This guide and glossary focuses on the role of theory and conceptual models within population health research. Upon discussing the critical need for theory in conducting interdisciplinary research, it provides strategies for crafting theories that can be empirically tested and a glossary of theory building terms that are useful for guiding research. In addition to general concepts, the glossary includes some terminology commonly found in the social sciences, whose well established traditions and practices of formal theory building may be particularly informative for epidemiologists and other population health researchers who have minimal formal social science training, but study social factors in their research.
- population health
- research design
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↵* While we recognise that page limitations in journals may restrict the extent to which authors choose to detail the theoretical underpinnings of their research, this does not mean that diligent theorising should not have occurred in the conduct of that research. Much of what we are discussing in this glossary involves the use of theory in research, but not necessarily how this theory is conveyed in the finished manuscript. To promote interdisciplinary knowledge, however, we contend that it is important to try to effectively communicate important theoretical approaches that guide research.
↵† In the spirit of the JECH glossary and the practice of prior glossary authors, 55 we encourage and invite exchange on this topic, particularly via the use of alternative approaches (for example, positivism, critical theory). In no way should this manuscript be interpreted to imply that postpositivism is the only or best approach to research.
Conflicts of interest: none declared.
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