Many would not know that the lack of a well-defined theoretical framework can be an important reason for the failure of research. A research study aims to explore the unexplored or under-explored aspects of a subject. This assesses the researcher’s understanding and application of the different theoretical concepts. A generic layout or structure is followed by the researchers which guide them in the accomplishment of the research objectives. While some elements of the layout are common and appear in every research, there are others often missed out by the researchers.
Yet another common misconception is that the theoretical framework is same as the conceptual framework. This article provides an insight into many such notions about theoretical framework and explains:
- What a theoretical framework is?
- How it should be developed?
- Why it is important to include in a research paper.?
What is a theoretical framework?
It is the ‘blueprint’ of the research. It conveys the vision of the study as has been envisaged by the researcher. A simplistic explanation of the theoretical framework can be that it consists of the:
- concepts and,
- constructs of a theory or theories that the researcher considers to be relevant for the research (Adom, Agyem Joe and Hussein, 2018).
It can be said that the framework and literature review are inter-related. While the review of literature on the subject aids in developing the framework, it is also vice-versa. This provides a clear structure to the study.
Why it is important to include a framework in a study?
The framework is an integral part of research because it provides the theoretical construct to the research. It is based upon existing theories in the literature but developed by the researcher relying on the judgment. The purpose of the theoretical framework is to specify the theory that the research would be based on, among the several types of research on the same subject. If the framework is not properly defined, the confusion will remain throughout the research regarding why not the researcher has opted for any other theory.
An example of the framework
If research on cross-cultural consumers’ attitudes has to be conducted, one has a wide range of theoretical options to choose from like:
- Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory,
- Cross-cultural Adaptation Theory,
- Spitzberg’s Model of Intercultural Communication Competence and,
- Trompenaars Cultural Dimensions Theory.
Review the research objectives along with the available theories. Then decide which theory should be employed in the research and can offer a valid justification.
This will determine the theoretical framework of the research. This expresses the researcher’s perspective on the research subject. The framework connects the research subject with the theory hence specifies the study’s scope and makes it more valuable and generalizable. Additionally, it also guides the further course of action like:
- framing the research questions,
- developing the literature review,
- data collection and analyses.
In the absence of a theoretical framework, the research becomes vague (Lederman and Lederman, 2015).
Is theoretical and conceptual framework the same?
One of the significant barriers in the way of developing a good framework is the misconception that the theoretical framework and conceptual frameworks are the same; they actually are not. Many times researchers get confused and even attribute each of these concepts to the nature of the study under consideration, i.e., qualitative or quantitative.
However, both can be used together in either form of research. While the theoretical framework is based on the existing theories of the concepts related to the study at hand, the conceptual framework gives liberty to make alterations to the theoretical framework. The researcher may use only a few variables of the propounded theory or model that are relevant for the study.
An example to show the difference between theoretical and conceptual framework
A scholar working on PESTLE analysis may prefer to drop “Legal” or “Environment” elements while researching upon consumer behaviour or may not necessarily consider all six dimensions of the Hofstede Model. Contrariwise, new constructs or variable which the scholar feels are relevant can be added as well.
Thus, the conceptual framework is an attempt to narrow down the theoretical framework to make it suitable for the research. Simplistically, the theoretical framework determines the direction and conceptual framework chalks out the path that the researcher needs to take up to accomplish the goals. The conceptual framework helps in developing the hypotheses for the study based on the foundation of the theoretical framework.
Moreover, the conceptual framework helps to develop operational definitions of the variables considered for the study. These variables definitely emerge from the theoretical framework that prescribes the charter of the theories (Adom, Agyem Joe and Hussein, 2018).
How to write the theoretical framework?
Although there is no set pattern for developing a framework, one can follow the below process to develop the same:
- Specify the research objectives.
- List down the prominent variables under the study.
- Explore the literature through keywords identified as main variables.
- Note down the theories that contain these variables or the keywords.
- Review all the selected theories once again in the light of the study’s objectives, and the key variables identified.
- Search for alternative theoretical propositions in the literature that can probably challenge the ones already selected.
- Make the final decision and develop the framework.
The next important question can be regarding the placement of the framework in a study. A theoretical framework is usually provided in the initial sections, preferably in the first chapter ‘Introduction.’ This would assist the readers to understand from the beginning the underlying theoretical constructs which have been the basis of researcher’s hypotheses. The conceptual framework, on the other hand, usually forms part of the Literature Review.
To ensure that an appropriate framework has been developed, review the framework to ascertain whether it is in alignment with the study:
- problem statement,
- the main research question,
- methodology, data analysis, and the expected conclusion.
A trick here can be ensuring that the chosen theories are well developed and have several constructs that are widely available. This would simplify the entire task and save time.
- Adom, D., Agyem Joe, A. and Hussein, E. (2018) ‘THEORETICAL AND CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK: MANDATORY INGREDIENTS OF A QUALITY RESEARCH’, International Journal of Scientific Research, 7(1), pp. 438–441.
- Lederman, N. G. and Lederman, J. S. (2015) ‘What Is A Theoretical Framework? A Practical Answer’, Journal of Science Teacher Education, 1 November, pp. 593–597. doi: 10.1007/s10972-015-9443-2.