Theory Development as the Sport of Football
Research is like the game of football. The American kind. Those who know the game will recognize the very different connotations of the two basic strategies that a team on offense can take -- the passing game and the running game. A team that chooses to play the passing game is going for impact and beauty. Scything arcs of soaring balls cutting deep swathes through the defense as the team advances in long damaging steps down the field. Research works similarly at times -- insights that break radical new ground; experiments that shatter preconceived notions with their elegance, simplicity, and parsimony.
It doesn't happen that way always. Much of the time, a team chooses to play the running game. Put their heads down, and push, struggle, and compete for every inch of bloody churning mud. And that's what happens in research as well. You put your head down and push, struggle and fight to make the data confess.
When one sees a presentation or reads a paper, it almost inevitably appears to have been produced in one sharp swell of insight. Indeed, that is how almost all completed research is generally presented. What's important is to remember that it is the touchdown we're witnessing, not the process that led to it.