According to the University of Southern California’s Library Guide, a theoretical framework is the research from previous literature that defines a study’s core theory and concepts. In social science research, previous research serves as the basis for future research. Social scientists use the theoretical framework to craft a logical argument for a need for their research.
The search for a theoretical framework narrows the research question and helps researchers create hypotheses. With the initial research question in mind, social scientists read all of the existing literature on the topic. While reading, researchers highlight different definitions of the same terms and the varying methodologies to find answers to key questions. Researchers develop a consistent definition for each concept and find the theories upon which their study seeks to build. The framework also reputes theories that oppose assumptions within the study. Critical analyses of the methodologies within the existing literature develop the methodology for a new study. These separate elements create one theoretical framework.
The theoretical framework in a study works as a map for the research. After an initial reading of the literature, researchers often rewrite the original research question based upon the theoretical framework. It is during this stage that researchers develop hypotheses.