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Structure and Style of Theses and Dissertations

Each student and their supervisory committee should work together to determine the scholarly scope and most appropriate structure of the thesis, keeping in mind scholarly standards within their fields and professional objectives of the student.

As forms of scholarship continue to evolve, so do the possibilities for how a body of scholarly work can be expressed. Theses at UBC can include many forms of knowledge production and scholarly representation. Some examples are:

  • a fully unified textual volume, similar to a scholarly book
  • a series of published or publication-ready manuscripts with synthesis
  • inclusion of scholarly professional artefacts such as policy papers or curriculum plans, for example, along with description and analysis
  • a compendium of multimedia works with written description and analysis

Within this flexibility of structure, there remain several elements that must be included in each thesis or dissertation, and specifications to be followed, in order to enable consistent standards and proper archiving.

In addition to the preliminary materials described below, all theses should include an introduction to the subject, a critical analysis of the relevant prior scholarly work, a description of the scholarly methods, a presentation of the results, and a discussion and summary of the results and their implications. Knowledge dissemination products or modes can be incorporated as appropriate.

As appropriate, representation of the research results or methodologies may take a variety of forms, including scholarly publications or submissions (manuscripts), scholarly text, creative text, graphics, audio/visual products, or web pages,  Additional knowledge translation or dissemination products or descriptions of activities can be incorporated, such as policy briefs, lay or professional publications, syllabi, or outlines of workshops or exhibits.

Every thesis will have a PDF component that includes at least the following elements:

  • Committee page
  • Lay summary
  • Table of contents, and/or a List of all submitted files (if there are files in addition to the PDF)

1. Title page (required)

2. committee page (required).

The committee page:

  • is the second page of the thesis and is numbered ii
  • lists all examining committee members and supervisory committee members, along with their titles, departments, and universities or organizations
  • does not include signatures
  • is not listed in the table of contents

See Resources for Thesis Preparation and Checking for examples and templates.

Doctoral students: Please include this page in the copy for the External Examiner, with your supervisory committee entered. If you know which members of the committee will be on the Examining Committee you can include them there; otherwise, they can go under Additional Supervisory Committee Members.

Doctoral students post-defence: Please remember to update the committee page before final post-defence submission if necessary.

3. Abstract (required - maximum 350 words)

The abstract is a concise and accurate summary of the scholarly work described in the document. It states the problem, the methods of investigation, and the general conclusions, and should not contain tables, graphs, complex equations, or illustrations. There is a single scholarly abstract for the entire work, and it must not exceed 350 words in length.

4. Lay Summary (required - maximum 150 words)

The lay or public summary is a simplified version of the abstract that explains the key goals and contributions of the research/scholarly work in terms that can be understood by the general public. it does not use technical terms and discipline-specific language. It must not exceed 150 words in length.

5. Preface (required)

Sample Prefaces

The Preface includes a statement indicating the student's contribution to the following:

  • Identification of the research question(s)
  • Design of the research work
  • Performance of the research
  • Analysis of the research results

If any of the work was collaborative, the above statement must also detail the relative contributions of all collaborators, including the approximate proportion of the research, analysis, and writing/representation conducted by the student.

If any of the work has led to any publications, submissions, or other dissemination modes, all should be listed in the Preface. For publications, the title of the article, the names and order of all co-authors, and the journal details (if accepted or published) should be included, and linked to the related chapter or portion of the thesis. For further details, see “Including Published Material in a Thesis or Dissertation”.

If the work includes other scholarly artifacts (such as film and other audio, visual, and graphic representations, and application-oriented documents such as policy briefs, curricula, business plans, computer and web tools, pages, and applications, etc.) that have been published or otherwise publicly disseminated or that have co-authors, they must be listed in the Preface (with bibliographical information, including information on co-creators, if applicable).

If ethics approval was required for the research, the Preface must list the Certificate Number(s) of the Ethics Certificate(s) applicable to the project.

In a thesis where the research was not subject to ethics review, produced no publications, and was designed, carried out, and analyzed by the student alone, the text of the Preface may be very brief. Samples are available on this website and in the University Library's online repository of accepted theses.

The content of the Preface must be verified by the student's supervisor, whose endorsement must appear on the final Thesis/Dissertation Approval form.

Acknowledgements, introductory material, and a list of publications do not belong in the Preface. Please put them respectively in the Acknowledgements section, the first section of the thesis, and the appendices.

6. Table of contents (required)

7. list of tables (required if document has tables), 8. list of figures (required if document has figures), 9. list of submitted files (required if additional files are submitted with the pdf), 10. list of illustrations (advisable if applicable).

If you remove copyrighted tables, figures, or illustrations from your thesis you must insert the following at the spot where the table, figure, or illustration previously appeared:

  • A statement that the material has been removed because of copyright restrictions
  • A description of the material and the information it contained, plus a link to an online source if one is available
  • A full citation of the original source of the material

See the UBC Library Copyright Educational Resources: Theses and Dissertations Guide “ Unable to get Permission? ”

11. Lists of symbols, abbreviations or other (advisable if applicable)

12. glossary (optional), 13. acknowledgements (optional).

This may include statements acknowledging support and contributions from various sources, including the student’s research supervisor and committee, research participants, colleagues, friends, and family members. IMPORTANT : Please ensure that everyone you mention in your Acknowledgements understands and accepts that their name will be appearing online in an open-access document.

Any funding for the research should be listed here.

14. Dedication (optional)

15-17. thesis body: introduction, research chapters, conclusion (usually required unless the thesis consists only of multimedia).

This contains the comprehensive contextualization, methods, findings, analysis and implications of the scholarly work. These components can be organized and expressed in a manner that the student and their supervisory committee deems to be most appropriate to the work, to the student and their objectives, and to the relevant disciplines.

In many cases the thesis will be organized in chapters, while for others (especially those including creative and/or other modes of expression) it may take different forms. The different elements should be divided appropriately (and indicated as such in the Table of Contents) to enable ease of review. The thesis should be presented in a manner that enables a cohesive understanding of the work and which is credible within the field. In all cases, certain elements are required:

Introductory content.  This must clearly state its theme, topics, hypotheses and/or goals and provide sufficient background information to enable a non-specialist in the subject matter to understand them. It must contextualize the topic and questions within a thorough review of relevant literature and/or other foundational scholarship

Research/Scholarship methodologies, findings, products.  The account and products of the scholarly work should be complete and sufficiently detailed to enable a reader to understand how the work was carried out and analyzed, and how to apply similar methods in another study.

Analysis and summary content.  This should include a reflective analysis of the scholarly findings and/or products, integrated into the context of the thesis subject to demonstrate how the thesis leads to new understandings and contributions. The work’s potential (or actual) impact, its limitations, and its significance should be outlined.

18. Bibliography (mandatory except for MFA and MMUS)

There must be only one Bibliography or References section for the whole thesis.

19. Appendices (Optional)

These consist of supporting material that is not integral to the understanding of the work and/or easily incorporated into the thesis body, potentially including additional methodological details or data, copies of surveys used, etc. They must be referred to in the document.

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Conceptual and Theoretical Frameworks for Thesis Studies: What you must know

master thesis framework

A theoretical framework is a conceptual model that provides a systematic and structured way of thinking about a research problem or question. It helps to identify key variables and the relationships between them and to guide the selection and interpretation of data. Theoretical frameworks draw on existing theories and research and can be used to develop new hypotheses or test existing ones. They provide a foundation for research design, data collection, and analysis and can help to ensure that research is relevant, rigorous, and coherent. Theoretical frameworks are common in many disciplines, including social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities, and are essential for building knowledge and advancing understanding in a field.

This article explains the importance of frameworks in a thesis study and the differences between conceptual frameworks and theoretical frameworks. It provides guidelines on how to write a thesis framework, definitions of variable types, and examples of framework types.

What is a research framework and why do I need one?

When planning your thesis study, you need to justify your research and explain its design to your readers. This is called the research framework.

When planning your thesis study, you need to justify your research and explain its design to your readers. This is called the research framework. Think of it as the foundation of a building. A good building needs a strong foundation. Similarly, your research needs to be supported by reviewing and explaining the existing knowledge in the field, describing how your research study will fit within or contribute to the existing literature (e.g., it could challenge or test an existing theory or address a knowledge gap), and informing the reader how your study design aligns with your thesis question or hypothesis.

Important components of the framework are a literature review of recent studies associated with your thesis topic as well as theories/models used in your field of research. The literature review acts as a filtering tool to select appropriate thesis questions and guide data collection, analysis, and interpretation of your findings. Think broadly! Apart from reviewing relevant published papers in your field of research, also explore theories that you have come across in your undergraduate courses, other published thesis studies, encyclopedias, and handbooks.

There are two types of research frameworks: theoretical and conceptual .

What is a conceptual framework?

A conceptual framework is a written or visual representation that explains the study variables and their relationships with each other. The starting point is a literature review of existing studies and theories about your topic.

Steps to develop a conceptual framework

  • Clarify your study topic by identifying and defining key concepts in your thesis problem statement and thesis question. Essentially, your thesis should address a knowledge gap.
  • Perform a literature review to provide a background to interpret and explain the study findings. Also, draw on empirical knowledge that you have gained from personal experience.
  • Identify crucial variables from the literature review and your empirical knowledge, classify them as dependent or independent variables, and define them.
  • Brainstorm all the possible factors that could affect each dependent variable.
  • Propose relationships among the variables and determine any associations that exist between all variables.
  • Use a flowchart or tree diagram to present your conceptual framework.

Types of variables

When developing a conceptual framework, you will need to identify the following:

  • Independent variables
  • Dependent variables
  • Moderating variables
  • Mediating variables
  • Control variables

First, identify the independent (cause) and dependent (effect) variables in your study. Then, identify variables that influence this relationship, such as moderating variables, mediating variables, and control variables. A moderating variable changes the relationship between independent and dependent variables when its value increases or decreases. A mediating variable links independent and dependent variables to better explain the relationship between them. A control variable could potentially impact the cause-and-effect relationship but is kept constant throughout the study so that its effects on the findings/outcomes can be ruled out.

Example of a conceptual framework

You want to investigate the hours spent exercising (cause) on childhood obesity (effect).

master thesis framework

Now, you need to consider moderating variables that affect the cause-and-effect relationship. In our example, the amount of junk food eaten would affect the level of obesity.

master thesis framework

Next, you need to consider mediating variables. In our example, the maximum heart rate during exercise would affect the child’s weight.

master thesis framework

Finally, you need to consider control variables. In this example, because we do not want to investigate the role of age in obesity, we can use this as a control variable. Thus, the study subjects would be children of a specific age (e.g., aged 6–10 years).

master thesis framework

What is a theoretical framework?

