Eureka! When I learnt how to write a theoretical framework
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What is a theoretical framework?
Your PhD Thesis.
On one page.
Use our free PhD Structure Template to quickly visualise every element of your thesis.
How to structure a theoretical framework
- You need to have a solid grasp of your aims and objectives. These define the space in which your research will sit and your goals when conducting it. You will need to briefly recap these when you start writing your theoretical framework, both to remind the reader and so that you can relate your theory to these overarching aims.
- What theory/theories are you using? Here you need to define and explain each theory you draw upon and, in doing so, discuss the leading proponents and applications. This shows that you understand the theory you are going to adopt.
- You then need to spend time critically arguing why you are adopting this particular theory. There are a lot of potential theories you could use. Why this one? Importantly, you should relate your choice to the discussions in the literature review and your aims and objectives.
- Can the theory/theories be broken down into different schools? Which one are you siding with and why?
- A theory contains a number of concepts. Which will you be drawing upon? Why these ones? Have you defined them properly? The way you approach this section will be influenced by your epistemological and ontological perspective and, thus, whether you use hypotheses or not. If you are using hypotheses, you need to state them as such.
- How do the concepts relate to your aims and objectives?
- Have you clearly stated your ontological and epistemological perspective?
- Are you the first to use this particular theory in this particular way? What benefits or drawbacks does that bring?
- Can you spot any drawbacks with applying this theory? Does it fail to account for a particular dimension of a phenomenon? Is it difficult to operationalize?
- How are your concepts related? Are you using them as hypotheses? Or as a model to make sense of the data? Somewhere in between? Be explicit about how they are all related and what you plan on doing with them.
A short (but necessary) note on ontology and epistemology
How do I choose theories and create my framework?
- There may be theories in your field that have arisen on the basis of repeated observation and testing and which are widely accepted.
- Or, you might find that you need to select concepts from multiple theories and create a novel framework that is unique to your particular context.
- A growing and important trend in social research is to adopt an interdisciplinary perspective when trying to understand the social world. This can be achieved by looking beyond the dominant, well-established theories and thinking about how other theories, particularly those from other disciplines or sub-disciplines, can be used.
- Identify your ontological and epistemological beliefs
- List several theories that align with your epistemological position and which can aid your understanding of the phenomenon under investigation
- Engage in literature review around those theories, both to familiarise yourself with them but also to understand their relevance to your study
- Ask yourself how each theory connects to your problem, aims & objectives.
- Select the theory or theories that provide more relevant tools for your thesis.
I have more than one theory. What do I do?
- Are the theories you are bringing together epistemologically compatible?
- Have you discussed each theory in the same level of detail to adequately explain the theory, your justification for its inclusion, its relation to the literature and its potential drawbacks?
- What benefits does focusing on more than one theory bring? Perhaps one theory has shortcomings that the other addresses?
- What downsides are there to employing more than one theory?
- Has anyone else used this combination of theories before you?
- Structure, by detailing the key concepts, tools and, where relevant, hypotheses
- A way to connect to other research
- A coherent, joined up set of ideas that structure the writing and help to create an argumentative streak that can run throughout your thesis
- An approach that can be reused in additional contexts once you're done
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