Tuesday, September 3, 2019

How to Write a Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework is important because it helps the readers understand your perspective and context. The word theory comes from the Greek word “theoria” which means a speculation. Theories are always speculative in nature and are never considered as true or proven. They provide descriptions and explanations of a phenomenon and are subject to further development. Theory is a set of statements that describes or explains phenomena in a systematic way, pointing out why one event relates to another or what causes an event to occur.

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In writing for a theoretical framework, it is important to identify the proponent or author of the theory and the year it was written. The information should contain the details regarding the original study, such as the population, purpose, and results. Providing this information will help you to highlight why the theory you have selected is valid for use in your study and will make it easier for you to demonstrate how the theory relates to your study. Once the theory has been introduced, it is necessary to outline why the theory is relevant to your study and how you will use the information from it to conduct and evaluate your research findings. For example, if you conduct a study on employee motivation and choose to use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as your theoretical foundation, discussing the fulfillment of needs as outlined in Maslow’s theory will help you establish what this theory is and why it is relevant to your research. Once that is done, you can discuss how the fulfillment of needs (based on Maslow) relates to motivation in employees and how your study will use Maslow’s theory to evaluate and address your identified problem.

Summary on how to construct the theoretical framework:
1. Identify the theory, proponent and the year it was written.
2. Discuss the theory using the original study such as population, purpose, and results.
3. Discuss how this theory relates to your current study. 
4. Discuss how you will use the theory to address the problem and evaluate the findings.

Characteristics of Theory
1. It consists of a set of concepts. Concepts are building blocks of theory. Concepts may be concrete or abstract.
  Abstract concept: health care, man, community
 Concrete concept: doctor, girl, Manila

2. Theory consists of proportions, each of which indicates relationships between concepts derived from empirical data. A proposition is a statement or assertion of the relationship between concepts derived from theories or generalizations based on empirical or factual data.
In the Conflict Theory,  Marx argued that society is in a perpetual state of conflict, wherein the ruling class work to maintain the upper-hand over the majority working class to retain their wealth and power.

3. A theory is represented by conceptual paradigm and conceptual models.
Paradigm represents global issues about individuals, groups, situations, and events of interest to the profession.
Conceptual paradigm is a diagram that visually presents and intercepts the underlying theory, principles, and concepts of research. It is also a visual presentation of variables that interrelate with one another as perceived by the researcher before an actual empirical investigation is done to prove its relationship.

Importance of Theoretical Framework
Here are the answers of several experts in various areas of research:

Ohworho Vwede, Sr. Executive-Training & Development; Lagos, Nigeria
The theoretical framework is just like the human skeleton. As valuable as the human skeleton is to the human frame so is theoretical framework important for research. Research is the building block of societal advancement. And every research must depend on perspectives, a phenomenon to thrive or be able to come to a valid argument or summation. A theoretical framework like Wilbur Schramm says, it is a crap detector. McLeans (1972) says it helps us understand how things work.

Jason M Pittman, Professor at Capitol Technology University; Washington, D.C., USA
A theoretical framework is important because it allows the reader to conceptualize the study in a broader context (i.e., the field of knowledge). Thus, the theoretical framework for a study should incorporate all of the necessary knowledge components you, as the author, use to prop up the purpose of the research.

Chandrashekhar Shetty, Marketing Manager at Aarkstore; Navi Mumbai, India
A theoretical framework is the main thing that consumers want while segregating reports. This predominantly serves various knowledge hemispheres. The theoretical framework provides the necessary knowledge components of the market research reports. Furthermore, the data collected by individual companies will not be impactful in the overall marketing decisions in the future. The theoretical framework is just one of the many factors influencing the industry of data providers.

Dickson, Adom, et al., Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology; Ghana
The theoretical and conceptual framework explains the path of research and grounds it firmly in theoretical constructs. The overall aim of the two frameworks is to make research findings more meaningful, acceptable to the theoretical constructs in the research field and ensures generalizability. They assist in stimulating research while ensuring the extension of knowledge by providing both direction and impetus to the research inquiry.

Functions of a Theoretical Framework in Research (David, 2002)
It provides the general framework which can guide data analysis.
It identifies the variables to be measured.
It explains why one variable can possibly affect one another or why the independent variable can possibly influence the dependent variable.
It limits the scope of data relevant to the framework by focusing on specific variables.
It stipulates the specific frame of mind or viewpoint that the researcher will take in analyzing and interpreting the data.

Examples of a theory:
1. A theory on self-efficacy or Self-Efficacy Theory postulated by Bandura (1977, 1986, 1997) states that in addition to being influenced by their goals, interests, and attributions, students’ motives are affected by specific beliefs about the student’s personal capacities.  Self-efficacy is the belief that a person is capable of carrying out a specific task or of reaching a specific goal. 

2. The Theory of Hierchacy of Needs by  Abraham Maslow (1943). Maslow's hierarchy of needs postulates that there are essential needs that need to be met first (such as, physiological needs and safety), before more complex needs can be met (such as, belonging and esteem). Maslow's needs hierarchy was developed to explain human motivation in general.

3. The Theory of Relativity by Albert Einstein (1905). Albert Einstein determined that the laws of physics are the same for all non-accelerating observers and that the speed of light in a vacuum was independent of the motion of all observers. The theory explains the behavior of objects in space and time, and it can be used to predict everything from the existence of black holes, to light bending due to gravity, to the behavior of the planet Mercury in its orbit. 