A theoretical framework provides a general framework for data analysis. It defines the concepts used and explains existing theories and models in your field of research.

A theoretical framework provides a general framework for data analysis. It defines the concepts used and explains existing theories and models in your field of research. It also explains any assumptions that were used to inform your approach and your choice of specific rationales. Theoretical frameworks are often used in the fields of social sciences.

Purpose of a theoretical framework

  • Test and challenge existing theories
  • Establish orderly connections between observations and facts
  • Predict and control situations
  • Develop hypotheses

Steps to develop a theoretical framework

  • Identify and define key concepts in your thesis problem statement and thesis question.
  • Explain and evaluate existing theories by writing a literature review that describes the concepts, models, and theories that support your study.
  • Choose the theory that best explains the relationships between the key variables in your study.
  • Explain how your research study fills a knowledge gap or fits into existing studies (e.g., testing if an established theory applies to your thesis context).
  • Discuss the relevance of any theoretical assumptions and limitations.

A thesis topic can be approached from a variety of angles, depending on the theories used.

  • In psychology, a behavioral approach would use different methods and assumptions compared with a cognitive approach when treating anxiety.
  • In literature, a book could be analyzed using different literary theories, such as Marxism or poststructuralism.

Structuring a theoretical framework

The structure of a theoretical framework is fluid, and there are no specific rules that need to be followed, as long as it is clearly and logically presented.

The theoretical framework is a natural extension of your literature review. The literature review should identify gaps in the field of your research, and reviewing existing theories will help to determine how these can be addressed. The structure of a theoretical framework is fluid, and there are no specific rules that need to be followed, as long as it is clearly and logically presented. The theoretical framework is sometimes integrated into the literature review chapter of a thesis, but it can also be included as a separate chapter, depending on the complexity of the theories.

Example of a theoretical framework

The sales staff at Company X are unmotivated and struggling to meet their monthly targets. Some members of the management team believe that this could be achieved by implementing a comprehensive product-training program, but others believe that introducing a sales commission structure will help.

Company X is not achieving their monthly sales targets

To increase monthly sales.

Research question:

How can Company X motivate their sales team to achieve its monthly sales targets?


  • Why do the sales staff feel unmotivated?
  • What is the relationship between motivation and monetary rewards?
  • Do the sales staff feel that they have sufficient product knowledge?

Theoretical framework:

A literature search will need to be performed to understand the background of the many different theories of motivation in psychology. For example, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (basic human needs—physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization—have to be fulfilled before one can live up to their true potential), Vroom’s Theory of Expectancy (people decide upon their actions based on the outcomes they expect), and Locke’s Goal-Setting Theory (goals are a key driver of one’s behavior). These theories would need to be investigated to determine which would be the best approach to increase the motivation of the sales staff in Company X so that the monthly sales targets are met.

A robust conceptual or theoretical framework is crucial when writing a thesis/dissertation. It defines your research gap, identifies your approach, and guides the interpretation of your results.

A thesis is the most important document you will write during your academic studies. For professional thesis editing and thesis proofreading services, check out Enago's Thesis Editing service s for more information.

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What type of framework is used in the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) domain? +

Theoretical frameworks are typically used in the HSS domain, while conceptual frameworks are used in the Sciences domain.

What is the difference between mediating versus moderating variables? +

The difference between mediators and moderators can be confusing. A moderating variable is unaffected by the independent variable and can increase or decrease the strength of the relationship between the independent and dependent variables. A mediating variable is affected by the independent variable and can explain the relationship between the independent and dependent variables. T he statistical correlation between the independent and dependent variables is higher when the mediating variable is excluded.

What software should I use to present my conceptual framework? +

The software program Creately provides some useful templates that can help you get started. Other recommended programs are SmartDraw , Inkscape , and diagrams.net .

Grad Coach

Free Download 📥

Methodology chapter template.

If you’re struggling to get moving with the research methodology chapter for your dissertation or thesis, this template is just what you need. Fully editable, the template includes a recommended structure , detailed explanations and examples .

Dissertation & thesis methodology chapter template

What’s Included:

This template covers all the core components required in the research methodology chapter/section of a typical dissertation or thesis, including:

  • The opening section
  • Research philosophy
  • Research type
  • Research strategy
  • Time horizon
  • Sampling strategy
  • Data collection methods
  • Data analysis methods
  • Conclusion & summary

The purpose of each section is explained in plain language, followed by an overview of the key elements that you need to cover. The template also includes practical examples to help you understand exactly what’s required, along with links to additional free resources (articles, videos, etc.) to help you along your research journey.

The cleanly-formatted Word document is fully editable , so you can use it as-is for your dissertation or thesis, copy over the contents to a fresh document, or convert it to LaTeX.

PS – if you’d like a high-level template for the entire thesis, you can grab that here .

Free Webinar: Research Methodology 101

Frequently Asked Questions

What format is the template (DOC, PDF, PPT, etc.)?

The methodology chapter template is provided in a fully editable MS Word document (.DOCX). You’re welcome to convert it to whatever format works best for you, such as LaTeX or PDF.

What types of dissertations/theses can this template be used for?

The methodology template follows the standard format for academic research projects, which means it will be suitable for the vast majority of dissertations and theses (especially those within the sciences), whether they adopt a qualitative, quantitative, or mixed-methods approach. The template is loosely based on Saunders’ research onion , which is recommended as a methodological framework by many universities.

Keep in mind that the exact requirements for the methodology chapter/section will vary between universities and degree programs. These are typically minor, but it’s always a good idea to double-check your university’s requirements before you finalize your structure.

Is this template for an undergrad, Master or PhD-level thesis?

This template can be used for a dissertation, thesis or research project at any level of study. Doctoral-level projects typically require the methodology chapter to be more extensive/comprehensive, but the structure will typically remain the same.

How long should the methodology chapter be?

This can vary a fair deal, depending on the level of study (undergrad, Master or Doctoral), the field of research, as well as your university’s specific requirements. Therefore, it’s best to check with your university or review past dissertations from your program to get an accurate estimate. 

Can I share this template with my friends/colleagues? 

Yes, you’re welcome to share this template in its original format (no editing allowed). If you want to post about it on your blog or social media, we kindly request that you reference this page as your source.

Do you have templates for the other chapters?

Yes, we do. We are constantly developing our collection of free resources to help students complete their dissertations and theses. You can view all of our template resources here .

Can Grad Coach help me with my methodology?

Yes, we can assist with your methodology chapter (or any other chapter) on a coaching basis. If you’re interested, feel free to get in touch to discuss our private coaching services .

Need a helping hand?

master thesis framework

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Sacred Heart University Library

Organizing Academic Research Papers: Theoretical Framework

  • Purpose of Guide
  • Design Flaws to Avoid
  • Glossary of Research Terms
  • Narrowing a Topic Idea
  • Broadening a Topic Idea
  • Extending the Timeliness of a Topic Idea
  • Academic Writing Style
  • Choosing a Title
  • Making an Outline
  • Paragraph Development
  • Executive Summary
  • Background Information
  • The Research Problem/Question
  • Theoretical Framework
  • Citation Tracking
  • Content Alert Services
  • Evaluating Sources
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • Tertiary Sources
  • What Is Scholarly vs. Popular?
  • Qualitative Methods
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Using Non-Textual Elements
  • Limitations of the Study
  • Common Grammar Mistakes
  • Avoiding Plagiarism
  • Footnotes or Endnotes?
  • Further Readings
  • Annotated Bibliography
  • Dealing with Nervousness
  • Using Visual Aids
  • Grading Someone Else's Paper
  • How to Manage Group Projects
  • Multiple Book Review Essay
  • Reviewing Collected Essays
  • About Informed Consent
  • Writing Field Notes
  • Writing a Policy Memo
  • Writing a Research Proposal
  • Acknowledgements

Theories are formulated to explain, predict, and understand phenomena and, in many cases, to challenge and extend existing knowledge, within the limits of the critical bounding assumptions. The theoretical framework is the structure that can hold or support a theory of a research study. The theoretical framework introduces and describes the theory which explains why the research problem under study exists.

Importance of Theory

A theoretical framework consists of concepts, together with their definitions, and existing theory/theories that are used for your particular study. The theoretical framework must demonstrate an understanding of theories and concepts that are relevant to the topic of your  research paper and that will relate it to the broader fields of knowledge in the class you are taking.

The theoretical framework is not something that is found readily available in the literature . You must review course readings and pertinent research literature for theories and analytic models that are relevant to the research problem you are investigating. The selection of a theory should depend on its appropriateness, ease of application, and explanatory power.

The theoretical framework strengthens the study in the following ways .

  • An explicit statement of  theoretical assumptions permits the reader to evaluate them critically.
  • The theoretical framework connects the researcher to existing knowledge. Guided by a relevant theory, you are given a basis for your hypotheses and choice of research methods.
  • Articulating the theoretical assumptions of a research study forces you to address questions of why and how. It permits you to move from simply describing a phenomenon observed to generalizing about various aspects of that phenomenon.
  • Having a theory helps you to identify the limits to those generalizations. A theoretical framework specifies which key variables influence a phenomenon of interest. It alerts you to examine how those key variables might differ and under what circumstances.

By virtue of its application nature, good theory in the social sciences is of value precisely because it fulfills one primary purpose: to explain the meaning, nature, and challenges of a phenomenon, often experienced but unexplained in the world in which we live, so that we may use that knowledge and understanding to act in more informed and effective ways.

The Conceptual Framework. College of Education. Alabama State University; Drafting an Argument . Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Trochim, William M.K. Philosophy of Research. Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006.

Strategies for Developing the Theoretical Framework

I.  Developing the Framework

Here are some strategies to develop of an effective theoretical framework:

  • Examine your thesis title and research problem . The research problem anchors your entire study and forms the basis from which you construct your theoretical framework.
  • Brainstorm on what you consider to be the key variables in your research . Answer the question, what factors contribute to the presumed effect?
  • Review related literature to find answers to your research question.
  • List  the constructs and variables that might be relevant to your study. Group these variables into independent and dependent categories.
  • Review the key social science theories that are introduced to you in your course readings and choose the theory or theories that can best explain the relationships between the key variables in your study [note the Writing Tip on this page].
  • Discuss the assumptions or propositions of this theory and point out their relevance to your research.

A theoretical framework is used to limit the scope of the relevant data by focusing on specific variables and defining the specific viewpoint (framework) that the researcher will take in analyzing and interpreting the data to be gathered, understanding concepts and variables according to the given definitions, and building knowledge by validating or challenging theoretical assumptions.

