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A theoretical framework consists of a theory or theories that help us to explain and


understand phenomena and the relationship between study variables. But what does that mean? It
may be helpful to think about your theoretical framework like a conceptual map. Not a map of
your overall study, but a map of how your variables relate to one another based on the theory and
how the theory applies to the phenomenon under investigation. Theoretical frameworks are
difficult to understand in general terms, so here is a brief hypothetical example of a theoretical
framework and its essential components.
Lets say we were studying call center managers intentions to adopt new customer
service software. Intention is an indication and an antecedent of an individuals readiness to
perform a given behavior. So, we would want a theory that could help to explain intentional
behavior. After analyzing studies and theories relevant to the knowledge base and the
phenomenon, we decide to use Ajzens (1991) theory of planned behavior as our theoretical
framework because the theory allows researchers to understand peoples actions (in this case
managers intention to adopt new software) based on their attitudes toward the phenomenon. The
theory of planned behavior also has the added advantage of being a well-known and often used
theory. We would then follow the steps below to begin to develop our theoretical framework.
First: Identify the theory and the theorist who developed it. For example, Ajzens (1991)
theory of planned behavior will be used as the theoretical framework for the proposed study.
Second: Define the theory and its major propositions or tenets. Something like this: Ajzen
(1991) developed the theory of planned behavior to help understand human behavior and
individuals intentions to act. For Ajzen, behavioral intentions to act are based on three factors:

individuals attitude toward the behavior, their subjective norms surrounding the behavior, and
their perceived behavioral control in performing a behavior. Attitude toward a behavior refers to
a whether a person holds a positive or negative value towards that behavior (Ajzen, 1991).
Subjective norm refers the extent to which social pressure is exerted on an individual to engage
in the behavior (Ajzen, 1991). Perceived behavioral control refers to a persons perceptions of
his or her ability to execute a given behavior (Ajzen, 1991). The theory of planned behavior
holds that these three factors help to explain individuals behavior toward a specific
phenomenon.
Third: Using citations, summarize how the theory has been used in previous research.
This part can be rather broad; think of the large end of a funnel. Concisely summarize the
different ways researchers have applied the theory in various fields.
Fourth: Focus on how researchers have used the theory in your area of study or as close
to it as you can get; think of the funnel now narrowing down to its small end. In this part of the
theoretical framework you are making your best case for why the theory is appropriate for your
study. To help make your case, you should bring in similar studies in which researchers have
used the theory.
Fifth: You may also want to discuss other theories you considered and did not use
because they were not appropriate for your study. This helps to reinforce why the theory you
chose for your study was appropriate.
Last: You should then explicitly relate how the theory connects to your study. In our
case, examining call center managers attitude toward the behavior, their subjective norms
surrounding the behavior, and their perceived behavioral control in performing a behavior can

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help us to explain and understand their behavioral intentions to adopt new customer service
software.
You now have something resembling a conceptual map of how your theory and your
study variables relate to the phenomenon under investigation that will help you to discuss and
interpret your findings later in the study.

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