of the workshop.


Assignment 2 Presentation of Completed Research Canvas

During the course, participants will have the opportunity to progressively complete their canvas with input from fellow participants and the instructor(s).

Each participant will be allocated approximately 10-15 minutes on the last afternoon to present their final completed canvas on a single A3 piece of paper and discuss their proposed research with the class. The exact time allocated to each presentation will depend on student numbers.


Assignment 4 Theory Development in Design Science Research

Prepare an essay that discusses the current state of theorizing in design science research in information systems?

Include discussion of the following topics:

1)     How is theory building distinguished from theory testing in design science research?

2)     Describe and critically compare the main sources that can be used to justify research methods/approaches in the different types of design science research (e.g. Peffers et al 2007-08; Kuechler and Vaishnavi 2011; Sein et al 2011; or others you can identify).

3)     What is your view on the current status of design science research in information systems?


Alvesson, M. and Sandberg, J. (2011). Generating research questions through problematization. Academy of Management Review, 36, 2, 247-271.

Baggini, J. (2016). The Edge of Reason. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Barley, S. (2006). When I write my masterpiece: Thoughts on what makes a paper interesting. Academy of Management Journal, 49, 1, 16-20.

Bem, D. (1995), Writing a review article for the psychological bulletin, Psychological Bulletin, 118, 2, 172-177.

Bem, D. (2003). Writing the empirical journal article. In Darley, J. M., Zanna, M. P., & Roediger III, H. L. (Eds)  (2003). The Compleat Academic: A Practical Guide for the Beginning Social Scientist, 2nd Edition. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Colquitt, J. and Zapata-Phelan, C. (2007). Trends in theory building and theory testing: A five-decade study of the Academy of Management Journal. Academy of Management Journal, 50, 6, 1281-1303.

Feldman, D. (2004). What are we talking about when we talk about theory? Journal of Management, 30, 5, 565-567.

Gregor, S. (2006). The nature of theory in information systems. MIS Quarterly, 30, 3, 611-642.

Gregor, S. (2017 to appear). On Theory. In R. Galliers and M-K. Stein. The Routledge Companion to Management Information Systems.

Gregor, S. and Hevner, A. (2013). Positioning and presenting design science research for maximum impact, MIS Quarterly, 37, 2, 337-355.

Gregor, S. and Jones, D. (2007). The anatomy of a design theory. Journal of the Association of Information Systems, 8, 5, Article 19, 312-335.

Gregor, S., Müller, O., and Seidel, S. (2013). Reflection, abstraction, and theorizing in design and development research, Proceedings of European Conference on Information Systems, June, University of Utrecht, Utrecht, Netherlands, 5-8 June.

Jaccard, J. and Jacoby, J. (2010). Theory Construction and Model-Building Skills. New York: The Guilford Press.

Kim, G., Shin, B., Kim, K. K., and Lee, H. G. (2011), IT Capabilities, process-oriented dynamic capabilities, and firm financial performance. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 12, 7, 1.

Komiak, S. and Benbasat, I. (2006). The effects of personalization and familiarity on trust and adoption of recommendation agents. MIS Quarterly, 30, 4, 941-960.

Kuechler, W. and Vaishnavi, V. (2012). A framework for theory development in design science research: Multiple perspectives. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 13, 6.

Li, S. and Karahanna, E. (2015). Online recommendation systems in a B2C e-commerce context: A review and future directions. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 16, 2, 2.

Neuman, W. (2006). Social Research Methods Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Paré, G., Trudel, M. C., Jaana, M., & Kitsiou, S. (2015). Synthesizing information systems knowledge: A typology of literature reviews. Information & Management, 52, 2, 183-199.

Peffers, K., Tuunanen, T., Rothenberger, M. and Chatterjee, S. (2007-8). A design science research methodology for information systems research. Journal of Management Information Systems, 24, 3, 45-77.

Rivard, S. (2014). Editor’s comments: The ions of theory construction, MIS Quarterly, 38, 2, ii-xii.

Schultze, U. (2015). Skirting SLR’s language trap: Reframing the ‘systematic’ versus ‘traditional’ literature review opposition as a continuum. Information & Management, 30, 180-184.

Sein, M., Henfridsson, O., Purao, S., Rossi, M. and Lindgren, R. (2011). Action design research. MIS Quarterly, 35, 1, 37–56.

Weber, R. (2012). Evaluating and developing theories in the information systems discipline. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 13, 1.

Webster, J. and Watson, R. (2002). Analysing the past to prepare for the future: Writing a literature review. MIS Quarterly, 26, 2, xiii-xxiii.

Weick, K. (1995). What theory is not, theorizing is, Administrative Science Quarterly, 40, 3, 385-390.

Credit points

Doctoral students participating in the seminar can obtain 3 credit points. This requires participating on all of the days and completing the assignment.

Registration fee

This seminar is free-of-charge for member organization's staff and their PhD students. For others the participation fee is 400 €. The participation fee includes access to the event and the event materials. Lunch and dinner are not included.