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Theoretical Framework in Research: Definition & How to Write It

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One of the most challenging phases in research is creating a theoretical framework. Failure to include this part may result in your work being rejected by publishers or professors. It is a crucial part of dissertation writing because it offers a theoretical context that enables readers to assess your work. Specifically, it helps in establishing a foundation upon which all sections of a study are developed. 

But can you tell what is theoretical framework in research? Students, in general, find it very difficult to even define, choose, and formulate an appropriate background that can inform their research. If you are one of them, then this piece is specifically created to address your needs. The article describes ideas about how to write a theoretical framework. Additionally, you will gain insights into the types of theory in research so that you can create a solid blueprint for an inquiry. 

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What Is a Theoretical Framework: Definition

So, what is a theoretical foundation? A theoretical framework is a summary of all theories that outline and clarify the boundaries of what you are investigating. It is impossible to explore all things associated with your topic. Rather, you usually present assumptions regarding how various ideas are related and explain a particular issue using a theoretical framework. These are the key variables, constructs, or factors of your dissertation that illuminate exactly the scope of analysis. 

Theoretical frameworks are critically important both for quantitative and qualitative studies. As the basis of a thesis or dissertation, they are built on existing and relevant research theories and must comply with your objectives. Theories intend to support and structure the rationale, problem, purpose, questions, and meaning of your research paper. Remember that as the investigation progresses and data is collected, the core assumptions you identified might also change. Thus, you can refine the context of your study along the way.

What is a theoretical framework

Why Are Theoretical Frameworks Important?

Your work will be of no use if you cannot describe its theoretical foundation. Here is how the theoretical framework benefits your study. It:

  • Guides all aspects of an inquiry from thesis declaration to the conclusion. It helps you in exploring diverse theories, which enriches your investigation’s strengths.
  • Offers a structure demonstrating how your report is expressed. In particular, a theoretical framework in research can be stated analytically, epistemologically, or philosophically.
  • Helps you avoid simple descriptions of an issue by examining different factors surrounding it. Thus, ensure to affirm your theoretical statements.
  • Allows readers to evaluate your manuscript from varying angles.
  • Enables you to predict your research problem, including any limits of your focus area. Its importance is in specifying which main variables affect your dissertation topic and explaining how they vary based on what conditions.
  • Acts as a tool for filtering relevant questions and guiding data collection.

Types of Research Theories

There is a close connection between an investigation and what model is used, as stated previously, about how important it is to establish a theoretical basis. This association can be characterized as a transaction in which theoretical models determine the kind of data that can be collected and how a study should be organized. Therefore, it is essential to know the three types of theory in research:

  1. Descriptive This is what an exploratory researcher uses in classifying a particular feature or element of an event, situation, group, or individual by identifying commonalities. Usually, this is done after observing them discreetly. It is a simple type of theory in research, and is needed when you do not understand a phenomenon entirely.
  2. Relational These research theories are used by mostly correlational researchers in specifying how various characteristics of a phenomenon of interest are related. Researchers use them to explain the relationship between different parts of an issue. Their development requires one to know the essential aspects of a problem or first develop and validate a descriptive model.
  3. Explanatory Explanatory theories in research go further than relational accounts by precisely predicting the causative association between dimensions of a topic or how groups differ. Experimental investigators develop these models after formulating relational ones and use them to address cause and effect type of questions.

Theoretical Framework in Research

At this point, you already know what a theoretical framework is. However, you may not understand the types of theories in research that you can consider for an inquiry. Well, a model offers a perspective through which you will explore a study problem. But, this view can be from any theoretical approach depending on the nature of your manuscript. 

Specifically, different categories of frameworks can be selected. Examples include grounded, critical, leadership, driving force, phenomenological, transcendental, and feminist theories. Others are functional, postmodernism, Marxist, constructionist, critical race, and game approach.

As highlighted earlier, your field of study and discipline influence which theoretical model you will use. Even within a specific discipline, your pick affects how the analysis will be conducted because a single topic can be interpreted by different philosophies. 

Consider domestic violence as an example. Conflict theory will look into differences in resource possession as the cause, while the functional system will focus on gender role differences.

Thus, the best way to find applicable concepts for your paper involves immersing yourself in the existing literature about a phenomenon. While you may find a specific principle, the theoretical review will reveal one or different interrelated core ideas from which to frame an investigation. Whatever choice you have, make sure to explain it in your work.

