You are on page 1of 13

Elements of Research

Theoretical Framework
A theoretical framework is a collection of interrelated concepts, like a theory but not necessarily
so well worked-out. A theoretical framework guides your research, determining what things you
will measure, and what statistical relationships you will look for.
Theoretical frameworks are obviously critical in deductive, theory-testing sorts of studies (see
Kinds of Research for more information). In those kinds of studies, the theoretical framework
must be very specific and well-thought out.
Surprisingly, theoretical frameworks are also important in exploratory studies, where you really
don't know much about what is going on, and are trying to learn more. There are two reasons
why theoretical frameworks are important here. First, no matter how little you think you know
about a topic, and how unbiased you think you are, it is impossible for a human being not to have
preconceived notions, even if they are of a very general nature. For example, some people
fundamentally believe that people are basically lazy and untrustworthy, and you have keep your
wits about you to avoid being conned. These fundamental beliefs about human nature affect how
you look things when doing personnel research. In this sense, you are always being guided by a
theoretical framework, but you don't know it. Not knowing what your real framework is can be a
problem. The framework tends to guide what you notice in an organization, and what you don't
notice. In other words, you don't even notice things that don't fit your framework! We can never
completely get around this problem, but we can reduce the problem considerably by simply
making our implicit framework explicit. Once it is explicit, we can deliberately consider other
frameworks, and try to see the organizational situation through different lenses.

Cases and Variables

Cases are objects whose behavior or characteristics we study. Usually, the cases are persons. But
they can also be groups, departments, organizations, etc. They can also be more esoteric things
like events (e.g., meetings), utterances, pairs of people, etc.
Variables are characteristics of cases. They are attributes. Qualities of the cases that we measure
or record. For example, if the cases are persons, the variables could be sex, age, height, weight,
feeling of empowerment, math ability, etc. Variables are called what they are because it is
assumed that the cases will vary in their scores on these attributes. For example, if the variable is
age, we obviously recognize that people can be different ages. Of course, sometimes, for a given
sample of people, there might not be any variation on some attribute. For example, the variable

'number of children' might be zero for all members of this class. It's still a variable, though,
because in principle it could have variation.
In any particular study, variables can play different roles. Two key roles are independent
variables and dependent variables. Usually there is only one dependent variable, and it is the
outcome variable, the one you are trying to predict. Variation in the dependent variable is what
you are trying to explain. For example, if we do a study to determine why some people are more
satisfied in their jobs than others, job satisfaction is the dependent variable.
The independent variables, also known as the predictor or explanatory variables, are the factors
that you think explain variation in the dependent variable. In other words, these are the causes.
For example, you may think that people are more satisfied with their jobs if they are given a lot
of freedom to do what they want, and if they are well-paid. So 'job freedom' and 'salary' are the
independent variables, and 'job satisfaction' is the dependent variable. This is diagrammed as

(yes, I know. It looks like the Enterprise)

There are actually two other kinds of variables, which are basically independent variables, but
work a little differently. These are moderator and intervening variables. A moderator variable is
one that modifies the relationship between two other variables.
For example, suppose that the cases are whole organizations, and you believe that diversity in the
organization can help make them more profitable (because diversity leads to fresh outlooks on
old problems), but only if managers are specially trained in diversity management (otherwise all
that diversity causes conflicts and miscommunication). Here, diversity is clearly an independent
variable, and profitability is clearly a dependent variable. But what is diversity training? Its main
function seems to be adjust the strength of relation between diversity and profitability
For example, suppose you are studying job applications to various departments within a large
organization. You believe that in overall, women applicants are more likely to get the job than
men applicants, but that this varies by the number of women already in the department the
person applied to. Specifically, departments that already have a lot of women will favor female
applicants, while departments with few women will favor male applicants. We can diagram this
as follows:

Actually, if that model is true, then this one is as well, though it's harder to think about:

Whether sex of applicant is the independent and % women in dept is the moderator, or the other
around, is not something we can ever decide. Another way to talk about moderating and
independent variables is in terms of interaction. Interacting variables affect the dependent
variable only when both are acting in concert. We could diagram that this way:

An intervening or intermediary variable is one that is affected by the independent variable and in
turn affects the dependent variable. For example, we said that diversity is good for profitability
because diversity leads to innovation (fresh looks) which in turn leads to profitability. Here,
innovation is an intervening variable. We diagram it this way:

