The theoretical framework in qualitative research
The theoretical framework in qualitative research

As a dissertation, the theoretical framework generates terror almost as it does part 2 of the movie ” The Conjuration .” But I want to give you the tools to begin to see this section as a satire in the Scary Movie style, that is, I want you to transform the fear and anxiety generated by the writing of the theoretical framework in fun and enthusiasm. Yes, I know it’s a lot, but I will never get tired of trying it;)


To carry out my objective I will review the text by Ruth Sautu: “The theoretical framework in quantitative research”, published in the journal ALAS, Latin American Association of Sociology. The author proposes to review three fundamental axes:

  • The different types or levels of theory development in scientific research;
  • The description of four general theories or perspectives that are usually used in qualitative research;
  • And finally, the selection of concepts and ideas of substantive theories defined within the framework of these general theoretical perspectives.

Is there a unique way of developing the theoretical framework?

A good affirmation to lower anxiety is that: there is no single formula to elaborate and present the theoretical framework of an investigation in which qualitative methodologies have been used.

The styles or formats vary, from unstructured arguments in which the general topics related to the research objectives are discussed to the systematic theoretical discussion in which the concepts are linked to each other.

The variety of styles of theoretical frameworks is fundamentally due to the diversity in methodological strategies that are effectively used in the usual practices of various disciplinary areas of the social sciences and the style of publication (book, article or paper).

Where do we begin to think our theoretical framework?

The theory is the starting point, its definitions permeate the whole study, from the formulation of the objectives to the analysis of the data.


In the theoretical framework, the propositions that unfold assumptions and hypotheses are deduced from what we call substantive theory; Should be explicitly formulated, as well as the variables (derived from them), which will subsequently be incorporated into the design.


The theoretical framework, therefore, is the reflection of the model or the models with which the data are analyzed.


It is false to argue that it is possible to think an investigation without resorting to some key theoretical concepts or ideas as a starting point.


The theoretical framework is formulated at the beginning of the research and allows to design the construction of the data.

What is the presentation style of the theoretical framework?

Four styles or formats can be individualized, taking into account the greater or lesser preponderance that is assigned to the various levels of theorization, paradigm, theory or general perspective and substantive theory.


First, a considerable number of qualitative investigations are initiated with the paradigmatic discussion that underlies the theoretical-methodological orientation of the research. This type of presentation often includes criticisms of the positivist positions of authors who have investigated the issues themselves and the reasons why it is necessary to propose a new paradigm.


The second style or format of presentation of the theoretical framework, very frequent among us, resembles what is called a state of the situation on the subject under study. It is not a complete state of the art, but a wide selection of texts about the object and its context, often interweaving historical descriptions, including empirical data.


This style of the state of affairs is expanded on issues related to the object of study, but there is a risk that, in the absence of specificity, it leaves aside conceptual conceptualizations for the design of the research.


The third style of presentation of the theoretical framework that may or may not include the paradigmatic discussion is characterized by placing the formulation of the theoretical framework in an intermediate level of theory and is called “classical”.


In the beginning, the general theoretical perspective on the subject is worked out. Subsequently, as the data are analyzed, they are inductively inferred analytical categories. In the construction of the analytical categories, theoretical propositions and substantive concepts are used; That is, following a typical model of qualitative research, the theory intercalates and permeates the entire analysis as the data are presented and analyzed.


The classical study of the presentation of the theoretical framework predominates not only among Argentines but also in international journals specialized in publishing qualitative studies. In a narrative format, data and concepts interweave.


Finally, the presentation style of the complete theoretical framework that best serves the purpose of constructing the framework for the theoretical-methodological design does not reach the level of formalization of theoretical frameworks of quantitative research.


However, there are two elements that must necessarily be made explicit:


– the basic concepts that will initiate the study, and

– theoretical ideas (which fulfill the role of propositions, affirmations, theoretical assumptions) in which they are inserted.


In the theoretical framework of a qualitative research, we should also include conceptualizations that allow defining space-temporally the situations, entities or processes that will be part of the core-focus of the research.


Attention!  It could be, and this would be an error, that the concepts and propositions of the substantive theory were not compatible with the paradigm being held; For example, that in a study where the perspective of the social agents is sustained, the definition of the sensitizing concepts was done with a frankly objectivist content.

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