II.  Purpose

Think of theories as the conceptual basis for understanding, analyzing, and designing ways to investigate relationships within social systems. To the end, the following roles served by a theory can help guide the development of your framework.*

  • Means by which new research data can be interpreted and coded for future use,
  • Response to new problems that have no previously identified solutions strategy,
  • Means for identifying and defining research problems,
  • Means for prescribing or evaluating solutions to research problems,
  • Way of telling us that certain facts among the accumulated knowledge are important and which facts are not,
  • Means of giving old data new interpretations and new meaning,
  • Means by which to identify important new issues and prescribe the most critical research questions that need to be answered to maximize understanding of the issue,
  • Means of providing members of a professional discipline with a common language and a frame of reference for defining boundaries of their profession, and
  • Means to guide and inform research so that it can, in turn, guide research efforts and improve professional practice.

*Adapted from: Torraco, R. J. “Theory-Building Research Methods.” In Swanson R. A. and E. F. Holton III , editors. Human Resource Development Handbook: Linking Research and Practice . (San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 1997): pp. 114-137; Sutton, Robert I. and Barry M. Staw. “What Theory is Not.” Administrative Science Quarterly 40 (September 1995): 371-384.

Structure and Writing Style

The theoretical framework may be rooted in a specific theory , in which case, you are expected to test the validity of an existing theory in relation to specific events, issues, or phenomena. Many social science research papers fit into this rubric. For example, Peripheral Realism theory, which categorizes perceived differences between nation-states as those that give orders, those that obey, and those that rebel, could be used as a means for understanding conflicted relationships among countries in Africa. A test of this theory could be the following: Does Peripheral Realism theory help explain intra-state actions, such as, the growing split between southern and northern Sudan that may likely lead to the creation of two nations?

However, you may not always be asked by your professor to test a specific theory in your paper, but to develop your own framework from which your analysis of the research problem is derived . Given this, it is perhaps easiest to understand the nature and function of a theoretical framework if it is viewed as the answer to two basic questions:

  • What is the research problem/question? [e.g., "How should the individual and the state relate during periods of conflict?"]
  • Why is your approach a feasible solution? [I could choose to test Instrumentalist or Circumstantialists models developed among Ethnic Conflict Theorists that rely upon socio-economic-political factors to explain individual-state relations and to apply this theoretical model to periods of war between nations].

The answers to these questions come from a thorough review of the literature and your course readings [summarized and analyzed in the next section of your paper] and the gaps in the research that emerge from the review process. With this in mind, a complete theoretical framework will likely not emerge until after you have completed a thorough review of the literature .

In writing this part of your research paper, keep in mind the following:

  • Clearly describe the framework, concepts, models, or specific theories that underpin your study . This includes noting who the key theorists are in the field who have conducted research on the problem you are investigating and, when necessary, the historical context that supports the formulation of that theory. This latter element is particularly important if the theory is relatively unknown or it is borrowed from another discipline.
  • Position your theoretical framework within a broader context of related frameworks , concepts, models, or theories . There will likely be several concepts, theories, or models that can be used to help develop a framework for understanding the research problem. Therefore, note why the framework you've chosen is the appropriate one.
  • The present tense is used when writing about theory.
  • You should make your theoretical assumptions as explicit as possible . Later, your discussion of methodology should be linked back to this theoretical framework.
  • Don’t just take what the theory says as a given! Reality is never accurately represented in such a simplistic way; if you imply that it can be, you fundamentally distort a reader's ability to understand the findings that emerge. Given this, always note the limitiations of the theoretical framework you've chosen [i.e., what parts of the research problem require further investigation because the theory does not explain a certain phenomena].

The Conceptual Framework. College of Education. Alabama State University; Conceptual Framework: What Do You Think is Going On? College of Engineering. University of Michigan; Drafting an Argument . Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Lynham, Susan A. “The General Method of Theory-Building Research in Applied Disciplines.” Advances in Developing Human Resources 4 (August 2002): 221-241; Tavallaei, Mehdi and Mansor Abu Talib. A General Perspective on the Role of Theory in Qualitative Research. Journal of International Social Research 3 (Spring 2010); Trochim, William M.K. Philosophy of Research. Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006.

Writing Tip

Borrowing Theoretical Constructs from Elsewhere

A growing and increasingly important trend in the social sciences is to think about and attempt to understand specific research problems from an interdisciplinary perspective. One way to do this is to not rely exclusively on the theories you've read about in a particular class, but to think about how an issue might be informed by theories developed in other disciplines. For example, if you are a political science student studying the rhetorical strategies used by female incumbants in state legislature campaigns, theories about the use of language could be derived, not only from political science, but linguistics, communication studies, philosophy, psychology, and, in this particular case, feminist studies. Building theoretical frameworks based on the postulates and hypotheses developed in other disciplinary contexts can be both enlightening and an effective way to be fully engaged in the research topic.

Another Writing Tip

Don't Undertheorize!

Never leave the theory hanging out there in the Introduction never to be mentioned again. Undertheorizing weakens your paper. The theoretical framework you introduce should guide your study throughout the paper. Be sure to always connect theory to the analysis and to explain in the discussion part of your paper how the theoretical framework you chose fit the research problem, or if appropriate, was inadequate in explaining the phenomenon you were investigating. In that case, don't be afraid to propose your own theory based on your findings.

Still Another Writing Tip

What's a Theory? What's a Hypothesis?

The terms theory and hypothesis are often used interchangeably in everyday use. However, the difference between them in scholarly research is important, particularly when using an experimental design. A theory is a well-established principle that has been developed to explain some aspect of the natural world. Theories arise from repeated observation and testing and incorporates facts, laws, predictions, and tested hypotheses that are widely accepted [e.g., rational choice theory; grounded theory].

A hypothesis is a specific, testable prediction about what you expect to happen in your study. For example, an experiment designed to look at the relationship between study habits and test anxiety might have a hypothesis that states, "We predict that students with better study habits will suffer less test anxiety." Unless your study is exploratory in nature, your hypothesis should always explain what you expect to happen during the course of your research.

The key distinctions are:

  • A theory predicts events in a broad, general context;  a hypothesis makes a specific prediction about a specified set of circumstances.
  • A theory has been extensively tested and is generally accepted among scholars; a hypothesis is a speculative guess that has yet to be tested.

Cherry, Kendra. Introduction to Research Methods: Theory and Hypothesis . About.com Psychology; Gezae, Michael et al. Welcome Presentation on Hypothesis . Slideshare presentation.

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Sacred Heart University


Master's Thesis Guide

A master’s thesis must show that the student truly applies a scientific approach to research and understands the main questions and doctrine related to the chosen topic.

The thesis must also put forth an original contribution, which, as an article, could be published without major corrections. The final text should range in length between 20,000 and 25,000 words but may not exceed 35,000 words (between 100 and 130 pages). The thesis is comprised of the following steps:

  • Preparation of a research proposal
  • Theoretical framework
  • Methodology
  • Data collection
  • Data analysis
  • Thesis preparation
  • Thesis defence before a committee of professors

The thesis supervisor, or co-supervisor, will form a thesis committee to help guide the thesis, and may discuss the selection of thesis committee members with the student. The committee will comprise the following members:

  • the thesis supervisor or co-supervisor;
  • two other professors who have expertise in fields related to the thesis project. One member may be from another faculty.

The student is responsible for submitting through service request the  Master's Thesis Committee Member List . This form will state the research topic along with the names of the thesis committee members.

The thesis proposal

The student drafts a thesis proposal, whose length should not exceed 20 pages (excluding tables and list of references) using the following conventions: 1.5 line spacing; Times New Roman, 12-point font; 2.5cm margins, numbered pages and single-side printing.

This document will include the following elements:

  • statement of problem;
  • theoretical or conceptual framework;
  • literature review;
  • one or more research questions;
  • a methodological framework (e.g. a research plan, participants, tools, procedure);
  • the contribution of the research to the field of education;
  • a relevant and exhaustive list of references.

The order in which these elements are presented may vary.

Although there is no evaluation grid for the thesis proposal, the committee members will submit written comments to the thesis supervisor before the approval meeting between the thesis supervisor, the committee members and the student.

Thesis approval meeting

The thesis supervisor and the committee members will meet to discuss their evaluation of the thesis proposal with the student, who will be advised on how to improve the quality of his/her research.

In light of this discussion, the thesis committee will take one of the following decisions:

  • Option 1:  Satisfactory –  The student may continue to conduct the research as proposed.
  • Option 2:  Unsatisfactory  – The student may not continue to conduct the research as proposed. In such cases, the reasons for this decision are stated and the student must submit a revised version of the research proposal to the committee and another meeting of the committee must take place. A grade of NS will be entered in the students file.

The supervisor submits a duly completed  Approval of the Master of Arts in Education (MA) Thesis Proposal  form to the academic secretariat at  [email protected] , and a copy of the form is added to the student’s file.

Ethics approval

Once the research proposal has been approved, the student will submit a request for ethics approval for any research involving human subjects to the  Office of Research Ethics and Integrity . Students who fail to comply with this requirement may be subject to academic sanctions.

When requesting ethics approval, the student will need to submit a duly signed copy of the  Approval of the Master of Arts in Education (MA) Thesis Proposal  as proof that the thesis proposal has been approved.

Thesis format

1. monograph thesis.

The monograph thesis is the most usual form in the humanities and social sciences and it resembles a non-fiction book in that it deals in depth with a particular topic.

In a monograph thesis, a student presents a proposition or a “thesis” and the research findings to support it. The student reads existing research on the topics and may accept or reject it partially or totally.

The thesis usually follows a simple overall format: it begins with an introduction, which is followed by a main section or several sections, and ends with a conclusion. The students should keep these in mind but also remember that not all of these components will be required or even recommended for the particular field of study, so it is always best if they check with their own academic unit and supervisor.

For more information please consult the following link:  Monograph components .

2. Article-format thesis

Students who wish to write a thesis in an article format must first notify the thesis supervisor, co-supervisor and thesis committee members, and obtain their approval. The student must submit a request at  [email protected]  for approval from the Faculty’s graduate studies director by checking of the appropriate box on the  Approval of the Master of Arts in Education (MA) Thesis Proposal  form.

A thesis submitted in article format must meet the following requirements:

  • The article must be substantial and equivalent to a monograph. The student must be the sole, or first and principle, author. If the student is not the sole author, the student must have contributed at least two-thirds of the original content and writing of the article. The student must formally specify his/her contribution. The article must be considered equivalent to a master’s thesis.
  • The article may have been published during the student’s time as an active student. Alternatively, it may have been submitted for publication, or may be in the form of a manuscript ready for submission for publication, in a peer-reviewed academic journal. If the article has already been published, a copy of the article as published must be included in the thesis, with the permission of the journal. If the committee members require changes or additions, these must be added as an appendix, since a published article cannot be modified.
  • The manuscript must be typed, with 1.5 line spacing in 12-point, Times New Roman font with 2.5cm margins. The manuscript must be page numbered, single-paged (printed on one side only) and unbound.

