This article reports on a review of empirical research published in selected higher education journals in 2008, which was focused on examining how often theories are developed through research. This review found relatively little evidence of theory development. Drawing on the notions of internal and external languages of
description, it is argued that this is partly due to the lack of explicit conceptualisation of the object of research in the writing-up of higher education research, and the lack of a discursive gap between the ways in which research objects are conceptualised and the ways in which data are analysed in accounts of
empirical research into higher education. In conclusion, four ways of promoting such a discursive gap in the reporting of research are discussed.
The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal, Studies in Higher Education, 37 (8), 2012, © Informa Plc