What is a theoretical framework? The study material for researcher Literature review

Research problems are not simple, and neither are their solutions
To find a solution to a research problem, there are several questions that you have to consider, and you must answer these questions while you are planning your research project out. Because if you leave them for later stages, you will lose direction and consequently lose your grade.

  • Which theory should you depend on?
  • What variables should you consider?
  • Should you rely on a single theory to solve your research problem, or you should consider multiple theories?

When you set out to develop a theoretical framework, you will find answers to all these questions.
If you look for a theoretical framework definition online, you will find a ton of information on it. Is that a good thing? Not when you are already confused.
But don’t worry; this blog will tell you all you need to know about the theoretical framework in a way that will clear your confusion and set your research in the right direction.

What is a theoretical framework?

The theoretical framework provides a structure that holds a theory by explaining the relationships between all the variables involved.
Theories explain certain phenomena and predict the outcomes of certain situations that have been researched. The structure that holds or supports a theory, is called the theoretical framework.
How exactly does the theoretical framework hold the structure of a theory? It does so by explaining the nature of the relationship between variables.

Importance of Theory

It is important to base your research on theory as it will guide you in the right direction and tell you exactly what to look for when answering your research questions.
Though you have to include a Theoretical framework in the literature review chapter of your research, it most often is not something that you can readily find within the literature. What that means is, you have to read the literature and understand the theories relevant to your research problem, determine what variables are involved in your research, and then come up with the theoretical framework.

How The Theoretical Framework Strengthens Research?

Theoretical framework is to strengthen your research. It does so in the following ways:

  • It lets the reader know the main theoretical assumptions hence allowing the reader to evaluate those assumptions.
  • It connects you to the existing knowledge, and based on the relevant theory, helps you develop hypotheses and guide you on what method to select to test your hypotheses.
  • A theoretical framework also specifies the key variables that influence a phenomenon under investigation.

Purpose of Theoretical Framework

Theories are the conceptual basis for understanding, analyzing, and designing ways to investigate relationships between variables. The purpose of the theoretical framework is to:

  • Help identify and define the research problems.
  • Help prescribe or evaluate the solutions to research problems.
  • Give old data new interpretations and new meaning.
  • Help identify new issues and prescribe the critical research questions that must be answered to maximize the understanding of the issue.

What makes up a theoretical framework?

Yes, a theoretical framework is derived from theory, but at the core of it, a theoretical framework is built upon variables.


A variable can be anything that you aim to measure and investigate in your research.

Types of variables based on the relationships

The variable that is influenced by a change in the independent variable is called the dependent variable.
The variable that you tweak to test its impact on the dependent variable.
It is both a dependent and an independent variable at the same time. The mediating variable is dependent on the independent variable, and it influences the dependent variable.
Confused? Don’t worry, mediation will be explained through an example later in this post.
Moderating variable explains the strength of the relationship between the dependent and the independent variable.
Interdependent Variables
When two variables are mutually dependent on one another, they are called interdependent variables.

Strategies for Developing the Theoretical Framework

Examine your title and research problem
Your research topic often mentions the variables you are going to investigate and so you can construct your theoretical framework based on your research title. If you choose to go for this strategy, you must also examine your research problem as it will guide you further in understanding the nature of relationships between variables.

Brainstorm key variables in your research

Determine what factors contribute to the presumed effect in your study.

Review related literature

Chances are, the problem you are researching has already been researched before. Reviewing the literature will help you find out how scholars have addressed your research problem.
Identify the assumptions from which the author(s) addressed the problem and base your theoretical framework on those assumptions.

List the constructs and variables

Categorize the variables in your study into dependent, independent, moderating, or mediating variables and break the variables down into their constructs to make them measurable.

Review the key social science theories

There must be multiple theories you have studied throughout your curriculum that promise to explain your research problem. Pick the theory that is the most relevant, and let that be the basis of your framework.
Note: You will still have to support your argument by reviewing the literature to justify your choice.

Presenting Your Theoretical Framework

Now, there are no set structure for presenting your theoretical framework, but the best way is to present it visually as it makes the complex ideas easy to understand. You might need a theoretical framework example to learn more about presenting your framework the right way.

Presenting moderating variable


In this example, hours of study impact a student’s exam score, and IQ moderates this relationship – it determines how strong the impact of study hours will be on the exam score.

Demonstrating the mediation effect


In the above example, Hours of study impact the exam score of a student, and the number of practice problems completed mediates this relationship – it is dependent on hours of study, and the exam score is dependent on it.

Presenting interdependent variables


Come on, do I even have to explain this? Well, it simply means that the hours of study impact a student’s exam score.

Presenting interdependent variables


In this example, the variables fashion consciousness and materialism both impact each other.

Note: In addition to visually presenting the relationship between variables you must also explain the variables and the relationships between them.

Dos and Don’ts While Developing A Theoretical Framework


Concluding Thoughts

Now that you know the role of the Theoretical framework in the thesis and how to go about it, you can be sure that your research project will take the right direction!

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About Brianna Zack

About Brianna Zack

What’s better than utilizing your hobby? Trust me, nothing. Greetings! I am Brianna zack, a writer by birth and by profession. I am an MBA graduate in Business and I have been sharing my views and thoughts with others for the past 5 years. My career started as a professor in a business school. During the time when I was a teacher, I also use to write blogs related to academic writing which afterwards became my full-time profession.

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