For more information please consult the following link:  Components of a thesis in a series of articles.

Submission of the thesis for evaluation

Master’s students must submit a service request through uoZone four weeks before submitting their thesis for evaluation, failing to do so will delay the evaluation process. This request must include the following document:

  • The  List of examiners for the evaluation of the thesis  form that includes at least two eligible internal examiners.

The service request will be sent to the program director for approval.

Review how to submit a service request.

The  Approval of the Master's Thesis Deposit  form must be signed by all committee members and thesis supervisor and must be submitted with the thesis in  uoZone .

Check the  Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies website  for information on thesis submission, evaluation and defence.

The PhD Proofreaders

Eureka! When I learnt how to write a theoretical framework

Feb 6, 2019

how to structure a theoretical framework

Have you checked out  the rest of  The PhD Knowledge Base ? It’s home to hundreds more free resources and guides, written especially for PhD students.  

Have you ever had a eureka moment? A moment where something that you’ve misunderstood for ages becomes crystal clear?

I did, about half way through my PhD.

Did I come up with a ground breaking discovery that would revolutionise my field? Did I develop a new theory that would change the way we think about the world?

I finally understood how to write a theoretical framework.

Sound silly? It isn’t. 

During the one-on-one PhD coaching sessions I run, the issue of how to write a theory framework comes up more frequently than any other. The theoretical framework is important, but many people find it difficult. I know I struggled with it. 

Then someone explained the theory framework to me in such a simple way. Here’s the eureka moment: The theoretical framework is like a toolbox.

Simple, right?

Let me explain. In the literature review you highlighted the problem that needs ‘fixing’. The theoretical framework – the ’toolbox’ – details the theories, propositions, hypotheses (if you’re using them) and concepts – the ’tools’ – that you will use to address or make sense of this problem.

So, your job in a theoretical framework chapter is to discuss in detail what the tools look like, how they behave, how they have been used before, how they relate to one another, how they are relevant to your aims and objectives and what the drawbacks are from using them. The methods chapter then discusses how you will use (operationalise) those tools.

Hello, Doctor…

Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Be able to call yourself Doctor sooner with our five-star rated How to Write A PhD email-course. Learn everything your supervisor should have taught you about planning and completing a PhD.

Now half price. Join hundreds of other students and become a better thesis writer, or your money back. 

What is a theoretical framework?

In the literature review you highlighted the problem that needs ‘fixing’. The theoretical framework – the ’toolbox’ – details the theories, propositions, hypotheses (if you’re using them) and concepts – the ’tools’ – that you will use to address or make sense of this problem.

The list of potential explanations for why responses differ is enormous.

You could approach this question with a focus on, say, psychology, power, gender, economics, and so on. The best we can typically hope for – and this is particularly true in much of the social sciences – is an interpretation of the truth.

So – and this is important – we use theory to focus our attention on a small sub-set of all potential explanations, on one particular viewpoint.

Now I know I’m getting into messy epistemological and ontological waters here. I am an interpretivist, so I see theory as a ‘lens’ that you apply to make sense of the world. That’s the shape of my toolbox.

But, even if you’re a positivist you still pick and choose theoretical concepts and hypotheses from a range of available options; you just use them in a different way (rather than a lens, they become testable propositions, or measurement tools).

Without a theoretical framework we are left with a potentially endless choice of potential viewpoints, which would make our data collection and analysis and our discussion hugely chaotic.

PhD Literature Review & Theory Framework Survival Pack

Master your lit review & theory framework.

Learn what goes where (and why), and how it all fit together with this free, interactive guide to the PhD literature review and theory framework.

In other words, if we don’t know how to focus our attention, how we can present a coherent explanation? 

The theoretical framework is a natural extension of the literature review. The purpose of the literature review, amongst other things, is to highlight gaps and shortcomings with the existing work in your field.

The theoretical framework details   the perspective you will take   to address that gap and shortcoming.

For example, in   my doctoral research,   my literature review focused on government responses to climate change and pointed out that there hadn’t been much discussion on local government.

The theoretical framework then made an informed decision to come at it from a particular theoretical perspective (institutional theory, if you’re interested) and then discussed what that theory looks like, highlighting the key concepts and ideas. 

In your own research you will also need to make an informed decision about the particular theory you will employ to guide you through the rest of the research.

The theoretical framework is a natural extension of the literature review. The purpose of the literature review, amongst other things, is to highlight gaps and shortcomings with the existing work in your field. The theoretical framework details the perspective you will take to address that gap and shortcoming.

So, the   job of the theoretical framework isn’t to repeat the literature review . Instead, think of it as a   separate, mini literature review , this time focusing on the theory you will employ. You don’t have to discuss every particular use and discussion of the theoretical position you employ. If you did, you’d quickly run out of space and time.

Remember, your examiners are likely to already be familiar with the theory, meaning that rather than discuss every possible thing that there is to discuss about it, you instead need to discuss how and why the theory has been adapted and adopted to the context of your research.

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.

master thesis framework

The goal of writing up a theoretical framework is to tell the reader why you have chosen particular theories, how they relate to the gap in the literature, and how they relate to your aims and objectives.

A short (but necessary) note on ontology and epistemology 

How do i choose theories and create my framework.

Unless you are using an inductive methodological approach (where you generate theory from the data), you will likely approach your fieldwork with a theoretical framework in mind. Which theory or theories you choose is, in part, down to your aims and objectives and whether there is a relevant theory available ‘off-the-shelf’ that is appropriate for your needs.

There are generally three strategies that researchers use to develop their theoretical frameworks: 

  • 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.

In any case, you must consider the following when selecting a theory:  

  • 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?

  Often, you need to combine concepts, hypotheses or ideas from more than one theoretical school. Employing   more than one theory is entirely legitimate.   I did so in my PhD. 

  However, you need to  consider a few key questions : 

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? 

The theoretical framework is a tricky section to write, largely because the choice available to you is huge.

But   keep that toolbox metaphor in mind. 

  Each theory contains a number of tools. Your job in the theory framework is to take the tools you need for your project from the most relevant theory/theories and package them up into your own toolbox.

When you’re done, you should see that the theory framework offers:

  • 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

Along the way, you need to convince the reader that you’ve picked and applied the most appropriate tools possible, given your aims and objectives.

The theoretical framework frames the research. If you build that frame right, your research will shine. If you don’t then you’ll struggle.

If you need expert guidance to structure, plan or write your theory framework you can get in touch for a one-on-one coaching session . It’s like having a personal trainer, but for your PhD. 

Share this:



A great read. Quite some insight into my Phd journey. The conceptual framework?

Dr. Max Lempriere

Glad you found it useful. You having trouble with your conceptual framework?


This is enlightening. I was struggling with my Theoretical framework. I will apply the guidelines here and await feedback from my supervisor. Thanks

I’m glad you found the post useful. Thanks for your kind words.


I came across your posts while helping my wife with her work (I finished my PhD two years ago), and I keep thinking…hmmm the pain I went through to learn this… thank you for making it so easy for others…

Thanks for the kind words. I remember how difficult I found my own PhD, so my motivation is to make life easier for as many other PhD students as possible.

umair rahmat

i need some more clear version to develop a theoretical framework. kindly contact me through email. thank you


Great insights. I have read through your thesis. You did a lot of quality work. I see the EM, Environmental Policy Capacity and the institutions theory all discussed. Really detailed and linked. Let me see how mine goes

I’ve sent you an email. I’d be glad to help.


This is very helpful because am really struggling to write my theoretical section. I have a question, I selected a framework but realised it has shortcomings, so I decided to include a model, but also I have another theory. All the three are confusing me how to structure them please I need your help. Thanks

Hi Carolyne,

Thanks for your email. Do you want to have a one-on-one coaching session with me? We’ll be able to get to the bottom of your confusion and clear up your theory problems once and for all. Click here for more details and to book yourself in.


Do you have a structured outline, similar to the overall diss outline, for the theoretical framework?

I sure do. You can find it here: https://www.thephdproofreaders.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Theoretical-Framework-Template_AW_20190208.pdf

Lindiwe Mpindiwa

What are the advantages of having a chapter on theoretical framework independent of the Literature Review chapter. Please assist.

Thanks for your comment. Whether or not you need a separate literature review and theory framework chapter depends on how distinct they are from one another and on how complex each chapter is. It may be the case that you need two chapters because to discuss both in one would make the chapter very large, complex and hard to follow. Also, it is often the case that the theory framework builds on and addresses gaps you’ve highlighted in your literature review, so for that reason it makes sense to keep them as two separate chapters.

But which one comes first? I thought theoretical framework comes earlier than literature review or is it in a proposal where it is structured that way?

Typically the lit review comes first, then the theory. The lit review makes the case for the research and the theory framework shows the approach you will take to conduct the research.

Thanks for the kind words 🙂


Dear Max, I am using multiple related concepts to frame my research. I am confused whether to dedicate a complete chapter to explain only these five concepts, or just operationalise them in one of the chapters. Again, is introducing these concepts early in my introductory chapter a good idea as it forms one of my research questions. This means I have answered the question in the introductory chapter

Thanks for your comment. Whether or not such concepts end up in your introduction/context discussion will depend in part on whether they are framing your research (as in, providing the background or context) or whether you’re using them to answer your research questions (in which case they’ll form part of your theory framework and will therefore come at a later stage).


Dear Max, I was searching how to structure Theoretical framework and came across your writing. Thank you for this, it is really helpful. I’m one of those phd students who struggles with Theoretical framework :/ I would appreciate your help if possible. Could you please outline, how can I reach you?

Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad you’re finding the phD Knowledge Base useful. You can reach me at max[at]thephdproofreaders.com

Speaks soon!

Naheed Akhtar

I’m so confused about my theoretical framework. Could you possibly help please?

Sure. Have you checked out the one-on-one PhD coaching service we offer? It sounds just that’s just what you need.


I couldn’t express how grateful I am. MAY YOU BE SHOWERED WITH BLESSINGS

Thanks! I’m glad you found the advice useful.


wow!!! thank you very much , I have been struggling to write my theoretical framework . thank you.

You’re welcome!

Dr. Max I am expecting to learn more on how to pick the right literatures, related to my theme. all of them seem very nice and informative. I am having hard time to select them. and also I have difficulties in starting the sentence of my Introduction. I am researching on “the impact of Prosperity gospel in Tanzanian mainline churches”. my topic is very popular and many has been said … I feel like I am saying what has been said .

Thanks for your comment. I wish you the best of luck.


Hi Max, Great read. Doing my MA Thesis after years away from academia has been a challenge to say the least. Your article provided clarity that I have been asking for/seeking elsewhere (supervision/consultant) for months. Wish I had of found it earlier but glad I came across it.

