Developing your theoretical framework

Theories are developed by researchers to explain phenomena, draw connections, and make predictions. In the theoretical framework, you explain the theories that support your research, showing that your work is grounded in established ideas.

The goal of a theoretical framework

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

There may 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 rationale behind your choices.

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

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

  • In literature, a scholar using postmodernist literary theory would analyze The Great Gatsby  differently than a scholar using Marxist literary theory.
  • In psychology, a behaviorist approach to depression would involve different methods and assumptions than a psychoanalytical approach.
  • In economics, wealth inequality would be explained and interpreted differently within classical economics and Keynesian economics frameworks.

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

How to create a theoretical framework

To build your theoretical framework, follow these three steps.

1. Identify your key concepts

The first step is to pick out the key terms from your problem statement and research questions. Concepts often have multiple definitions, so the theoretical framework involves clearly defining what you mean by each term.

Example: Problem statement and research questions
Company X is struggling with the problem that many online customers do not return to make subsequent purchases. Management wants to increase customer loyalty and believes that improved customer satisfaction will play a major 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 do not return to make subsequent purchases.

Objective: To increase customer loyalty.

Research question: How can the satisfaction of company X’s online customers be improved in order 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.

2. Evaluate and explain relevant theories

By conducting a thorough literature review, you can determine how other researchers have defined and drawn connections between these key concepts. As you write the theoretical framework, aim to compare and critically evaluate the approaches that different authors have proposed.

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

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

3. Show how your research fits in

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

You might aim to do one or more of the following:

  • Test whether a theory holds in a specific context
  • Use theory as a basis for interpreting your results
  • Critique or challenge 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.

The structure of the theoretical framework

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

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

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

Example of a theoretical framework

To get a sense of what this part of your thesis or dissertation might look like, take a look at our example.

Sample theoretical framework

Is this article helpful?
Sarah Vinz

Sarah's academic background includes a Master of Arts in English, a Master of International Affairs degree, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. She loves the challenge of finding the perfect formulation or wording and derives much satisfaction from helping students take their academic writing up a notch.

77 comments

Ndibugom Robinson
October 20, 2020 at 7:28 PM

Hi! I'm a student, doing a research on the management of internally displaced persons (I.D.Ps). Please can you help me on constructing the theoretical framework?
I will be grateful if I'm helped out.
Thanks

Reply

Prince
September 23, 2020 at 5:50 PM

Do you have any articles on how to critically write an appraisal on a research proposal?

Reply

Carolyn
July 31, 2020 at 12:00 AM

My professor assigned a lit review and gave no information on how to write one. You just saved my sweet bacon, thank you!

Reply

ntombenhle malaza
July 27, 2020 at 6:58 PM

this is very useful, thank you for the hint on theoretical framework.

Reply

Owino Moses
July 30, 2020 at 6:18 PM

What are the critique of existing literature in online student feedback system

Reply

PATRICK KACHINGWE
November 21, 2019 at 10:18 AM

Please can you explain briefly of what is required in literature review. Are we required just to report what others have said about the same research topic or what?

Please advise

Reply

Shona McCombes
Shona McCombes (Scribbr-team)
November 21, 2019 at 11:09 AM

Hi Patrick,

A literature review should generally not only report what others have said about the topic, but also evaluate the sources, draw connections between them, and show how your own research fits in. You can read more in our article about how to write a literature review.

Hope this helps!

Reply

ORJI, Emmanuel Ndumdi
February 28, 2020 at 4:47 AM

Please, I have the view that methodology is the study of methods that we employ in our researches. There, the title of that part of our research that deals with the method(s) that we used should better be titled, method(s) not methodology.

I wish to here from you, please.

Best regards.

Reply

Shona McCombes
Shona McCombes (Scribbr-team)
February 28, 2020 at 10:39 AM

Hi,

You're right that there's a difference between method and methodology: "methods" are the specific tools, techniques and procedures used to conduct your research, while "methodology" is the study and development of methods in your field.

The title of this chapter or section depends on the content. For example, Methods is the standard heading for a short section of a paper that simply reports what was done in a specific study. However, in a longer and more complex work (such as a thesis or dissertation), there is often a chapter that explains, evaluates, and justifies the methods used, with reference to relevant methodological literature; in this case, Methodology is an appropriate chapter title.

