Recommendations for Creating Better Concept Definitions in the Organizational, Behavioral, and Social Sciences

Philip M. Podsakoff, Scott B. MacKenzie, Nathan P. Podsakoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

377 Scopus citations


Despite the importance of establishing good, clear concept definitions in organizational research, the field lacks a comprehensive source that explains how to effectively develop and articulate a concept’s domain. Thus, the purpose of this article is to explain why clear conceptual definitions are essential for scientific progress and provide a concrete set of steps that researchers can follow to improve their conceptual definitions. First, we define what is meant by a concept, describe the functions served by concepts in scientific endeavors, and identify problems associated with a lack of conceptual clarity. Then we explain why it is so difficult to adequately define concepts. Next, we provide a series of recommendations for scholars in the organizational, behavioral, and social sciences who are either trying to define a new concept or revise the definition of one that already exists in the field. Following this, we provide some examples that generally meet the criteria for a good conceptual definition. We conclude with a set of questions that authors, reviewers, and editors can use as a guide for evaluating concept definitions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-203
Number of pages45
JournalOrganizational Research Methods
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016


  • concept
  • construct
  • contamination
  • criteria for good conceptual definitions
  • deficiency
  • discriminant validity
  • family resemblance concept structure
  • necessary and sufficient concept structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Decision Sciences
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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