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Doctor of Education (Ed.D)

This guide consists of a collection of resources frequently used by Ed.D Students.

Why Develop a Framework?

A theoretical framework consists of concepts and, together with their definitions and reference to relevant scholarly literature, existing theory that is 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 relate to the broader areas of knowledge being considered.

The theoretical framework is most often not something readily found within the literature. You must review course readings and pertinent research studies 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:

  1. An explicit statement of  theoretical assumptions permits the reader to evaluate them critically.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 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 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.

Adapted from Lamar University and 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; 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.

Strategies for Developming a Framework

I.  Developing the Framework

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

  1. 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.
  2. Brainstorm on what you consider to be the key variables in your research. Answer the question, what factors contribute to the presumed effect?
  3. Review related literature to find answers to your research question.
  4. List  the constructs and variables that might be relevant to your study. Group these variables into independent and dependent categories.
  5. 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].
  6. 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: Sacred Heart University Library and 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.