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Theoretical Framework Structure

The theoretical framework is an illustrative view of the link you anticipate seeing between variables of interest. These concepts are generated after reviewing relevant studies. Therefore, place this section just after a literature review segment to guide your methodology part. Learn how to write your theoretical framework by following this layout. Structure it by:

  • Setting your objectives and aims first. This helps you relate a model to the main goals.
  • Defining and explaining a theory. Clarify which approach you are focusing on, its major supporters, and its applications.
  • Developing a strong argument. Evaluate your selection critically over other potential models.
  • Choosing and describing your thoughts. Identify which side you are on and why.
  • Ascertaining the ideas. Organize a theoretical framework by elaborating on which concepts you will use and why. Also, elucidate how these notions are associated with each other and the aims of your approach and how you will achieve the objectives.
  • Stating your view. What is your epistemological and ontological standpoint?
  • Recognizing any limitations of your framework. Expound why it cannot account for a specific feature of your work and solution.

How to Write a Theoretical Framework

To create a theoretical framework, you must first identify a study problem and understand why your approach offers a practicable solution. You do this after reviewing relevant course texts in your dissertation. If you can provide an answer to the aforementioned issues, you have the foundations for composing your thesis or dissertation. The following steps demonstrate how to develop a theoretical framework based on the design mentioned previously. You can apply them in qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods studies.

How to Write a Theoretical Framework in 5 Steps

1. Inspect Your Research Problem

Consider your research problem or the subject of your work very closely because it acts as a theoretical base. You will build an appropriate model using it. Describe any gaps in understanding that drove your project and offer a summary of different ways others have tackled the issue. This provides a specific setting for your theoretical framework by showing how you are examining instances of broader phenomena. It also helps in linking your manuscript to the wider theoretical constructs, contested views, or existing gaps in your field. In turn, this enables you to demonstrate that the thesis aims to illuminate vital themes and is, therefore, crucial for your subject area.

2. Determine the Key Variables

Next, list all variables you think are key in your theoretical framework. These can be: 

In other words you should identify what factors contribute to the estimated outcome. This helps you locate, define, and break down the central terms related to your research question or problem statement. It is important because some of them can mean several things based on context. Thus, your theoretical work must clarify what each one denotes. You use this information in your future discussion about theories linking the identified concepts. 

For example, a business is unable to reach young customers under 25 years old. It operates a chain of cafes across the city. Although it has a new website and dishes for this group, there are no orders. The key leadership thinks adding online payment techniques will appeal to young clients and enhance user satisfaction. It is anticipated that this will simplify the buying process, attract more people, and grow the user base.

Here, the core elements of a theoretical background are determined by:

  • Identifying an issue, which is the lack of orders from young customers.
  • Explaining the objective, i.e., examining if online payment techniques increase user satisfaction.
  • Formulating a research question stated below.

Does implementing online payments enhance user satisfaction among young online customers aged under 25 years old?

The main components are: 

  • user satisfaction
  • clients aged under 25 years old
  • online payments.”

Your model must define and discuss these ideas.

3. Conduct a Literature Review

The third step in developing a theoretical framework is conducting a literature review associated with your topic. The intention is to ascertain how others have discussed an issue, identify which tools and assumptions they applied and made respectively, and discover how they specified and built connections of key concepts.

Remember to use credible and peer-reviewed works only as you research the theoretical framework. Your focus here is on contrasting and assessing the approaches of various scholars critically while writing a theoretical framework of a study. Specifically, check how they defined important ideas, their justifications, and what theories they used. This helps you in building your project and establishing vital and fitting definitions.

You may need a sample literature review outline, we have a special blog to help you with this step.

4. Discuss Relevant Theories

You also need to analyze relevant theories when writing a theoretical framework. Remember that while some of them are popular, no right or perfect system for your research paper exists. Therefore, you must state which approaches you encountered in your review of current studies, discuss what they propose or assume, and elaborate on how these suggestions relate to your study.

Clarify how your selected model will assist in answering your research question and conducting an investigation. In other words, how can it serve as a reference for your project? This offers useful knowledge that helps in building a theoretical framework in research.

