Encyclopedia of Communication Theory Evaluating Communication Theory

Contributors: Author:Stephen W. Littlejohn Edited by: Stephen W. Littlejohn & Karen A. Foss Book Title: Encyclopedia of Communication Theory Chapter Title: "Evaluating Communication Theory" Pub. Date: 2009 Access Date: October 28, 2020 Publishing Company: SAGE Publications, Inc. City: Thousand Oaks Print ISBN: 9781412959377 Online ISBN: 9781412959384 DOI: Print pages: 364-366

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Scholars use several criteria to evaluate theories in order to establish their contribution to the body of knowledge and usefulness. This entry summarizes several evaluative criteria and provides a measure of the overall qualities of a good theory.

Evaluation Criteria

Theoretical Scope

Scope refers to the comprehensiveness or breadth of a theory. Although theories vary in coverage, some level of generality is necessary for a theory to have value. In other words, a theory must explain events beyond a single observation. One can explain an observation, but that explanation is not theoretical if it does not apply to other observations as well. In other words, a theory must cover a range of events. The more observations that a theory covers, the better the theory is judged to be.

A theory can have two types of generality. The first is the extent of a theory's coverage. If a theory addresses a wide spectrum of topics, it has value in helping us understand characteristics that span many aspects of communication. For example, a theory might explain how people create meaning in all forms of communication. Because the topic of meaning …