Researchers develop theories to explain phenomena, make connections and make predictions. In the theoretical framework, the theories that support his research are explained, showing that his work is based on established ideas.

What is the Theoretical Framework

According to Grant (2014), a theoretical framework consists of concepts and, along with their definitions and references to the relevant academic literature, the existing theory that is used for their particular study. The theoretical framework should demonstrate an understanding of the theories and concepts that are relevant to the subject of your research work and that relate to the broader areas of knowledge being considered.

The theoretical framework is not usually something that is easily found in the literature. You should review course readings and relevant research studies for analytical theories and models that are relevant to the research problem you are investigating. The selection of a theory should depend on its suitability, ease of application and explanatory power.


Before you begin your research, you need to explore what theories and models have already been developed by other researchers. The goal of a theoretical framework is to present and explain this information.

There can be many different theories about your topic, so the theoretical framework also involves evaluating, comparing, and selecting the most relevant ones.

By “framing” your research within a clearly defined field, you make the reader aware of the assumptions that inform your approach, showing the basis of your choices.

This part of your thesis lays the foundations that will support your analysis, helping you to interpret your results and make broader generalizations.

Importance of the Theoretical Framework

According to Park et al (2020), the theoretical framework reinforces the study in the following ways:

An explicit statement of theoretical assumptions allows the reader to evaluate them critically.

The theoretical framework connects the researcher with existing knowledge. Guided by a relevant theory, you are given a basis for your hypotheses and choice of research methods.

The articulation of the theoretical assumptions of a research study forces you to address the questions of why and how. It allows him to move intellectually from the simple description of a phenomenon he has observed to the generalization of various aspects of that phenomenon.

Having a theory helps you identify the limits of those generalizations. A theoretical framework specifies which key variables influence a phenomenon of interest and highlights the need to examine how these key variables may differ and under what circumstances.

By virtue of its application nature, a good theory in the social sciences is valuable precisely because it serves a primary purpose: to explain the meaning, nature, and challenges associated with a phenomenon, often experienced but unexplained in the world in which we live, so that we can use that knowledge and understanding to act more informedly and effectively.


The same research topic can be approached very differently within different theoretical frameworks:

Literature: an academic who uses postmodern literary theory will analyze The Great Gatsby differently from an academic who uses Marxist literary theory.

Psychology: a behavioral approach to depression would imply different methods and assumptions than those of a psychoanalytic approach.

Economics: Wealth inequality would be explained and interpreted differently within the frameworks of classical economics and Keynesian economics.

In each of these cases, you would explain the theory you are using to support your interpretations and explanations of the data.

How to create a theoretical framework

To build your theoretical framework, follow these three steps.

Identify key concepts

The first step is to choose the key terms of the problem approach and the research questions. Concepts often have multiple definitions, so the theoretical framework involves clearly defining what is meant by each term.

Example: Problem statement and research questions

Company X faces the problem that many online customers don’t make subsequent purchases again. Management wants to increase customer loyalty and believes that improving customer satisfaction will play an important role in achieving this goal. To investigate this problem, you have identified and plan to focus on the following problem statement, objective, and research questions:

Problem: Many online customers don’t make subsequent purchases again.

Objective: To increase customer loyalty.

Research question: How can company X’s online customer satisfaction be improved to increase customer loyalty?

The concepts of “customer loyalty” and “customer satisfaction” are clearly central to this study. The theoretical framework will define these concepts and discuss theories about the relationship between them.

Evaluate and explain relevant theories

By conducting a thorough review of the literature, you will be able to determine how other researchers have defined and established connections between these key concepts. When drafting the theoretical framework, try to compare and critically evaluate the approaches proposed by different authors.

After discussing the different models and theories, establish the definitions that best fit your research and justify why this is the case. In the most complex research projects, you can combine theories from different fields to build your own framework.

Be sure to mention the most important theories related to your key concepts. If there’s a well-established theory or model that you don’t want to apply to your own research, explain why it’s not fit for your purposes.

Show how your research fits in

In addition to discussing other people’s theories, the theoretical framework should show how your own project will make use of these ideas.