Below are excerpts of  Theoretical Framework taken from an undergraduate and graduate study:

Example 1
Incidence of Workplace Bullying and Job Satisfaction Among Employees at Rosver Bank

Theoretical Framework
This study is anchored on Conflict Theory by Karl Marx (1848). This theory originated in his work in which he focused on the causes and consequences of class conflict between the bourgeoisie (the owners of the means of production and the capitalists) and the proletariat (the working-class and the poor). Marx saw that the distribution of power to determine how society functioned was structured in a top-down manner, and was tightly controlled by the wealthy minority who owned and controlled the means of production. Marx argued that society is in a perpetual state of conflict, wherein the ruling class work to maintain the upper-hand over the majority working class to retain their wealth and power….
Workplace bullying in relation to conflict theory is an indication of unresolved conflict that has reached a higher level of escalation and an increasing imbalance of power. In the context of workplace bullying, consistent exposure to unwanted aggressive acts, be personal or work-related acts which are psychological in nature, power imbalance, and inequality exist ( Hoel  & Einarsen, 2015).  As a result of workplace bullying, job satisfaction is decreased which can cause negative implications on psychological- increased anxiety,  depression,  low self-esteem; loss of productivity and physical health (Agervold & Mikkelsen, 2014)…..
With respect to job satisfaction, according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs human needs to form a five-level hierarchy. consisting of: physiological needs, safety, belongingness/love, esteem, and self-actualization. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs postulates that there are essential needs that need to be met first (such as, physiological needs and safety), before more complex needs can be met (such as, belonging and esteem). Maslow believed that these needs are similar to instincts and play a major role in motivating behavior. In relation to the study, job satisfaction is greatly affected if an employee is often bullied at work. Perez (2015) stated that workplace bullying affects the motivation and well-being of an individual….
This study aims to determine the incidence of bullying in the workplace. By identifying the incidence of workplace bullying, the researcher will be able to know if this is a habitual phenomenon in the work-setting. Moreover, the study also aims to determine whether the respondents are satisfied with their job or not. It is essential how the employees feel for their job because it affects their physical and psychological well-being (Larry, 2012). Burns (2015) confirmed that increased job satisfaction brings a positive impact to the physical, emotional, and mental health of the workers. …

In the given theoretical framework, the author used Conflict Theory by Karl Marx in the study of workplace bullying. In the first paragraph, the author indicated the theory and the proponent. Moreover, the author also discussed the origin of the theory, purpose, and result. In the second paragraph, the Conflict Theory was discussed in relation to workplace bullying. The author indicated that a decrease in job satisfaction will result from workplace bullying that can cause a negative impact on psychological and physical health.
Furthermore, in the third paragraph, the author linked Conflict Theory to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The author discussed how workplace bullying affects the motivation and job satisfaction of an individual. In the last paragraph, the author indicated the purpose of the study. Moreover, she discussed how the theory will be used in evaluating the findings of the study. 

Example 2
Theory of Planned Behavior and the Students’ Intention to Cheat

Theoretical Framework
This study is anchored on the Theory of Planned Behavior by Icek Ajzen in 1985. The theory was intended to explain all behaviors over which people have the ability to exert self-control.  The key component to this model is behavioral intent; behavioral intentions are influenced by the attitude about the likelihood that the behavior will have the expected outcome and the subjective evaluation of the risks and benefits of that outcome. The Theory of Planned Behavior is governed by three types of beliefs – attitude, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control…..

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Figure 1. Theory of Planned Behavior Model

The Theory of Planned Behavior has found several applications in gambling studies, healthcare utilization, breastfeeding, safety, hormonal therapy, intention studies, substance abuse and behavior-predicting academic misconduct among others…
 The Theory of Planned Behaviour approach to students’ cheating behavior can be theoretically integrated with many other accounts of behavior change: student’s cheating behavior is just one of many manifestations of attitudes, norms, and perceived behavioral control affecting decisions and behavior (Ajzen & Fishbein, 2005).The study aims to determine whether attitude, social pressure, and perceived behavioral control significantly predict intention. Moreover, it seeks to determine if intention significantly mediates and moderates behavior, attitude, social pressure, and perceived behavioral control.  Lastly, this study aims to determine if behavior significantly predicts intention. Path Analysis will be employed to determine the best model fit; and Structural Equation Model (SEM) will be used to determine the extent to which attitude, social pressure, and perceived behavioral control, and intention predicted the cheating behavior of the students.

Since one can never be sure whether a given theory provides the best explanation for a set of observations, it is possible to use two or more competing theories and test which theory best explains the problem. A competing theory may also be used to explain the possible confounding variable on an assumed relationship between the major variables in the study.

Note: Not all research studies need a theoretical framework. Correlational and causal studies often require a theoretical framework. Studies which do not need to examine the relationship between or among variables or the effect of one variable on another do not require a theoretical framework.


1. David, F. (2002). Understanding and Doing Research: A Handbook for Beginners. How to Write A Theoretical Framework. Philippines. Panorama Printing Inc.
2. Tan, E. (2006).  A Research Guide in Nursing Education. How to Write A Theoretical Framework. Third Edition. Philippines. Visual Print Enterprise.
3. Why is theoretical framework important in research? https://www.quora.com/Why-is-theoretical-framework-important-in-research. Retrieved on September 20, 2019.
4. Dickson, A., Hussein, E., Joe, A., (2018). Theoretical and Conceptual Framework: Mandatory Ingredients of a Quality Research. 7(1):438-441. International Journal of Scientific Research.




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