Reply

Serah Tsado
March 20, 2020 at 9:59 AM

How to write a literature review

Reply

Rhod Navarro
September 1, 2018 at 6:09 PM

hi, i'm doing research about lgbt on hospitality industry, i have hard time to make the theoretical framework because i really don't know how to make and start it. can somebody help me? thanks in advance! :)

Reply

Leon Smits
Leon Smits (Scribbr-team)
September 4, 2018 at 4:09 PM

Hi Rhod,

Thanks for your question!
As your question is very general, it's hard to formulate an answer.
Your best option would be to visit our chat, we can then maybe help you out! :)

Cheers,
Leon

Reply

Maria13
September 1, 2018 at 12:48 AM

Hello,

Can you please advise me if it's correct to use as an ecological model of social inclusion , as background framework for my study ?
My research is about an description of existed assistive robotic systems, and how they could be help to provide assistance for the social inclusion of visually impaired consumers, I will analyze the collected testimonials based on the categories of the above model.
Thank you in advance

Reply

Arjan van Laak
Arjan van Laak (Scribbr-team)
September 1, 2018 at 6:46 PM

Hello,

Thank you for your question.

That's an interesting topic! Unfortunately I cannot really give advice to this regard, since I am not familiar with the topic.

We would recommend to discuss this with your supervisor, since he/she knows best which information can be used for your thesis.

If you have any other questions, please let us know!

Cheers,

Arjan

Reply

Charles
July 21, 2018 at 1:10 PM

Hi! I'm writing a paper about moving on is not true, we are just gonna find someone we'll love more than our ex. How can I write my theoretical framework? Please help me

Reply

Denise
Denise (Scribbr-team)
July 21, 2018 at 2:51 PM

Hi Charles!

Thank you for the question! First, I would select the key concepts of your research question. Then, you define those key concepts by finding relevant theories. You map out the theories and literature that is relevent to your research question. Furthermore, it is also helpful to analyze the research field that you are writing about.
Hopefully this will help you writing your theoretical framework!

Cheers,
Denise

Reply

Asifullah Marwat
February 6, 2018 at 10:21 PM

Simply' its wow !!

Reply

Prisca Lucia
October 27, 2017 at 4:43 PM

Hi am writing a paper on violation of women's economic rights,how can I write my theoretical framework thanks!

Reply

Jimi
Jimi (Scribbr-team)
October 29, 2017 at 4:25 PM

Hi Prisca! Thank you for the question! It is a tough one, since I do not know much about your topic. I would suggest creating a historical framework of women's economic rights. First start with how it was, then move to the current times and try to find enough literature on the topic. Hopefully this will help you creating your theoretical framework!

Reply

Abdu
October 16, 2017 at 12:15 AM

Is a theoretical framework different from a theoretical model? and how do i construct a theoretical model for my thesis "Company Fundamentals and Stock Returns in Sudan"?

Reply

Jimi
Jimi (Scribbr-team)
October 20, 2017 at 3:13 PM

Hi Abdu, thank you for your question! They are actually the same, you map out the essential theories and literature in relation to your subject. With regard to your subject, it is hard for me to say exactly what you should do, since I do not know anything about your subject! However, I would suggest that you first take a look at the most important parts of your thesis. In your case, Company Fundamentals and Stock Returns and then try to see if you can find out how they have changed with time in Sudan. I do suggest also discussing this with your supervisor! Good luck!

Reply

Abdu
October 20, 2017 at 6:48 PM

Thank you very much.

Reply

Moses
October 13, 2017 at 12:04 PM

I really appreciate your hint on theoretical framework. But I need your guide on my topic "Postmodernism and Biblical Authority in Africa Christian preaching "

Reply

Wouter Koekoek
Wouter Koekoek (Scribbr-team)
October 13, 2017 at 3:58 PM

Hi Moses,
Thank you! Unfortunately, we cannot help you with the content of your theoretical framework, as we don't know enough about your field of study.
Good luck!
Wouter

Reply

Alphonce Mbuya
October 3, 2017 at 8:30 PM

This article has, by 98%, solved my problems relating to understanding the meaning and purpose of conceptual and theoretical framework. Thank you very much!

