I am an early-career mathematics-education researcher. Recently, I received a request for major revisions for a manuscript I had submitted on opportunities to learn provided by undergraduate mathematics calculus textbooks.

One of the issues I need to address is explaining the theoretical contribution of the study reported in the manuscript. I am not sure how to address this issue. I guess my greatest challenge is that I don't know what a theoretical contribution is in mathematics education. I would greatly appreciate if someone could explain what the reviewers mean or rather expect in my response. Suggestions for resources to read on this subject are welcome too.

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    $\begingroup$ It sounds like they are asking you what is new in your manuscript that was not known before. $\endgroup$ Apr 17, 2023 at 2:35
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    $\begingroup$ Is there any more helpful context around this? My wild guess would be that the word theoretical is badly chosen and needs to be replaced with potential or similar, but it’s hard to say without any other evidence. $\endgroup$
    – Wrzlprmft
    Apr 17, 2023 at 5:14
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    $\begingroup$ Crossposted from Academia SE (where it was suggested to try on this site): What is a theoretical contribution in mathematics education research? $\endgroup$ Apr 17, 2023 at 7:58
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    $\begingroup$ The reviewer is looking for a contribution that adds to the theoretical foundations of mathematics education. Assuming that your study is not attempting to create a whole new theory, your best option is probably to see how your study either supports or contradicts an existing theory such as constructivism. $\endgroup$ Apr 19, 2023 at 0:01
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    $\begingroup$ See Doing Research: A New Researcher's Guide by James Hiebert et. al. for a discussion of theoretical frameworks in mathematics education research. $\endgroup$ Apr 19, 2023 at 0:06

2 Answers 2


I think what the reviewer is looking for is a "why". If X causes Y improvement, why does it do so? What aspects of teachers, students, and class dynamics contribute to this situation? How would I recognize a similar problem in a different context? What were the driving forces that led to the problem that needed a solution? Was it the class, the school, the requirements, the students, or the society as a whole?

You didn't give much information for what you have written, but I would suggest adding a "discussion" section which addresses the deeper issues at play. Even if you don't have definitive answers, looking at the theoretical questions will help others more than just the data itself.


You must check the state of the art, in which your paper is framed. For instance, task design.


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