How to Build a Theoretical Framework for Your Research
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.
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.
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.
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.