Reply

Camille
September 21, 2017 at 5:26 AM

Hi. I hope you would help me in my thesis theoritical framework or give me some ideas about my topic "the percieve effect of martial law to the business management of night market stores owner".. please do reply.

Reply

Lucy Vleeshouwers
Lucy Vleeshouwers (Scribbr-team)
September 21, 2017 at 3:48 PM

Hi Camille,
Unfortunately, I cannot help you with the content as I am not familiar with your topic. Maybe this article can help you along: https://www.scribbr.com/dissertation/sample-theoretical-framework-of-a-dissertation/
Best of luck,
Lucy

Reply

Buki Rose
September 17, 2017 at 12:54 AM

Hi
I'm writing on modeling as a process of learning: a Theological reflection on the impact of parental behaviors on children. I'm finding using framework in my literature review. Kinda finding it difficult to understand theoretical framework.
Please I need your help
Tnx

Reply

Lucy Vleeshouwers
Lucy Vleeshouwers (Scribbr-team)
September 21, 2017 at 3:41 PM

Hi Buki,
That sounds like an interesting topic!
For determining the theoretical framework it is important to define the key concepts of your research and do a literature review to determine which theories and models are relevant to your research. Maybe this article can be helpful for that: https://www.scribbr.com/dissertation/conduct-dissertation-literature-review/
Best of luck,
Lucy

Reply

Irish
August 27, 2017 at 10:48 AM

Hi! I'm currently writing a research paper about the "Most effective method of teaching between Traditional and Modern method". What I would like to know is what will my theoretical framework would be. Thank youu!

Reply

Wouter Koekoek
Wouter Koekoek (Scribbr-team)
September 4, 2017 at 3:54 PM

Hi Irish,
On this page you can find an example of a theoretical framework. Unfortunately, I cannot help you with the content as I am not familiar with your topic nor field of study.
Good luck!
Cheers,
Wouter

Reply

erica
August 14, 2017 at 5:08 PM

hello . can you teach how to construct a theoretical framework??

Reply

Wouter Koekoek
Wouter Koekoek (Scribbr-team)
August 15, 2017 at 11:48 AM

Hi Erica, the tips and explanations in the article above should help you a long way. Next to that, it might help to take a look at the example of a theoretical framework.
Good luck!
Wouter

Reply

Gloria
July 30, 2017 at 8:59 PM

Good evening

I'm writing a research proposal and my topic is "the impact of gender based violence on first year university Students' so what I would like to know is what my theoretical framework would be. I read but I'm not quite sure if I understand.
please help.

Reply

Wouter Koekoek
Wouter Koekoek (Scribbr-team)
August 1, 2017 at 3:09 PM

Dear Gloria,
With the theoretical framework you frame your research and show that you are knowledgeable about the key concepts, theories, and models that relate to your topic. So I advise you to start looking for the most important and influential sources and authors in the field of gender and gender based violence. Make sure to cover the theories and ideas that exist in relation to the chosen subject. In short: lots of reading :).
Good luck!
Cheers,
Wouter

Reply

dennis
July 29, 2017 at 10:54 AM

Hi ! I don't really know what is the true structure of theoretical framework? Can you give me some sample theoretical framework? Ang also i need some ideas on how i will work on my topic about effectiveness of water conservation campaign.. Thanks in advance?

Reply

Wouter Koekoek
Wouter Koekoek (Scribbr-team)
August 1, 2017 at 2:54 PM

Hi Dennis,
On this page you can find an example of a theoretical framework. Unfortunately, I cannot help you with the content as I am not familiar with your topic and field of study.
Good luck!
Cheers,
Wouter

Reply

Ada
July 17, 2017 at 1:48 PM

Pls, I just need help on how to go about my theoretical framework on the role of mass media in entrepreneurial development amongst women. I don't know how and where to start from. Thanks

