Jinhua College students attending interviewer training

Many students find writing the theoretical framework one of the most challenging chapters to write in a thesis outline.  In fact, if you scroll down the Thesis/research coach page, you will read students’ comments asking for advice on their theoretical framework. So what is a theoretical framework and why should researchers bother to write it?

A theoretical framework guides research, determining what variables to measure, and what statistical relationships to look for.  Trochim (2006) in The Research Methods Knowledge Base, states that there are two realms involved in research—theory and observation.  Theory is what goes on inside the  heads of scientists while observation is what goes on in the real world or measures and observations.  In conducting research, one works between these two realms. Theory guides every aspect of research, from formulation of the research question through operationalization and discussion.

Uses of theoretical framework

In “How to Write a successful Research Grant Application: A Guide for Social and Behavioral Scientists, Gregory Herek writes that the theoretical framework strengthens the researcher’s research in several ways:

1. Explicit statement of the theoretical assumptions permits them to be evaluated critically.

2. The theoretical framework connects the researcher to existing knowledge. Guided by a relevant theory, researchers have a basis for their hypotheses and choice of research methods.

3. Articulating the theoretical assumptions of a research study forces the researcher to address questions of why and how. It permits researchers to move from simply describing a phenomenon observed to generalizing about various aspects of that phenomenon.

4. Having a theory helps to identify the limits to those generalizations. A theoretical framework specifies which key variables influence a phenomenon of interest. It alerts the researcher to examine how those key variables might differ in varied populations

How to develop the theoretical framework

To develop the theoretical framework, here is a useful guide that I have shared with my students:

1. Examine your thesis title or topic and research problem.

Example:  Farmers’ comprehension of usage instructions on pesticide packaging

2. Brainstorm on what you consider to be the key variables in your research. Answer the question:  What factors contribute to the presumed effect (dependent variable)?

In our example above, it is:  What are the determinants of farmers’ comprehension of usage instructions? What factors influence the way farmers understand usage instructions on packaging (boxes, bottles)?

3. Read and review related literature to find answers to your research question.

4. List the constructs and variables that might be relevant to your study. Group  variables into independent and dependent.   In our example thesis topic above, these would be:

Dependent variable:  Farmers’ comprehension of usage instructions

Independent:  Farmers’ sources of pest management information, perceived credibility of source and frequency of exposure

5.  Review the social science theories (communication, psychology, sociology, anthropology) and choose the theory that can best explain the relationships between the key variables in your study.

6. Discuss the assumptions or propositions of this theory and point out their relevance to your research.

Some tips

It is easy to err in the choice of appropriate theory.  Read the theories carefully and make sure they make sense to your proposed research. Consult your thesis adviser, research instructor or favorite instructor about your choice of theory.

The theoretical framework is not a stand-alone copy and paste operation where you Google the theory and voila you copy and paste what wikipedia churns out.  A theory is selected on the basis of how best it can explain the relationships among the variables.  There should be a connection between the theoretical framework, conceptual framework,  operationalization, and instrument.

To learn more,  read Julieann Aguilar’s theoretical framework.

239 Responses to Writing the thesis outline: Theoretical framework

  1. Yewy says:

    The issue I want to address is how ICTs have prompted or led to social change and the perceptions of the users in Nigeria so between 1990-2015.This is because I want my research to be in line with the 2015 MDGs. My Case study is the University College Hospital Ibadan, NIgeria.

    I have read material on Development Communication but I need something more specific. Can you help at all?

  2. devcompage says:

    Yewy, read the related research literature first. To measure how ICTs have led to social change in Nigeria between 1990-2015 is a massive study.

  3. devcompage says:

    Yew1, check “Links and Resources” in Devcompage.

  4. jessa says:

    is it a need to have a theoretical framework if the study is descriptive?

  5. devcompage says:

    Jessa, yes, you still need a theoretical framework even for a descriptive study. Read some of the theses I posted in Devcompage to have an idea.

  6. Maj says:

    hi! is it possible to decide what theory to use at the latter part of the study? we’re doing a phenomenological research on digital activism. do you have ideas? hehe

  7. Laine says:

    hello, this site is very helpful. But I want to ask, in our research we are to conduct a survey, do we need the result of the survey in order for us to know the output in our theoretical framework? (my group mates are debating about this)

  8. devcompage says:

    Laine, why would you want to know the output of your theoretical framework? Who’s asking you to do that. Read what the theoretical framework is about right here in Devcompage and other sources.

  9. donna says:

    hi !!i have a question to ask!!pls do help me!!we have a thesis all about in library system !!I really don’t have an idea on how to make theoretical and conceptual framework???need you help!!tnx

  10. devcompage says:

    Donna, this site is about development communication and related communication fields (mass communication, communication arts, communication research). I don’t have expertise in library science but the posts here on writing the conceptual and theoretical frameworks can help you. Read these posts in the archives.

