A theoretical framework for your thesis

What should it contain?

Every thesis contains a theoretical framework. This section includes a discussion of the existing literature, an elaboration on the concepts and theories, and using this, a sketch of the framework for your thesis. What exactly must your theoretical framework contain? What criteria should this chapter meet? Check out our convenient checklist.

What is the theoretical framework?

After the introduction of the thesis (which includes among other things the formulation of the problem and the research questions), comes the theoretical framework. In this section, you discuss previous literature about your topic, define your key terms, and show the models relevant to your research.

Your theoretical framework determines the direction of your thesis,and allows you to show that your research (and the method you have used) is based on scientific insights and models.

What is included in the theoretical framework of a thesis?

In the theoretical framework section, It is important to include the following:

➔ definitions of the key terms (for example, the concepts in your research question);

➔ a description of the possible relationship between the concepts;

➔ an explanation of the existing theories and models of the research topic;

➔ an explanation of why some of the theories and models have or have not been used;

➔ a description of the results of relevant previous research about your research topic;

➔ an explanation of how your research connects to the existing literature;

➔ the hypotheses that you have formulated (if you have any).

In scientifically oriented theses, the theoretical framework is also intended to answer descriptive research questions. Think of a question like 'What does a bullying protocol entail?' or 'What is the relationship between brand recognition and revenue?'

Check in advance with your supervisor what the requirements are for the theoretical framework in your thesis. You can use that as a starting point when writing your thesis.


How do you discuss literature in your theoretical framework?

You are probably not the first to research your research topic. You place the most important findings from previous research in your theoretical framework. By describing these findings, you also show how your thesis adds to the existing literature.

When discussing literature, for example, you indicate what researchers agree on and what exactly the differences are between research results. You will also discuss the theories and models used by the researchers and, if necessary, explain the research method used. Also indicate why you do or do not use certain models and theories in your research.

Tip: pay attention to your source referencing

When referring to literature, do not forget your bibliography and in-text citation. Refer to sources according to the APA style or, if you are studying law, according to the ‘Leidraad voor juridische auteurs’.

Referring to the theoretical framework

You will often refer to your theoretical framework in the conclusion and discussion of your thesis. You then state how your findings are in line with or differ from previous literature. You can also refer to the literature discussed to explain your findings.

An example of a theoretical framework

There are often guidelines from your study programs for how long your theoretical framework should be. Sometimes there are requirements in terms of structure, but it is also possible that you have a bit more freedom with it as long as the order is logical. This means, for example, that you could discuss your sub-questions one by one in separate paragraphs or that you could devote a separate paragraph to each important concept.

We cannot give you the perfect example of a theoretical framework. You can find various thesis examples on our website. Search the databases in that article for a thesis from your field to discover what a theoretical framework might look like.

Curious if your theoretical framework is complete?

Are you unsure whether all the required information is in your theoretical framework? The editors of AthenaCheck are happy to review it for you during a structure check. You will receive your thesis back from us free from language errors, and with feedback on the structure so that you can hand in your thesis complete.