Reply

Lucy Vleeshouwers
Lucy Vleeshouwers (Scribbr-team)
July 28, 2017 at 7:04 PM

Hi Ada,
I'm sorry, we can't help you with this question, as it is quite specific.
Maybe your mentor or professor can provide some ideas?
Kind regards,
Lucy

Reply

IJEOMA EZENNIA
May 11, 2017 at 11:50 AM

Please what could be the theoretical frame work of my thesis problems of teaching English language in secondary schools

Reply

adrian
adrian (Scribbr-team)
May 11, 2017 at 1:06 PM

Hello Ijeoma,
Thank you very much for contacting us. Due to the fact that we are not specialists in your field of study and we do not know the requirements of your university, we cannot help you with a question that specific. However, a literature review will help you finding key concepts other researchers defined.

Reply

Ellis Kofi Akwaa-Sekyi
March 3, 2017 at 9:55 PM

The information on the topic above (Theoretical framework) has been very useful. The communication is straight-forward and in simple and understandable language. I think you have succeeded in demystifying one big problematic area in research. Thumbs up!!!

Reply

Maryam
February 28, 2017 at 2:03 AM

Hi again: I forgot to mention that my topic is ethnic parent's views on heritage language maintenance and their practices and challenges in the U.S. My theoretical framework is Ecological Systems Theory by Bronfenbrenner. As I said before I talked about my framework in chapter 2, then analyzed my data in chapter 4 without mentioning this theory. I am now planning to talk about my results in the discussion chapter ad it relates to my theoretical framework. Does this make sense? I hope I am doing it correctly.

Reply

Bas Swaen
Bas Swaen (Scribbr-team)
March 1, 2017 at 11:12 AM

Hi Maryam, yes this makes sense. You can also use the structure of your document like we explain in the structure article.

Reply

Tijan
February 25, 2017 at 8:45 AM

What is the theoretical framework for PPP

Reply

Pascal
Pascal (Scribbr-team)
February 27, 2017 at 4:21 PM

Hi Tijan,
Unfortunately I don’t, but I hope someone else who is reading this article can!

Reply

joseph
February 25, 2017 at 3:15 AM

hi! can you give me some ideas about theoretical framework? my topic is all about enhancing the nutritive value at the same time reduction of sugar. Please I really need it now. Thanks

Reply

safaa suliman
December 18, 2016 at 11:12 PM

hi can u give me some ideas of my theoretical framework my topic is the role of stakeholders inertia in software product innovation process

Reply

Pascal
Pascal (Scribbr-team)
February 27, 2017 at 4:27 PM

Hey Safaa!
Unfortunately, I am not an expert in this area!

Reply

pard
November 21, 2016 at 6:19 PM

how to formulate research objectives using a theoretical framework , im facing some challenges please help me

Reply

Gibbi Bah
September 25, 2016 at 5:48 PM

please can you help me construct a theoretical framework on the topic: the role of community base organization in rural development a case study of the republic of the Gambia

Reply

Mercee
September 20, 2016 at 1:28 PM

Theoretical frameworks on use of language in A Grain of wheat by Ngugi Wa Thiongo

Reply

ahpz
September 20, 2016 at 7:58 AM

Hello can you help us to construct or how to create theoretical framework
With figure..Our topic / title is
"An analysis of job satisfaction of company employee"
Please i dont know if we get the factor affecting etc..
Thanks I'll be willing to wait your reply

Reply

vane
August 26, 2016 at 5:53 PM

hi can u give me some ideas of my theoretical framework my topic is compliance on the prevention of contamination from equipments utensils and linens on the selected hotels thank u

Reply

Bas Swaen
Bas Swaen (Scribbr-team)
August 31, 2016 at 5:10 PM

Hi Vane, hopefully someone can help you who is reading this article too.

Reply

safia
August 23, 2016 at 2:13 PM

hi! can you give me some idea
about theoretical framework my
topic is all about effect of problem solving instructional strategy on student academic acheivement and retention in chemistry.can you
help me please

Reply

Bas Swaen
Bas Swaen (Scribbr-team)
August 23, 2016 at 7:51 PM

Hi Safia, Unfortunately I don't, but I hope someone else who is reading this article can!