You should also assess the relative value of each principle for your subject area to have a sense of which ones are commonly applied in examining your research problem. 

Additionally, identify how your work will implement those ideas by scrutinizing whether specific perspectives hold in the context of your inquiry. You will gain useful insights to help in selecting the best theories in research. What is more, in the framework a theory must relate to your most important propositions. Make sure this is the case. For example, if you found a certain belief unfit, explain why.

5. Go Beyond the Existing Theories

In addition to evaluating and exemplifying extant viewpoints as you write a theoretical framework, you should demonstrate how your work refutes or supports actual theories. Specifically, position your research in a wider context or with varying models. This enables you to build a theoretical framework that offers genuine insights into your problem. It also helps you in examining if an existing view can be used to interpret your findings, deliberating on or challenging notions critically, and combining different philosophies in a new or unique way to form a distinct philosophy. 

Finish your theoretical writing by providing your audience with an explanation about how your project is useful or solves an issue feasibly in the field. You can then continue with other sections of your work such as research methodology, discussion section, or results section

Theoretical Framework Writing Tips

Here are additional tips for writing a theoretical framework. When composing this section, ensure to:

  • Use the present tense during discussions about your work.
  • Describe your model, concepts, and specific theoretical framework models you will use explicitly.
  • Explain any assumptions of your selected framework clearly.
  • Identify the strengths and drawbacks of your approach, particularly those elements of your research problem requiring further investigation due to inadequate descriptions by the theory.
  • Develop a theoretical framework diagram. This is like a conceptual map that helps in identifying key ideas, philosophies, and the relationship between them.
  • Conduct an interdisciplinary review by examining constructs outside of your field.
  • Use your identified approach throughout the study.
  • Be ready to challenge the validity of any model you encounter.

Theoretical Framework Checklist

Consider the following checklist as you complete your theoretical framework:

  • I presented and explained the main models and theories related to my work. Alternatively, my assumptions are stated explicitly to enable readers to evaluate them critically.
  • I can describe what theoretical frameworks are.
  • I used peer-reviewed sources and cited them correctly.
  • I have discussed and assessed existing literature about approaches or ideas and identified gaps.
  • I provided information regarding how key concepts are related.
  • I have identified relevant models informing my research.
  • My framework explains why my work is important and valid.
  • I stated and included relevant assumptions and their guiding theories.
  • My model acts as the basis for my entire manuscript and gives direction in answering my research question.

Bottom Line on Theoretical Framework

This article provided a thorough explanation of what is a theoretical model. Therefore, you should be able to define a theoretical framework without any difficulties after reading all the sections. It is a crucial part of your research paper that cannot be ignored because it determines how you develop, collect data, and explain the findings of your work. The blog also described the process of how to make a theoretical framework. Use these details to create appropriate models for your project. Once you do that, you might also need to develop a conceptual framework.

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FAQ About Theoretical Frameworks

1. What is the purpose of a theoretical framework?

The purpose of a theoretical framework is to capture any lessons and concepts from current theories and propose how a new research problem can be answered. Since you will find multiple models that can offer theoretical support to your paper, a framework provides guidance that helps in comparing and selecting the best options.

2. How long should a theoretical framework be?

Even though there are no rules regarding the length of a theoretical framework, this section should be 3-5 pages long. You must provide enough relevant details to your audience within this space. However, if you go past this span and find yourself needing to add more information, a possible reason is that you did not explain yourself succinctly.

3. What is the difference between a theoretical framework and a literature review?

The two are not the same thing. A literature review is where you make a case for your work by examining existing studies and identifying gaps in knowledge. This is what your project will focus on filling based on your research aims, objectives, and hypotheses. In contrast, with a theoretical framework, you demonstrate how to address an issue or which perspective you will use to collect and understand data.

5. What tense should I use when writing a theoretical framework?

While writing your theoretical framework, ensure to use the present tense. This is important because it is what you are currently doing. Apply this to all things related to your project.

4. What should I include in a theoretical framework?

In developing your theoretical framework, make sure to include a definition of theories or ideas you are basing your work on, a statement of which context these concepts have been examined previously, key studies about your selected models and propositions, and your plan for exploring them. Additionally, identify any gaps you intend to fill and limitations encountered by you and others.

Article posted on:Mar 2, 2023
Article updated on:May 9, 2023


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