Thank you and all the best in these uncertain times.

Great! Glad you’re finding the resources useful. Good luck with the rest of the thesis.


Dear Max, thank you very much, many things got clear after reading this. I have a question, I am using political capability approach as my theoretical foundation which is part of RBW theory. So technically it is not a theory but just an approach, so does this indirectly mean that I am USING RBW Theory? Many Thanks

Hi – glad you found it useful. Without knowing more about your project I’m afraid I can’t advise about your choice of theory framework. Have you approached your supervisor with this question?

Macdonald Muyabalo

This is a very helpful article.

Glad you enjoyed it!

Grace Magama

This has been one of the best articles that has clearly outlined the Theoretical framework. Kindly do a Youtibe video for auditory learners with real examples. It will greatly assist me especiall. I am glad I found this article.

Thanks for the kind words and for your feedback. I’ll take it on board for future guides.

Pauline McGonagle

Thanks so much for this which has helped me with a sticky bit as I move forward to discover new theoretical concepts from slightly outside my field that fit better than those I started out with. A part-time PhD has such a long life that it leaves too much room for changes and adaptations! A big thank you to Rebecca Baker on a Shut Up and Write Session who referred me to this!

I’m glad you found the guide useful. Thanks to you and to Rebecca Baker!

Jackson Isiko

I found this post very helpful, thanks for sharing

Thanks for reading!

Roshni Louis Alphanso

Thank you for this crisp advice on Theoretical framework. personally i have been experiencing difficulties selecting appropriate theory related to the study. However your advice was really beneficial. God bless you for your kindness towards us researchers.

Thanks for the kind words Roshni.


Thank you so much for sharing this information regarding the theoretical framework. I revisited my chapter and strengthened it based on the pointers you outlined here. This is a must read before drafting the chapter. Very helpful ?

Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you found it useful.


This came just in time! I’m taking a research philosophy course and this week’s discussion is “Theory and Theoretical Frameworks”. I found this very helpful.

Great. I hope it helped deepen your understanding.

Channel Zhou

Thank you Dr Lempriere for this insightful article. I have just started my PhD journey and I found this article to be very useful and eye-opening.

Ehikioya Hilary Osolase

Interesting and excellent read.

Thank you so very much for sharing your intellectual insights on this.

PhD finisher

Hi this is really useful thank you. I have a question regarding one of my tools. I realise (quite late) that I am using one tool in a *generalised* way. I could put this another way – the context in which I found this tool constituted a more particular use of this more general tool, and I am seeking to retrieve it for a more general use. This opens the question – on what grounds am I employing a generalised form of this tool? What constraints govern this process of generalisation? Etc. I wish I’d dealt with this earlier… Do you have any thoughts on how I navigate this?

Hi – I’d love to give you advice, but without knowing more about your research and thesis any advice I would give wouldn’t be qualified. Sorry I can’t be of more help.


I loved your explanation, but what if you ARE doing an inductive project?

Ellana Delfino-Rice

I found your article very useful, thank you! I am currently building a Foucauldian theoretical framework through which to discuss a phenomena (“Karens”).

Do you any academic articles which I can use to justify using the interpretavist approach (using theory as a lens)? I cant find anything through my searches.

Hi – sorry, we don’t I’m afraid.


Surely, this is a great lesson offered. How I pray I had your email, I would love to learn more from you. Thank you

olivia komukama

Been struggling with my Phd and literature review . This has been very helpful. Is it possible for you to share your email so i can engage more with you and get some insights and help

Stephanie Green

Really really helpful guide, I am so grateful to you for providing this! It is helping me immensely in developing my own framework, a task which previously seemed scary, confusing and impossible!

Carmen van der Merwe

Thanks for this. It is very useful. So should I first write my Lit review and then only the theoretical framework? TIA

Thanks! It’s hard to say without knowing more about your project, I’m afraid!

Alhassan Mutawakilu

Thank you for the wonderful work. I want to know if theoretical frame work can presented in a diagram form

You’re welcome! Yes, your theory framework can be presented visually. It’s a great way of showing the framework in a clean, simplified way. It also serves as a useful reference guide for people to easily refer back to if they want to remind themselves of what your theory framework looks like.


I found your article highly informative. I recently enrolled for my PhD and my supervisor asked me to submit my Research outline. Does the outline have to have that detailed Theoretical framework. Again how best can I choose the theoretical framework suitable for my topic. If I may have a list of Theoretical frameworks I will be happy. I will also be grateful to have a direct contact with you.


A great insight into how to write a theoretical framework, simple and jargon free, the article makes the purpose and the method of writing the chapter explicit. Thank you.

That’s so kind of you Sethu. I’m glad you found it useful.

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6 Steps to Mastering the Theoretical Framework of a Dissertation

Tonya Thompson

As the pivotal section of your dissertation, the theoretical framework will be the lens through which your readers should evaluate your research. It's also a necessary part of your writing and research processes from which every written section will be built.

In their journal article titled Understanding, selecting, and integrating a theoretical framework in dissertation research: Creating the blueprint for your "house" , authors Cynthia Grant and Azadeh Osanloo write:

The theoretical framework is one of the most important aspects in the research process, yet is often misunderstood by doctoral candidates as they prepare their dissertation research study. The importance of theory-driven thinking and acting is emphasized in relation to the selection of a topic, the development of research questions, the conceptualization of the literature review, the design approach, and the analysis plan for the dissertation study. Using a metaphor of the "blueprint" of a house, this article explains the application of a theoretical framework in a dissertation. Administrative Issues Journal

They continue in their paper to discuss how architects and contractors understand that prior to building a house, there must be a blueprint created. This blueprint will then serve as a guide for everyone involved in the construction of the home, including those building the foundation, installing the plumbing and electrical systems, etc. They then state, We believe the blueprint is an appropriate analogy of the theoretical framework of the dissertation.

As with drawing and creating any blueprint, it is often the most difficult part of the building process. Many potential conflicts must be considered and mitigated, and much thought must be put into how the foundation will support the rest of the home. Without proper consideration on the front end, the entire structure could be at risk.

Your theoretical framework is the blueprint for your entire dissertation.

With this in mind, I'm going to discuss six steps to mastering the theoretical framework section—the "blueprint" for your dissertation. If you follow these steps and complete the checklist included, your blueprint is guaranteed to be a solid one.

Complete your review of literature first

In order to identify the scope of your theoretical framework, you'll need to address research that has already been completed by others, as well as gaps in the research. Understanding this, it's clear why you'll need to complete your review of literature before you can adequately write a theoretical framework for your dissertation or thesis.

Simply put, before conducting any extensive research on a topic or hypothesis, you need to understand where the gaps are and how they can be filled. As will be mentioned in a later step, it's important to note within your theoretical framework if you have closed any gaps in the literature through your research. It's also important to know the research that has laid a foundation for the current knowledge, including any theories, assumptions, or studies that have been done that you can draw on for your own. Without performing this necessary step, you're likely to produce research that is redundant, and therefore not likely to be published.

Understand the purpose of a theoretical framework

When you present a research problem, an important step in doing so is to provide context and background to that specific problem. This allows your reader to understand both the scope and the purpose of your research, while giving you a direction in your writing. Just as a blueprint for a home needs to provide needed context to all of the builders and professionals involved in the building process, so does the theoretical framework of your dissertation.

So, in building your theoretical framework, there are several details that need to be considered and explained, including:

  • The definition of any concepts or theories you're building on or exploring (this is especially important if it is a theory that is taken from another discipline or is relatively new).
  • The context in which this concept has been explored in the past.
  • The important literature that has already been published on the concept or theory, including citations.
  • The context in which you plan to explore the concept or theory. You can briefly mention your intended methods used, along with methods that have been used in the past—but keep in mind that there will be a separate section of your dissertation to present these in detail.
  • Any gaps that you hope to fill in the research
  • Any limitations encountered by past researchers and any that you encountered in your own exploration of the topic.
  • Basically, your theoretical framework helps to give your reader a general understanding of the research problem, how it has already been explored, and where your research falls in the scope of it. In such, be sure to keep it written in present tense, since it is research that is presently being done. When you refer to past research by others, you can do so in past tense, but anything related to your own research should be written in the present.

Use your theoretical framework to justify your research

In your literature review, you'll focus on finding research that has been conducted that is pertinent to your own study. This could be literature that establishes theories connected with your research, or provides pertinent analytic models. You will then mention these theories or models in your own theoretical framework and justify why they are the basis of—or relevant to—your research.

Basically, think of your theoretical framework as a quick, powerful way to justify to your reader why this research is important. If you are expanding upon past research by other scholars, your theoretical framework should mention the foundation they've laid and why it is important to build on that, or how it needs to be applied to a more modern concept. If there are gaps in the research on certain topics or theories, and your research fills these gaps, mention that in your theoretical framework, as well. It is your opportunity to justify the work you've done in a scientific context—both to your dissertation committee and to any publications interested in publishing your work.

Keep it within three to five pages

While there are usually no hard and fast rules related to the length of your theoretical framework, it is most common to keep it within three to five pages. This length should be enough to provide all of the relevant information to your reader without going into depth about the theories or assumptions mentioned. If you find yourself needing many more pages to write your theoretical framework, it is likely that you've failed to provide a succinct explanation for a theory, concept, or past study. Remember—you'll have ample opportunity throughout the course of writing your dissertation to expand and expound on these concepts, past studies, methods, and hypotheses. Your theoretical framework is not the place for these details.

If you've written an abstract, consider your theoretical framework to be somewhat of an extended abstract. It should offer a glimpse of the entirety of your research without going into a detailed explanation of the methods or background of it. In many cases, chiseling the theoretical framework down to the three to five-page length is a process of determining whether detail is needed in establishing understanding for your reader.

Reducing your theoretical framework to three to five pages is a process of chiseling down the excess details that should be included in the separate sections of your dissertation

Use models and other graphics

Since your theoretical framework should clarify complicated theories or assumptions related to your research, it's often a good idea to include models and other helpful graphics to achieve this aim. If space is an issue, most formats allow you to include these illustrations or models in the appendix of your paper and refer to them within the main text.

Use a checklist after completing your first draft

You should consider the following questions as you draft your theoretical framework and check them off as a checklist after completing your first draft:

  • Have the main theories and models related to your research been presented and briefly explained? In other words, does it offer an explicit statement of assumptions and/or theories that allows the reader to make a critical evaluation of them?
  • Have you correctly cited the main scientific articles on the subject?
  • Does it tell the reader about current knowledge related to the assumptions/theories and any gaps in that knowledge?
  • Does it offer information related to notable connections between concepts?
  • Does it include a relevant theory that forms the basis of your hypotheses and methods?
  • Does it answer the question of "why" your research is valid and important? In other words, does it provide scientific justification for your research?
  • If your research fills a gap in the literature, does your theoretical framework state this explicitly?
  • Does it include the constructs and variables (both independent and dependent) that are relevant to your study?
  • Does it state assumptions and propositions that are relevant to your research (along with the guiding theories related to these)?
  • Does it "frame" your entire research, giving it direction and a backbone to support your hypotheses?
  • Are your research questions answered?
  • Is it logical?
  • Is it free of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and syntax errors?

