How to prepare a theoretical framework for a research paper

Updated November 21, 2016

Your theoretical framework provides a method for interpreting your research and its findings so it needs to be done well. The process for creating this framework can begin at any time. You might wait until after you have developed your thesis, research question or hypothesis to find theories that would provide support or explanations appropriate for your subject. On the other hand, you might explore theories in order to find some aspect of a theory to validate or test through your research. Either way, you will need to follow several steps to effectively create the theoretical framework for your paper.

Decide what type of study you are doing. Whether you are conducting quantitative or qualitative research, the decision will impact your theoretical framework. Quantitative studies generally involve testing a theory so your framework will explore the existing theory in more depth. Qualitative studies, however, often lead to the creation of theories so your framework may include multiple theories related to your subject from which you might draw the ideas for your own theory.

Conduct research. Because the theoretical framework should be the cornerstone of your literature review, you need to begin doing research early. Peer-reviewed journals offer the best sources for research. If you get stuck trying to locate material, check the references used by some of the scholarly articles you have found. You can also look for research outside your field of study. For example, the Theory of Reasoned Action is discussed in literature pertaining to psychology but also to communications, business and other research fields.

Understand the material. To create an effective theoretical framework, you need a solid understanding of that theory and its background. Make sure you read enough material that you could explain the theory to someone unfamiliar with it. Once you have a firm grasp on the theory/theories you are using you will be better able to apply them to your specific thesis, research question or hypothesis.

Create a dialogue. The purpose of the theoretical framework is to position your research as part of a broader discussion in your field. The theories and literature done by past researchers and scholars is the basis for that discussion. As you begin writing the framework, make connections between the existing theories and literature and your subject so the relationship between the two remains clear.


Keep your research organised. When you are creating this framework, you will consult dozens of sources for information. If you don't keep all of that material organised, you will have difficulty creating your reference page or building on the framework later in your paper. Consider using a spreadsheet application to track all of your sources and their useful contents.


Do not avoid theories that conflict with what you anticipate finding. If you ignore existing evidence that might contradict what you discover, you are stacking the deck, and that weakens your overall findings. Also, if your research does not show what you had expected you will already have literature and theories available to link back to during the discussion portion of your paper.

Things You'll Need

  • Thesis, research question, or hypothesis
  • Reference literature
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About the Author

Amy Jorgensen has ghostwritten more than 100 articles and books on raising and training animals. She is also an amateur dog trainer. She has also written more than 200 blog posts, articles, and ebooks on wedding and party planning on behalf of professionals in the field.