The theoretical framework of a thesis: what and how?

The theoretical framework is one of the most treacherous components of the three-year or master’s degree thesis. This section should provide a complete scientific research base and support the rest of the thesis. But what exactly is a theoretical framework? And how do you spell it?

The objective of a theoretical framework

After identifying the problem and the questions related to the research, it is important to determine which theories and ideas exist in relation to the topic.

Through this information, a “picture” of one’s own research is presented, capable of providing a basic knowledge of the key concepts, theories and models related to the subject under discussion.

The definitions and selected models lay the foundations for the direction your studio will take, as you will continue to deepen them and build on them in the different phases of your project.

The theoretical framework also provides scientific proof for your research: it proves that your studio is not “improvised” but is built on solid foundations and scientific theories.

How to determine the contents of the theoretical framework

As mentioned above, it is important to mention existing theories and ideas relevant to the subject of the theoretical framework and the three-year or master’s thesis. This includes key terms for the problem and research questions / hypotheses. An important first step to address is to identify these concepts.

1. Select the key concepts

Example of a problem and research questions: Company X tries to combat the fact that many online customers do not return following their first purchase. The administration wants to increase customer loyalty and believes that greater customer satisfaction will play a key role in achieving this goal. To analyze the problem, you have identified and intend to focus on the following problems, objectives and questions:

Problem: Many online customers do not return after the first purchase.

Objective: Increase customer loyalty to generate more revenue.

Question: “How can you increase the satisfaction of the company’s online customers X to increase their loyalty?”


  • “What is the relationship between loyalty and customer satisfaction?”
  • “How satisfied and loyal are X’s online customers right now?”
  • “Which factors affect online customer satisfaction and loyalty to X?”

The concepts of “customer loyalty” and “customer satisfaction” are fundamental points of this study, therefore they are key concepts to be included in the theoretical framework.

2. Define and evaluate the relevant concepts, theories and models

A narrative synthesis has the function of determining how other research has defined these key concepts. You should critically compare the different definitions proposed by the various authors. The last step is to choose the definition that best fits your search and explain why.

It is also important to indicate whether there are relevant links between these concepts.

In addition to this, you should describe any relevant theory or model, which has to do with the key concepts and discuss whether they will also be applied to your study or not.

3. Consider adding more items

Depending on the topic or discipline, it might be useful to include a more in-depth overview of the situation in relation to your research topic.

It is important to understand what the expectations of your supervisor or your study program are. Usually practical problems do not require more detailed overviews of the situation.

Analyzing the search field will give you an idea of ​​what similar studies and research have analyzed and discovered in your own field of research. This will help you position your research in relation to existing knowledge in the field.

Following these steps will help you present a clear and complete overview:

Describe what discussion on the subject already exists on the subject.

Explains the methods, theories and models used by other authors. In doing so, he always explains why a particular theory or model is not appropriate to your research.

Analyze similarities and differences between your research and previous studies.

Explain why your study adds new meanings and knowledge to previous studies on the subject.

What kind of questions can be answered in a theoretical framework?

The theoretical framework can be used to answer those descriptive questions that mainly require theoretical and literary research. For example, the theory alone is sufficient to answer the question: “What is the relationship between retention and customer satisfaction?”

On the contrary, the sub-questions, such as “How satisfied and loyal are X’s online customers right now” cannot be answered following theoretical research, but field research is needed.

Furthermore, the theoretical framework (and the narrative synthesis which is one of its fundamental points) can be used to further analyze existing hypotheses and discoveries. It can also be used to formulate and evaluate your hypotheses, which can be tested later during the qualitative and quantitative research of your study.

The structure of a theoretical framework

There are no precise rules on what the structure of this section should be. The important thing is to create a logical structure. This can be done by exploring your research questions / hypotheses and some of the key terms.

For example, you could create a section or paragraph that focuses on a key question, hypothesis or concept at a time. In the meantime, within the text, you can explore relevant theories and models and in reference to that specific aspect.

How long should it be?

There are no very specific rules regarding length either, but on average it is three to five pages long.

To make things even clearer, it might be useful to include models or other graphics. If you are worried about not being able to stay within the limits, you can insert these illustrations in an appendix (which you can refer to in the main text).