A final note

In conclusion, I would like to leave you with a quote from Grant and Osanloo:

The importance of utilizing a theoretical framework in a dissertation study cannot be stressed enough. The theoretical framework is the foundation from which all knowledge is constructed (metaphorically and literally) for a research study. It serves as the structure and support for the rationale for the study, the problem statement, the purpose, the significance, and the research questions. The theoretical framework provides a grounding base, or an anchor, for the literature review, and most importantly, the methods and analysis. Administrative Issues Journal

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How to Write a Thesis or Dissertation Introduction

Published on September 7, 2022 by Tegan George and Shona McCombes. Revised on November 21, 2023.

The introduction is the first section of your thesis or dissertation , appearing right after the table of contents . Your introduction draws your reader in, setting the stage for your research with a clear focus, purpose, and direction on a relevant topic .

Your introduction should include:

  • Your topic, in context: what does your reader need to know to understand your thesis dissertation?
  • Your focus and scope: what specific aspect of the topic will you address?
  • The relevance of your research: how does your work fit into existing studies on your topic?
  • Your questions and objectives: what does your research aim to find out, and how?
  • An overview of your structure: what does each section contribute to the overall aim?

Table of contents

How to start your introduction, topic and context, focus and scope, relevance and importance, questions and objectives, overview of the structure, thesis introduction example, introduction checklist, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about introductions.

Although your introduction kicks off your dissertation, it doesn’t have to be the first thing you write — in fact, it’s often one of the very last parts to be completed (just before your abstract ).

It’s a good idea to write a rough draft of your introduction as you begin your research, to help guide you. If you wrote a research proposal , consider using this as a template, as it contains many of the same elements. However, be sure to revise your introduction throughout the writing process, making sure it matches the content of your ensuing sections.

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Begin by introducing your dissertation topic and giving any necessary background information. It’s important to contextualize your research and generate interest. Aim to show why your topic is timely or important. You may want to mention a relevant news item, academic debate, or practical problem.

After a brief introduction to your general area of interest, narrow your focus and define the scope of your research.

You can narrow this down in many ways, such as by:

  • Geographical area
  • Time period
  • Demographics or communities
  • Themes or aspects of the topic

It’s essential to share your motivation for doing this research, as well as how it relates to existing work on your topic. Further, you should also mention what new insights you expect it will contribute.

Start by giving a brief overview of the current state of research. You should definitely cite the most relevant literature, but remember that you will conduct a more in-depth survey of relevant sources in the literature review section, so there’s no need to go too in-depth in the introduction.

Depending on your field, the importance of your research might focus on its practical application (e.g., in policy or management) or on advancing scholarly understanding of the topic (e.g., by developing theories or adding new empirical data). In many cases, it will do both.

Ultimately, your introduction should explain how your thesis or dissertation:

  • Helps solve a practical or theoretical problem
  • Addresses a gap in the literature
  • Builds on existing research
  • Proposes a new understanding of your topic

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Perhaps the most important part of your introduction is your questions and objectives, as it sets up the expectations for the rest of your thesis or dissertation. How you formulate your research questions and research objectives will depend on your discipline, topic, and focus, but you should always clearly state the central aim of your research.

If your research aims to test hypotheses , you can formulate them here. Your introduction is also a good place for a conceptual framework that suggests relationships between variables .

  • Conduct surveys to collect data on students’ levels of knowledge, understanding, and positive/negative perceptions of government policy.
  • Determine whether attitudes to climate policy are associated with variables such as age, gender, region, and social class.
  • Conduct interviews to gain qualitative insights into students’ perspectives and actions in relation to climate policy.

To help guide your reader, end your introduction with an outline  of the structure of the thesis or dissertation to follow. Share a brief summary of each chapter, clearly showing how each contributes to your central aims. However, be careful to keep this overview concise: 1-2 sentences should be enough.

I. Introduction

Human language consists of a set of vowels and consonants which are combined to form words. During the speech production process, thoughts are converted into spoken utterances to convey a message. The appropriate words and their meanings are selected in the mental lexicon (Dell & Burger, 1997). This pre-verbal message is then grammatically coded, during which a syntactic representation of the utterance is built.

Speech, language, and voice disorders affect the vocal cords, nerves, muscles, and brain structures, which result in a distorted language reception or speech production (Sataloff & Hawkshaw, 2014). The symptoms vary from adding superfluous words and taking pauses to hoarseness of the voice, depending on the type of disorder (Dodd, 2005). However, distortions of the speech may also occur as a result of a disease that seems unrelated to speech, such as multiple sclerosis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

This study aims to determine which acoustic parameters are suitable for the automatic detection of exacerbations in patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by investigating which aspects of speech differ between COPD patients and healthy speakers and which aspects differ between COPD patients in exacerbation and stable COPD patients.

Checklist: Introduction

I have introduced my research topic in an engaging way.

I have provided necessary context to help the reader understand my topic.

I have clearly specified the focus of my research.

I have shown the relevance and importance of the dissertation topic .

I have clearly stated the problem or question that my research addresses.

I have outlined the specific objectives of the research .

I have provided an overview of the dissertation’s structure .

You've written a strong introduction for your thesis or dissertation. Use the other checklists to continue improving your dissertation.

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The introduction of a research paper includes several key elements:

  • A hook to catch the reader’s interest
  • Relevant background on the topic
  • Details of your research problem

and your problem statement

  • A thesis statement or research question
  • Sometimes an overview of the paper

Don’t feel that you have to write the introduction first. The introduction is often one of the last parts of the research paper you’ll write, along with the conclusion.

This is because it can be easier to introduce your paper once you’ve already written the body ; you may not have the clearest idea of your arguments until you’ve written them, and things can change during the writing process .

Research objectives describe what you intend your research project to accomplish.

They summarize the approach and purpose of the project and help to focus your research.

Your objectives should appear in the introduction of your research paper , at the end of your problem statement .

Scope of research is determined at the beginning of your research process , prior to the data collection stage. Sometimes called “scope of study,” your scope delineates what will and will not be covered in your project. It helps you focus your work and your time, ensuring that you’ll be able to achieve your goals and outcomes.

Defining a scope can be very useful in any research project, from a research proposal to a thesis or dissertation . A scope is needed for all types of research: quantitative , qualitative , and mixed methods .

To define your scope of research, consider the following:

  • Budget constraints or any specifics of grant funding
  • Your proposed timeline and duration
  • Specifics about your population of study, your proposed sample size , and the research methodology you’ll pursue
  • Any inclusion and exclusion criteria
  • Any anticipated control , extraneous , or confounding variables that could bias your research if not accounted for properly.

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Theoretical Framework: Research Writing Guide

theoretical framework

In a thesis or dissertation, a theoretical framework is a section where the writer evaluates or discusses the most relevant theories to their study.

The purpose of this section is to: 

  • Define the key concepts
  • Combine and evaluate relevant models and theories
  • Explain expectations and assumptions that guide the project

The proper presentation of this information frames the research while justifying the approach taken by the writer. This section does this by showing the established ideas on which you ground your work.

Essentially, this section of a dissertation a foundation that supports the analysis that follows. It also allows the author to convincingly interpret their results and state or explain their relevance in a larger context.

When properly written, this section works like the software or buildings that provide critical support to the other aspects of the study. Writing a strong framework with a strong theoretical basis enhances investigations that lead to the achievement of specific study goals.

A well-written framework reduces a dreadful research topic into two basic concepts. These are:

  • The study problem
  • The rationale behind its investigation

When writing the framework section, focus on creating a piece that connects you with the existing knowledge via the guidance of relevant theories. Also, provide the basis of your hypothesis and your chosen research methods. A professional dissertation writer will help, if you’re in trouble.

What Is a Theoretical Framework?

  • The Length of a Theoretical Framework

Theoretical or Conceptual Framework?

Types of theoretical framework, how to write a theoretical framework.

  • Summary of a Theoretical Framework Sample

Just like the name suggests, this part of a dissertation or thesis is about theories. Researchers develop theories to draw connections, explain phenomena, and make predictions.

The simplest theoretical framework definition describes it as a collection of theories or interrelated concepts. It comprises concepts and their definitions, as well as, a reference to existing theory and scholarly literature that will be used in a particular study. Your content in this section of a thesis or dissertation must show your understanding of concepts and theories relevant to your research topic. It must also relate them to the considered broader field of knowledge.
  • Some students confuse conceptual vs. theoretical framework. In some cases, learners use these terms interchangeably. But though these terms help readers understand the research problem while guiding the collection, as well as, analysis of information, they are different.
  • According to the above definition of theoretical framework, it comprises concepts or theories relevant to a study. It highlights how the author will understand and investigate the research problem.
  • On the other hand, a conceptual framework can include several formal theories partly or entirely, and other empirical findings and concepts from the field’s literature. The main difference between theoretical and conceptual framework is that the latter demonstrates the relationships among ideas and their relationship with the study.
  • A conceptual framework is commonly used in qualitative research. Although some researchers use a theoretical framework in qualitative research, it is common in quantitative research. A conceptual framework is commonly used in qualitative research, especially in behavioral and social science studies.

The Length of a Theoretical Framework

The complexity and length of this section depend on the topic and study field. Some fields and topics have an obvious and well-established theoretical basis. Others need a more detailed justification and explanation.

Maybe you already know that you will apply a specific theory or several theories to your specific context. For instance, you may intend to use the social impact theory when conducting your market research. In that case, the main task is to discuss the main aspects of this theory and then convince the readers that it offers a solid basis that will enable you to answer the research question. It’s also crucial that you evaluate more theories, as long as, they are relevant to your study. Also, tell your readers why you’ve chosen that specific approach.

In some cases, authors draw on different theories and then combine ideas. This approach can lead to strong research. However, it may require more work because you have to implement the theories in your work.

Most theoretical framework examples range between three and five pages. However, no rules govern the length of this section of a dissertation. Nevertheless, try to keep yours within the range of 3-5 pages. This length is adequate for providing all the relevant information your reader wants to know about your chosen theories and assumptions.

Perhaps, you are torn between a theoretical and conceptual framework. Well, the best approach for deciding what to use in your paper is determining the kind of study you want to conduct. If you must use a theoretical framework in qualitative research, determine the theories you intend to use.