  11. annjee porquez says:

    hi.. i want to ask if there is a theoretical framework in academic performance of a students? pls. do help us
    .. tnx…

  12. devcompage says:

    Annjee, to come up with a theoretical framework on academic performance means that you need to review the research literature (what has been studied) and what theories were used to provide the theoretical foundations on academic performance.

  13. sola says:

    Hi, what is the relationship between literature review and theoretical framework. Which should be done first and what should be the structure in a thesis? My colleague and I are arguing on this.

  14. Jill says:

    i’m working on a thesis and i dont know how i can build my theoredical framework. i’ve chose the business environment from the book (business model generation) and i don’t know how i can conduct it to my topic. the topic is “nature, organic cosmetic trends in China

  15. Chanderkant says:

    Can any one help me for my theoretical framework for my MBA thesis topic ” Effects of FDI ( foreign direct investment ) in multibrand retail sector in INDIA

  16. Ruth Ole says:

    Pls i need to construst a conceptual model for my thesis(MSc).it is on the health effects of Biomass fuels use in the developing countries. i woud really apprecaite your comments. Ruth

  17. devcompage says:

    Ruth, read my posts on how to develop a conceptual framework. Then you will be able to construct one that fits your research problem.

  18. jorell says:

    hi there,i just want to ask,plz do help me. is there a theoritical framework on teaching styles of professors?tnx a lot.

  19. devcompage says:

    Jorell, for your query, you will have to go to an education website.

  20. Joan Marcelo says:

    Hi ma’am. I’m a BSIT graduating student. can you please me to write/guide a theoretical framework for my study entitled Automated Class Scheduling System.Thanks in advance ma’am.

  21. devcompage says:

    Joan, this site is on development communication, not about IT. I will be like a blind leading a blind if I gave you advice on IT.

  22. vern says:

    Hi!can I ask some help in making an deciding what will be the good and best theoreritical framework that best suited to our research study about the ” Anti-smoking Ordinance…”..I really don’t have the idea what theory to use..is it psychology theories?or sort of behavioral theories???please do help us..We highly need your ideas about this.
    Thanks ahead.

  23. nadeen says:

    what is the difference between theoretical background and the literature review?

  24. devcompage says:

    Nadeen, the theoretical framework is different from the literature review. Read my posts on each of these topics right here in Devcompage.

  25. how to write a theoritical framework about the study of out of school

  26. Norizza Pauline Esteban says:

    Hi! can i ask about what theory should i use in our research proposal? Our topic is TeleRadyo: Innovation and Strategy in Broadcast Media. Thank You!

  27. devcompage says:

    Norizza, what about teleradyo are you looking at?

  28. aleli ada villocino says:

    Thank you very much ma’am. Your tips/pointers will guide me in completing my research proposal. I’m now working on my theoretical framework and indeed it’s really difficult and challenging. Honestly I’m not a researcher but this journey will help me grow in my profession.

    More POWER for better service!

  29. jennifer says:

    ma’am, may I ask if you can help me to have a title for our research..I am a social studies major and my professor wants me to come up with a descriptive research.. I dont have an idea on what title may I have.

  30. Mili says:

    I just want to know where I can find the descriptive theses framework that Mme. Escalada mentioned here? I did not find, Thank you

  31. devcompage says:

    Mili, what do you mean by descriptive theses framework? I suggest you read Babbie’s The Practice of Social Research and many other references.

  32. joshua says:

    can you help me on how can I bulid a proper framework/ Diagram on our related thoeries? pleease :)

  33. devcompage says:

    Joshua, what are your related theories?

  34. Zelda says:

    As an individual with an interdisciplinary background, currently I am a Phd candidate in Education studies and I am having a hard time developing a framework for a study on 1st and 2nd year Latino college students. Within this study I want to examine the factors that lead to the successful navigation of the US public school system and in return able to enroll at a research university. What framework would I employ to do a qualitative study that encompasses critical ethnography and student subjective narratives? Any help will be truly appreciated.

  35. devcompage says:

    Zelda, I am a communication person and unable to give expert advice on issues in education research.

  36. Francis says:

    Hi, we are studying about social impact assessment of reduction risk reduction management between urban and rural local governments. Can you please help me if there are related theories that I can use on this? Would you suggests independent and dependent variables that I can use? thanks and more power!

  37. Bhadz says:

    i am now under thesis, and yeah its about theoretical framework and my topic is TOURISM PROMOTION and TOURISM PROMOTIONAL VIDEO….can i ask for a help email me pls…. mis decompage, 1 and a half of band paper needed to state the topic…

  38. devcompage says:

    Francis, is this for a public administration thesis? This is a devcom site and I will be like the blind leading the blind if I tried to give you advice.

  39. devcompage says:

    Bhadz, what is your research question or research problem.

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