You can try one or more of the following:

Test whether a theory is valid in a specific context

Use theory as a basis for interpreting the results

Criticize or question a theory

Combine different theories in a new or unique way

If relevant, you can also use the theoretical framework to develop hypotheses for your research.


In a thesis or dissertation, the theoretical framework is sometimes integrated into a chapter of bibliographic review, but it can also be included as a chapter or section of its own. If your research involves dealing with many complex theories, it is a good idea to include a separate chapter on the theoretical framework.

There are no fixed rules for structuring a theoretical framework. The important thing is to create a clear and logical structure. One option is to build on your research questions, structuring each section around a key question or concept.

As in all other parts of your thesis, be sure to cite your sources correctly to avoid plagiarism.

Writing style

According to Maxwell (2013), the theoretical framework may be rooted in a specific theory, in which case his work is expected to test the validity of that existing theory in relation to specific events, questions or phenomena. Many research papers in the social sciences fit under this heading.

For example, the theory of peripheral realism, which classifies perceived differences between nation-states as those that give orders, those that obey, and those that rebel, could be used as a means of understanding conflicting relations among african countries. A test of this theory could be as follows: Does the Theory of Peripheral Realism help explain intrastate actions, such as the disputed division between southern and northern Sudan that led to the creation of two nations?

Nature and Function of the Theoretical Framework

The professor may not always ask you to test a specific theory in your work, but to develop your own framework from which your analysis of the research problem is derived. Based on the example above, it may be easier to understand the nature and function of a theoretical framework if it is seen as an answer to two basic questions:

What is the problem/question of the research? [e.g., “How should the individual and the state relate during periods of conflict?”].

Why is your approach a workable solution? [i.e., justify the application of your choice of a particular theory and explain why alternative constructs have been rejected. You could choose instead to test instrumentalist or circumstantialist models developed among theorists of ethnic conflicts that are based on socio-economic-political factors to explain individual-state relations and apply this theoretical model to periods of war between nations].

Literature review

The answers to these questions come from a thorough review of the literature and course readings [resumidas y analizadas en la siguiente sección de su trabajo] and from the gaps in research that arise from the review process. With this in mind, it is likely that a complete theoretical framework will not emerge until you have completed a thorough review of the literature.

Just as a research problem in your work requires contextualization and background information, a theory requires a framework to understand its application to the topic being investigated. When writing and reviewing this part of your research work, consider the following:

Clearly describe the specific framework, concepts, models, or theories that support your study.

This includes pointing out who are the key theorists in the field who have conducted research on the problem you are investigating and, where necessary, the historical context that supports the formulation of that theory. This last element is especially important if the theory is relatively unknown or is taken from another discipline.

Place your theoretical framework in a broader context of related frameworks, concepts, models, or theories.

As noted in the example above, there are likely to be several concepts, theories, or models that can be used to help develop a framework for understanding the research problem. Therefore, point out why the theory you have chosen is the right one.

In writing about the theory, the present tense is used.

Although the past ten other can be used to describe the history of a theory or the role of key theorists, the construction of its theoretical framework is occurring now.

You should make your theoretical assumptions as explicit as possible.

Later on, the debate on methodology should be linked to this theoretical framework.

Don’t just take for granted what the theory says. Reality is never accurately represented in such a simplistic way; if it implies that this may be the case, it fundamentally distorts the reader’s ability to understand the results that arise. In this sense, it is always necessary to take into account the limitations of the theoretical framework that has been chosen [i.e. which parts of the research problem require further research because the theory inappropriately explains a given phenomenon].

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Bibliographic References

Grant C, Osanloo A. Understanding, selection, and integrating a theoretical framework in dissertation research: Creating the blueprint for your “house.” Adm Issues J: Connect Educ Pract Res. 2014;4:12–26.

Maxwell JA. Qualitative Research Design: An Interactive Approach. 2013. 3rd ed. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.

Park YS, Konge L, Artino AR Jr. The positivism paradigm of research. Acad Med. 2020;95:690–694.

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