That’s because most types of theoretical framework in qualitative research are found in studies based on existing theories. For instance, you can use this framework when your study is based on motivation theory.

On the other hand, a conceptual framework is ideal for something you will develop based on a theory. Thus, you can use some or all concepts of this theory. Thus, you develop a conceptual framework to solve a problem for which you’re doing the study to find a solution.

At this point, you’re no longer asking, ‘what is theoretical framework?’ But, you most likely want to know the types of frameworks that you can consider for your research. Well, this framework provides a lens or a perspective via which you will examine your topic. And this perspective can be from any study field depending on your academic paper.

For instance, a nursing student can use a theoretical framework in nursing research as long as it defines the concepts while explaining the phenomena in question. However, learners can consider other categories and types of theoretical framework in research.

They include: 

  • Dynamic and sustainability framework
  • Implementation results framework
  • Theoretical domains validation framework
  • Consolidated implementation research and theoretical domains framework
  • Active research implementation framework
  • Evaluation framework

The internet has many resources with examples of theoretical framework in qualitative research and quantitative research. Check them out before you use any framework in your research to know what it entails.

This article has already answered the question, ‘what is theoretical framework in research?’ It has also highlighted the types of this framework. But, how do you complete your theoretical framework research work?

Here is a guide for creating this framework for your research: 

  • Identify the main concepts : Start by picking the main terms of your research problem or research questions. Some concepts can have several definitions. Your framework should define what each concept means clearly. For instance, if concepts like “customer satisfaction” and “customer loyalty” are central to your study, define them and discuss theories that explain their relationship.
  • Explain and evaluate relevant theories : Engage in an extensive literature review to find out the definition of the connections between theories and concepts by other researchers. As you compose your framework, focus on critically evaluating different approaches and comparing them. Establish the most appropriate definitions for your research after discussing different theories and models. Mention all important concepts that are connected to the theories that you discuss in your framework. Explain why you choose a well-established theory for your study and what makes it the most suitable for that purpose. If unsure about the best way to do this, check a theoretical framework example online first.
  • Demonstrate how your study fits in : In addition to discussing theories by other people, your framework should demonstrate how your project will implement these ideas. That means you have to test whether your chosen theory holds in your specific context. Also, use this theory to interpret the findings of your study. It’s also crucial to challenge or critique the theory. What’s more, combine various theories in a unique or new way. If possible and relevant, use your framework to come up with your research hypothesis.
  • Structure your framework : When writing a dissertation or a thesis paper, you can integrate your framework in the literature review chapter. However, you can have it as a separate section or chapter of your paper. If you will be dealing with several complex theories in your paper, have a separate chapter or section for the framework. Nevertheless, you don’t have to follow specific, fixed rules when it comes to structuring the research theoretical framework section. But, your framework should have a logical, clear structure. For instance, you can draw on your study problems or questions and then structure every section around a major concept or question.

These tips should guide you in writing a framework with the theories or concepts you intend to use in your thesis or dissertation. However, you can apply them differently depending on the nature of your study. For instance, a business paper framework may not be the same as a nursing theoretical framework because these are different study fields. However, the concept of creating this framework is the same.

Summary of a Theoretical Framework Sample

For some researchers, an ideal approach is to define theoretical framework. However, some researchers assume the reader already knows what this framework is all about. As such, they go straight to the details. Below is a summary of a theoretical framework in research example.

Company Y wants to resolve the problem of having many customers buy its products online without returning for subsequent purchases. As such, the company management is looking for ways to enhance customer loyalty, hoping that better customer satisfaction will lead to the achievement of this goal.

In your research, you have developed a problem statement, research question, and research question as follows: 

  • Research problem : Most online buyers do not come back for subsequent purchases.
  • Objective : To boost customer loyalty hoping to increase revenue through online sales
  • Research questions : How can company Y improve the satisfaction of online customers to enhance customer loyalty?

Your framework should focus on answering these questions: 

  • Is there a relationship between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty?
  • How loyal and satisfied are the online customers of company Y currently?
  • What are some of the factors affecting the loyalty and satisfaction of the online customers of company Y?

Customer satisfaction and customer loyalty are major concepts that play a role in such a research paper. Therefore, they should be investigated and measured using theories or concepts that should be featured in the framework.

The information contained in this framework could be different from that of a theoretical framework nursing educators expect. That’s because this framework is meant for a business-oriented research paper. Nevertheless, the approach for writing both frameworks is the same.

The framework section of a thesis or dissertation paper clarifies implicit theories or concepts in a clearly defined manner. It also shows how they connect to the current research and why they are suitable for it. Your academic supervisor will most likely check this section first. Therefore, understanding its purpose and how to write it properly is very important.

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  • Dissertation

Example Theoretical Framework of a Dissertation or Thesis

Published on 8 July 2022 by Sarah Vinz . Revised on 10 October 2022.

Your theoretical framework defines the key concepts in your research, suggests relationships between them, and discusses relevant theories based on your literature review .

A strong theoretical framework gives your research direction, allowing you to convincingly interpret, explain, and generalise from your findings.

Table of contents

Sample problem statement and research questions, sample theoretical framework, your theoretical framework, frequently asked questions about sample theoretical frameworks.

Your theoretical framework is based on:

  • Your problem statement
  • Your research questions
  • Your literature review

To investigate this problem, you have zeroed in on the following problem statement, objective, and research questions:

  • Problem : Many online customers do not return to make subsequent purchases.
  • Objective : To increase the quantity of return customers.
  • Research question : How can the satisfaction of the boutique’s online customers be improved in order to increase the quantity of return customers?

The concepts of ‘customer loyalty’ and ‘customer satisfaction’ are clearly central to this study, along with their relationship to the likelihood that a customer will return. Your theoretical framework should define these concepts and discuss theories about the relationship between these variables.

Some sub-questions could include:

  • What is the relationship between customer loyalty and customer satisfaction?
  • How satisfied and loyal are the boutique’s online customers currently?
  • What factors affect the satisfaction and loyalty of the boutique’s online customers?

As the concepts of ‘loyalty’ and ‘customer satisfaction’ play a major role in the investigation and will later be measured, they are essential concepts to define within your theoretical framework .

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Below is a simplified example showing how you can describe and compare theories. In this example, we focus on the concept of customer satisfaction introduced above.

Customer satisfaction

Thomassen (2003, p. 69) defines customer satisfaction as ‘the perception of the customer as a result of consciously or unconsciously comparing their experiences with their expectations’. Kotler and Keller (2008, p. 80) build on this definition, stating that customer satisfaction is determined by ‘the degree to which someone is happy or disappointed with the observed performance of a product in relation to his or her expectations’.

Performance that is below expectations leads to a dissatisfied customer, while performance that satisfies expectations produces satisfied customers (Kotler & Keller, 2003, p. 80).

The definition of Zeithaml and Bitner (2003, p. 86) is slightly different from that of Thomassen. They posit that ‘satisfaction is the consumer fulfillment response. It is a judgement that a product or service feature, or the product of service itself, provides a pleasurable level of consumption-related fulfillment.’ Zeithaml and Bitner’s emphasis is thus on obtaining a certain satisfaction in relation to purchasing.

Thomassen’s definition is the most relevant to the aims of this study, given the emphasis it places on unconscious perception. Although Zeithaml and Bitner, like Thomassen, say that customer satisfaction is a reaction to the experience gained, there is no distinction between conscious and unconscious comparisons in their definition.

The boutique claims in its mission statement that it wants to sell not only a product, but also a feeling. As a result, unconscious comparison will play an important role in the satisfaction of its customers. Thomassen’s definition is therefore more relevant.

Thomassen’s Customer Satisfaction Model

According to Thomassen, both the so-called ‘value proposition’ and other influences have an impact on final customer satisfaction. In his satisfaction model (Fig. 1), Thomassen shows that word-of-mouth, personal needs, past experiences, and marketing and public relations determine customers’ needs and expectations.

These factors are compared to their experiences, with the interplay between expectations and experiences determining a customer’s satisfaction level. Thomassen’s model is important for this study as it allows us to determine both the extent to which the boutique’s customers are satisfied, as well as where improvements can be made.

Figure 1 Customer satisfaction creation 

Framework Thomassen

Of course, you could analyse the concepts more thoroughly and compare additional definitions to each other. You could also discuss the theories and ideas of key authors in greater detail and provide several models to illustrate different concepts.

A theoretical framework can sometimes be integrated into a  literature review chapter , but it can also be included as its own chapter or section in your dissertation . As a rule of thumb, if your research involves dealing with a lot of complex theories, it’s a good idea to include a separate theoretical framework chapter.

While a theoretical framework describes the theoretical underpinnings of your work based on existing research, a conceptual framework allows you to draw your own conclusions, mapping out the variables you may use in your study and the interplay between them.

A literature review and a theoretical framework are not the same thing and cannot be used interchangeably. While a theoretical framework describes the theoretical underpinnings of your work, a literature review critically evaluates existing research relating to your topic. You’ll likely need both in your dissertation .

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How to Write a Master's Thesis: A Guide to Planning Your Thesis, Pursuing It, and Avoiding Pitfalls


Part 1: Initial Considerations

Who needs to write a master’s thesis.

Thesis writing is one of the more daunting challenges of higher education. That being said, not all master's students have to write a thesis. For example, fields that place a stronger emphasis on applied knowledge, such as nursing, business, and education, tend to have projects and exams to test students on the skills and abilities associated with those fields. Conversely, in disciplines that require in-depth research or highly polished creative abilities, students are usually expected to prove their understanding and independence with a thesis.

What's Your Goal?

Do you want to write a thesis? The process is a long one, often spanning years. It's best to know exactly what you want before you begin. Many people are motivated by career goals. For example, hiring managers may see a master's degree as proof that the candidate is an expert within their field and can lead, motivate, and demonstrate initiative for themselves and others. Others dream of earning their doctorate, and they see a master's degree as a stepping stone toward their Ph.D .

master thesis framework

No matter what your desired goal is, you should have one before you start your thesis. With your goal in mind, your work will have a purpose, which will allow you to measure your progress more easily.

Major Types of Theses

Once you've carefully researched or even enrolled in a master's program—a feat that involves its own planning and resources —you should know if you are expected to produce a quantitative (which occurs in many math and science programs), qualitative (which occurs in many humanities programs), or creative (which occurs in many creative writing, music, or fine arts programs) thesis.

Time and Energy Considerations

Advanced degrees are notoriously time and energy consuming. If you have a job, thesis writing will become your second job. If you have a family, they will need to know that your thesis will take a great deal of your attention, energy, and focus.

master thesis framework

Your studies should not consume you, but they also should not take a back seat to everything else. You will be expected to attend classes, conduct research, source relevant literature, and schedule meetings with various people as you pursue your master's, so it's important to let those you care about know what's going on.

