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Writing the Theoretical Framework

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Writing the Theoretical Framework
What IS the 'theoretical framework'?

Every study is based on something. This something is generally a broad theoretical area in the existing research literature.

Some examples include leadership, management, conflict management, entrepreneurship, gender and diversity in organizations, human resources, international management, management education and development, management history, management, managerial and organizational cognition, operations management, organization and management theory, social issues in management, technology and innovation management.

Note that these are not merely topics of discussion. These are disciplines with known authors who have developed specific and usually named theories.

What is a theory?

A theory is NOT a guess or a belief. A theory is based on empirical evidence found through scientific research that was rigorously controlled to avoid bias.

In psychology and the social sciences, theories have two critical components:

(a) the theory describes specific behavior(s), and

(b) the theory must make predictions about future behaviors.

What is the PURPOSE of the theoretical framework?

These theories are used as the foundation of research studies. The researcher presents the theoretical framework to place THEIR research within the perspective of other studies in the same discipline.

The theoretical framework provides support for the proposed study by presenting known relationships among variables and setting limits or boundaries for the proposed study.

So what this means is (a) cite previous researchers, (b) name theories presented by previous researchers, and (c) explain how these theories tie into your own problem and purpose statements.

New ideas from the theoretical framework

Use the theoretical framework as a springboard to new ideas. Start with recommendations for further study in specific areas in previously published studies.

Use the facts, observations, and theories from previous studies to focus your ideas about new relationships among the variables or about new populations under study.

Present the broad theoretical foundation first

Start your Theoretical Framework section with a broad overview of the topic. Define the broad topic and list germinal researchers in the area. Summarize the germinal researchers' key concepts. Name their theories.

Present main issues Cite researchers who present important issues, unique perspectives, and controversies within the specific topic area
Tie in your research Discuss how your study fits within other research in the field.
Theoretical foundations for quantitative research

In a quantitative study, your purpose is to describe your population and test hypotheses. In stating your hypotheses, you are essentially proposing a new theory. Place your population and hypotheses within the context of the existing literature.

Theoretical foundations for qualitative research

In qualitative research, there may be no existing theoretical foundation because theory often emerges from the findings. In this case, discuss the theoretical orientation of the research itself. Present your problem statement within the context of the qualitative inquiry method itself.

However, even in qualitative research enough literature has usually been published on any given topic to provide you with seminal work about the specific topic. If not, look for related topics - if you are exploring a new area within adult education, it is acceptable to report on similar work within adolescent education.

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Copyright BOLD Educational Software 2011
by Diane M. Dusick, Ph.D.
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