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Theoretical Models and Frameworks

Introduction

The purpose of this guide is to provide information about theoretical models and frameworks.  Theoretical frameworks provide a particular perspective, or lens, through which to examine a topic. They come from many areas of academic research, resulting in psychological theories, social theories, organizational theories and economic theories among others.  Theoretical frameworks are often used to define concepts and explain phenomena.

Using a model of this sort can be a way to structure a research paper or grant proposal.  This guide will provide basic information about this concept, a list of commonly-used frameworks, and other tips for writing your paper or proposal.

The Importance of Theory

A theoretical framework strengthens your work 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 intellectually transition from simply describing a phenomenon you have observed to generalizing about various aspects of that phenomenon.
  • Having a theory helps you identify the limits to those generalizations. A theoretical framework specifies which key variables influence a phenomenon of interest and highlights the need to examine how those key variables might differ and under what circumstances.

By virtue of its applicative nature, good theory in the social sciences is of value precisely because it fulfills one primary purpose: to explain the meaning, nature, and challenges associated with 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; Corvellec, Hervé, ed. What is Theory?: Answers from the Social and Cultural Sciences. Stockholm: Copenhagen Business School Press, 2013; Asher, Herbert B. Theory-Building and Data Analysis in the Social Sciences. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1984; Drafting an Argument. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Ravitch, Sharon M. and Matthew Riggan. Reason and Rigor: How Conceptual Frameworks Guide Research. Second edition. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2017; Trochim, William M.K. Philosophy of Research. Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006; Jarvis, Peter. The Practitioner-Researcher. Developing Theory from Practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1999.

Maps and Directions

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