As a general note, most master's programs expect students to finish within a two-year period but are willing to grant extra time if requested, especially if that time is needed to deal with unexpected life events (more on those later).

Part 2: Form an Initial Thesis Question, and Find a Supervisor

When to begin forming your initial thesis question.

Some fields, such as history, may require you to have already formed your thesis question and to have used it to create a statement of intent (outlining the nature of your research) prior to applying to a master’s program. Others may require this information only after you've been accepted. Most of the time, you will be expected to come up with your topic yourself. However, in some disciplines, your supervisor may assign a general research topic to you.

Overall, requirements vary immensely from program to program, so it's best to confirm the exact requirements of your specific program.

What to Say to Your Supervisor

You will have a supervisor during your master's studies. Have you identified who that person will be? If yes, have you introduced yourself via email or phone and obtained information on the processes and procedures that are in place for your master's program? Once you've established contact, request an in-person meeting with him or her, and take a page of questions along with you. Your questions might include:

  • Is there a research subject you can recommend in my field?
  • I would like to pursue [target research subject] for my thesis. Can you help me narrow my focus?
  • Can you give me an example of a properly formatted thesis proposal for my program?

Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help (to a Degree)

Procedures and expectations vary from program to program, and your supervisor is there to help remove doubt and provide encouragement so you can follow the right path when you embark on writing your thesis. Since your supervisor has almost certainly worked with other graduate students (and was one at some point), take advantage of their experience, and ask questions to put your mind at ease about how to write a master’s thesis.

That being said, do not rely too heavily on your supervisor. As a graduate student, you are also expected to be able to work independently. Proving your independent initiative and capacity is part of what will earn you your master's degree.

Part 3: Revise Your Thesis

Read everything you can get your hands on.

Whether you have a question or need to create one, your next step is simple and applies to all kinds of theses: read.

master thesis framework

Seek Out Knowledge or Research Gaps

Read everything you can that relates to the question or the field you are studying. The only way you will be able to determine where you can go is to see where everyone else has been. After you have read some published material, you will start to spot gaps in current research or notice things that could be developed further with an alternative approach. Things that are known but not understood or understood but not explained clearly or consistently are great potential thesis subjects. Addressing something already known from a new perspective or with a different style could also be a potentially valuable project. Whichever way you choose to do it, keep in mind that your project should make a valuable contribution to your field.

master thesis framework

Talk with Experts in Your Field (and Don't Be Afraid to Revise Your Thesis)

To help narrow down your thesis topic, talk to your supervisor. Your supervisor will have an idea of what is current in your field and what can be left alone because others are already working on it. Additionally, the school you are attending will have programs and faculty with particular areas of interest within your chosen field.

On a similar note, don't be surprised if your thesis question changes as you study. Other students and researchers are out there, and as they publish, what you are working on can change. You might also discover that your question is too vague, not substantial enough, or even no longer relevant. Do not lose heart! Take what you know and adjust the question to address these concerns as they arise. The freedom to adapt is part of the power you hold as a graduate student.

Part 4: Select a Proposal Committee

What proposal committees are and why they're useful.

When you have a solid question or set of questions, draft a proposal.

master thesis framework

You'll need an original stance and a clear justification for asking, and answering, your thesis question. To ensure this, a committee will review your thesis proposal. Thankfully, that committee will consist of people assigned by your supervisor or department head or handpicked by you. These people will be experts who understand your field of study and will do everything in their power to ensure that you are pursuing something worthwhile. And yes, it is okay to put your supervisor on your committee. Some programs even require that your supervisor be on your committee.

Just remember that the committee will expect you to schedule meetings with them, present your proposal, respond to any questions they might have for you, and ultimately present your findings and thesis when all the work is done. Choose those who are willing to support you, give constructive feedback, and help address issues with your proposal. And don't forget to give your proposal a good, thorough edit and proofread before you present it.

How to Prepare for Committee Meetings

Be ready for committee meetings with synopses of your material for committee members, answers for expected questions, and a calm attitude. To prepare for those meetings, sit in on proposal and thesis defenses so you can watch how other graduate students handle them and see what your committee might ask of you. You can even hold rehearsals with friends and fellow students acting as your committee to help you build confidence for your presentation.

master thesis framework

Part 5: Write Your Thesis

What to do once your proposal is approved.

After you have written your thesis proposal and received feedback from your committee, the fun part starts: doing the work. This is where you will take your proposal and carry it out. If you drafted a qualitative or quantitative proposal, your experimentation or will begin here. If you wrote a creative proposal, you will now start working on your material. Your proposal should be strong enough to give you direction when you perform your experiments, conduct interviews, or craft your work. Take note that you will have to check in with your supervisor from time to time to give progress updates.

master thesis framework

Thesis Writing: It's Important to Pace Yourself and Take Breaks

Do not expect the work to go quickly. You will need to pace yourself and make sure you record your progress meticulously. You can always discard information you don't need, but you cannot go back and grab a crucial fact that you can't quite remember. When in doubt, write it down. When drawing from a source, always create a citation for the information to save your future self time and stress. In the same sense, you may also find journaling to be a helpful process.

Additionally, take breaks and allow yourself to step away from your thesis, even if you're having fun (and especially if you're not). Ideally, your proposal should have milestones in it— points where you can stop and assess what you've already completed and what's left to do. When you reach a milestone, celebrate. Take a day off and relax. Better yet, give yourself a week's vacation! The rest will help you regain your focus and ensure that you function at your best.

How to Become More Comfortable with Presenting Your Work

Once you start reaching your milestones, you should be able to start sharing what you have. Just about everyone in a graduate program has experience giving a presentation at the front of the class, attending a seminar, or watching an interview. If you haven't (or even if you have), look for conferences and clubs that will give you the opportunity to learn about presenting your work and become comfortable with the idea of public speaking. The more you practice talking about what you are studying, the more comfortable you'll be with the information, which will make your committee defenses and other official meetings easier.

Published authors can be called upon to present at conferences, and if your thesis is strong, you may receive an email or a phone call asking if you would share your findings onstage.

Presenting at conferences is also a great way to boost your CV and network within your field. Make presenting part of your education, and it will become something you look forward to instead of fear.

What to Do If Your Relationship with Your Supervisor Sours

A small aside: If it isn't already obvious, you will be communicating extensively with others as you pursue your thesis. That also means that others will need to communicate with you, and if you've been noticing things getting quiet, you will need to be the one to speak up. Your supervisor should speak to you at least once a term and preferably once a week in the more active parts of your research and writing. If you give written work to your supervisor, you should have feedback within three weeks.

If your supervisor does not provide feedback, frequently misses appointments, or is consistently discouraging of your work, contact your graduate program advisor and ask for a new supervisor. The relationship with your supervisor is crucial to your success, especially if she or he is on your committee, and while your supervisor does not have to be friendly, there should at least be professional respect between you.

What to Do If a Crisis Strikes

If something happens in your life that disrupts everything (e.g., emotional strain, the birth of a child, or the death of a family member), ask for help. You are a human being, and personal lives can and do change without warning. Do not wait until you are falling apart before asking for help, either. Learn what resources exist for crises before you have one, so you can head off trauma before it hits. That being said, if you get blindsided, don't refuse help. Seek it out, and take the time you need to recover. Your degree is supposed to help you become a stronger and smarter person, not break you.

Part 6: Polish and Defend Your Master's Thesis

How to write a master’s thesis: the final stages.

After your work is done and everything is written down, you will have to give your thesis a good, thorough polishing. This is where you will have to organize the information, draft it into a paper format with an abstract, and abbreviate things to help meet your word-count limit. This is also where your final editing and proofreading passes will occur, after which you will face your final hurdle: presenting your thesis defense to your committee. If they approve your thesis, then congratulations! You are now a master of your chosen field.

Conclusion and Parting Thoughts

Remember that you do not (and should not) have to learn how to write a master’s thesis on your own. Thesis writing is collaborative, as is practically any kind of research.

master thesis framework

While you will be expected to develop your thesis using your own initiative, pursue it with your own ambition, and complete it with your own abilities, you will also be expected to use all available resources to do so. The purpose of a master's thesis is to help you develop your own independent abilities, ensuring that you can drive your own career forward without constantly looking to others to provide direction. Leaders get master's degrees. That's why many business professionals in leadership roles have graduate degree initials after their last names. If you already have the skills necessary to motivate yourself, lead others, and drive change, you may only need your master's as an acknowledgement of your abilities. If you do not, but you apply yourself carefully and thoroughly to the pursuit of your thesis, you should come away from your studies with those skills in place.

A final thought regarding collaboration: all theses have a section for acknowledgements. Be sure to say thank you to those who helped you become a master. One day, someone might be doing the same for you.

Image source: Falkenpost/Pixabay.com 

We’re Masters at Master’s Theses! Make Yours Shine.

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Anthony Granziol

A Scribendi in-house editor, Anthony is happily putting his BA in English from Western University to good use with thoughtful feedback and incisive editing. An avid reader and gamer, he can be found during his off hours enjoying narrative-driven games and obscure and amusing texts, as well as cooking for his family.

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master thesis framework


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  1. Theoretical Framework Example for a Thesis or Dissertation

    Your theoretical framework defines the key concepts in your research, suggests relationships between them, and discusses relevant theories based on your literature review. A strong theoretical framework gives your research direction.

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    A theoretical framework is a foundational review of existing theories that serves as a roadmap for developing the arguments you will use in your own work. Theories are developed by researchers to explain phenomena, draw connections, and make predictions.

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    The template is loosely based on Saunders' research onion, which is recommended as a methodological framework by many universities. ... Master or PhD-level thesis? This template can be used for a dissertation, thesis or research project at any level of study. Doctoral-level projects typically require the methodology chapter to be more ...

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    theoretical or conceptual framework; literature review; one or more research questions; a methodological framework (e.g. a research plan, participants, tools, procedure); the contribution of the research to the field of education; a relevant and exhaustive list of references. The order in which these elements are presented may vary.

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    Overview of the structure. To help guide your reader, end your introduction with an outline of the structure of the thesis or dissertation to follow. Share a brief summary of each chapter, clearly showing how each contributes to your central aims. However, be careful to keep this overview concise: 1-2 sentences should be enough.

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    A theoretical framework guides the research process like a roadmap for the study, so you need to get this right. Theoretical framework 1,2 is the structure that supports and describes a theory. A theory is a set of interrelated concepts and definitions that present a systematic view of phenomena by describing the relationship among the variables for explaining these phenomena.

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    Popular answers (1) Peter Samuels. Birmingham City University. Dear Mohamad Syahrul Nizam Ibrahim , A theoretical framework belongs at the start of the literature or at the start of a theme within ...

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