Reply

jonel legaspino
June 23, 2016 at 11:02 AM

hi,,,,i'm an undergrad student and i am starting my thesis "Level of Security of ATM and PASSBOOK as perceive by the Depositors" is my topic,,,and i'm seeking on theories that would be interelated on my topic

Reply

Bas Swaen
Bas Swaen (Scribbr-team)
June 24, 2016 at 1:08 PM

Dear Jone, hope that someone can help you with this that is reading this article.

Reply

Godwell
June 3, 2016 at 12:24 AM

Thank you Sarah your tips are very clear and practical, be blessed.

Reply

Kenny Martin
May 2, 2016 at 2:00 PM

hi, am writing my bsc project on eGovernance for greater political participation. am stuck seeking theories, please help me. thanks

Reply

Esther Chinyere
April 26, 2016 at 7:04 PM

How do I construct my theoretical framework. My topic is bank merger and it's legal effect

Reply

onyinyechi
April 24, 2016 at 8:59 PM

how do I construct my theoretical framework. my topic is evaluating profitability of maize processing.

Reply

Bronahlusulo Lisulo
March 19, 2016 at 5:44 PM

How do I phrased my theoretical framework. My topic is human resource development and work performance

Reply

Geyrozaga Crish
March 8, 2016 at 4:50 PM

Hi!good day sir .can you help me about how theoretical framework entails to my topic k  to 12 curriculum: its goals and benifits to the filipino learner and community

Reply

Michelle Mertens
Michelle Mertens (Scribbr-team)
March 8, 2016 at 6:38 PM

Hello,

Unfortunately, we cannot help you with the content of your thesis. Maybe someone else who reads the article and your question?

Reply

jenny
March 3, 2016 at 2:36 PM

hi! can you give me some idea about theoretical framework my topic is all about effect of physical activity on the academic performance of students. can you help me please

Reply

JcMeBlack
February 25, 2016 at 7:46 PM

Hi! I hope you would help me in my thesis theoretical framework or you can give some ideas, my topic is about Profiling of Bicolano dishes,
its focus on gathering and collecting Recipe.
Thank you, God Bless

Reply

Bas Swaen
Bas Swaen (Scribbr-team)
March 2, 2016 at 12:07 PM

I am sorry. I do not know anything about this topic. Perhaps that someone else that is reading this article can help you?

Reply

Awinzure Ibrahim
February 16, 2016 at 6:00 AM

I think this is very helpful. But my problem is how to search for the theoretical framework of my topic. For instance I am writing on the topic sum of interior angle is 180 degrees.

Reply

Bas Swaen
Bas Swaen (Scribbr-team)
February 16, 2016 at 9:58 AM

Dear Awinzure, You can try to look in several databases for the right info. For instance Google Scholar. Good luck!

Reply

MAIYO JEROTICH
February 15, 2016 at 8:28 PM

am very grateful..i can now understand

Reply

MAIYO JEROTICH
February 11, 2016 at 6:28 PM

hello..i really dont understand what theoretical framework entails especially on my topic on effects of value added tax on product choice

Reply

Bas Swaen
Bas Swaen (Scribbr-team)
February 12, 2016 at 10:21 AM

Hi Maiyo, Then you should focus on the most important concepts in your thesis. For you that would be for instance, value added tax. What is the history of value added tax and what are the latest developments? Good luck!

Reply

adnan ali
February 7, 2016 at 10:32 AM

my concepts about theoretical framework are now more clear after reading it. thank you very much

Reply

eriele monterde
January 28, 2016 at 4:43 PM

hi ! i'm currently doing my ungergrad thesis. I am completely lost when it comes to theoretical framework. I look it up in the internet and it would seem that it will be compose of paragraphs, but my other classmates presented it as a sort of map. what is a theoretical framework really is?

Reply

Bas Swaen
Bas Swaen (Scribbr-team)
January 30, 2016 at 11:34 AM

Hi Eriele, there are not a set of rules that you should follow when writing you framework. Both the options you give a pretty good structures of a framework. A map can be convenient when you have to use a lot of sources. When your framework is not that complex a map is not something you really need. Hope this helps!

Reply

Comment or ask a question.

Please click the checkbox on the left to verify that you are a not a bot.