Note that in the diagram, there is no arrow from diversity directly to profitability. This means
that if we control for innovativeness, diversity is unrelated to profitability. To control for a
variable means to hold its values constant. For example, suppose we measure the diversity,
innovativeness and profitability of a several thousand companies. If we look at the relationship
between diversity and profitability, we might find that the more diverse companies have, on
average, higher profitability than the less diverse companies. But suppose we divide the sample
into two groups: innovative companies and non-innovative. Now, within just the innovative
group, we again look at the relationship between diversity and profitability. We might find that
there is no relationship. Similarly, if we just look at the non-innovative group, we might find no
relationship between diversity and profitability there either. That's because the only reason
diversity affects profitability is because diversity tends to affect a company's innovativeness, and
that in turn affects profitability.
Here's another example. Consider the relationship between education and health. In general, the
more a educated a person is, the healthier they are. Do diplomas have magic powers? Do the
cells in educated people's bodies know how to fight cancer? I doubt it. It might be because
educated people are more likely to eat nutritionally sensible food and this in turn contributes to
their health. But of course, there are many reasons why you might eat nutritionally sensible food,
even if you are not educated. So if we were to look at the relationship between education and
health among only people who eat nutritionally sensible food, we might find no relationship.
That would support the idea that nutrition is an intervening variable.
It should be noted, however, if you control for a variable, and the relationship between two
variables disappears, that doesn't necessarily mean that the variable you controlled for was an
intervening variable. Here is an example. Look at the relationship between the amount of ice
cream sold on a given day, and the number of drownings on those days. This is not hypothetical:
this is real. There is a strong correlation: the more you sell, the more people drown. What's going
on? Are people forgetting the 'no swimming within an hour of eating' rule? Ice cream screws up
your coordination? No. There is a third variable that is causing both ice cream sales and
drownings. The variable is temperature. On hot days, people are more likely to buy ice cream.
They are also more likely to go to the beach, where a certain proportion will drown. If we control
for temperature (i.e., we only consider days that are cold, or days that are warm), we find that
there is no relationship between ice cream sales and drownings. But temperature is not an
intervening variable, since it ice cream sales do not cause temperature changes. Nor is ice cream
sales an intervening variable, since ice cream sales do not cause drownings.

Copyright 1996-8 Stephen P. Borgatti


Home Page


Thesis/research coach

Ask Devcompage


Links and resources



Some more communication thesis topics How to measure reliability of an attitude scale

Sample theoretical framework in

communication research
By monina escalada On January 11, 2010 2 Comments

Chicago Navy Pier. Photo credit:

For many months, the most popular post and queries in Devcompage has been Writing the
theoretical framework. Heres a sample theoretical framework I wrote for a paper published in the
International Journal of Pest Management.
Motivating rice farmers in the Mekong Delta to modify pest management and related
practices through mass media
Huan, N,H, H.V.Chien, P.V. Quynh, P.S Tan, P.V. Du, M.M. Escalada , and K.L. Heong
Theoretical Framework
Theory of Social Learning
The project applied social learning theory in developing interventions to motivate farmers to reduce
seed sowing, nitrogen fertilizer application and insecticide application rates. Social learning theory
(Bandura, 1977) stresses the importance of observational learning, imitation, and modelling to
explain media effects on human behaviour. Through social modelling, an individual can adapt
critical aspects of the behaviour they wish to adopt. Awareness and expectations of future
reinforcements or punishments can have a major effect on an individuals behaviour. As extrinsic

factors are important in behaviour change, new behaviour is often learned through observing how
others conduct themselves (Severin and Tankard, 2001).
Theory of Planned Behaviour
In developing the campaign approach and media materials, the project drew largely upon the
strategic communication campaign framework (Adhikarya, 1994) and adapted the Theory of Planned
Behaviour (Ajzen, 1988) and the Theory of Reasoned Action (Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980) to
understand and promote individual behaviour change.
The Theory of Reasoned Action asserts that intention to perform certain behaviour is determined by
the individuals attitude toward the performing the behaviour and by the subjective norm held by the
individual. The theory has been applied to many health and campaigns relating to breastfeeding,
AIDS, anti-smoking, safety belt usage, and anti-drugs to determine which factors influence
individuals to act in certain ways and to identify better ways of effectively communicating the
The Theory of Planned Behaviour, an extension of the Theory of Reasoned Action, can help to
explain why some media campaigns have limited success. Increasing knowledge alone does not help
to change behaviour but campaigns aimed at attitudes and perceived norms in making adoption
decisions produced better results. Studies of behavioural intentions suggest that the likelihood of
intended audiences adopting a desired behaviour can be predicted. By assessing and understanding
the factors we can develop messages to influence their attitudes and perceptions of benefits of the
behaviour and how their peers will view their behaviour. Research by Fishbein and Ajzen (1975)
supports the idea that individuals and societys (perceived) attitudes are important determinants of
action. Therefore, an important step toward influencing behaviour is an assessment of intended
audience attitudes. We can subsequently monitor these attitudinal changes.
Tagged with: sample communication research theoretical framework sample theoretical framework in communication research

If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it!

2 Responses to Sample theoretical framework in

communication research


jen says:
January 24, 2010 at 2:13 pm

this site is good


Kay-Ann Nield M. Rocha says:

May 18, 2011 at 10:14 pm

I hope reading your sample cud help me please my prof. and reach her standards. Doing my
thesis with her as a Prof is like, I did my best but I guess my best wasnt good enough. Urgh!

Leave a Reply
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *
Name *

Email *



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b>
<blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Post Comment



Notify me of follow-up comments by email.

Notify me of new posts by email.

What's happening at

devcompage This week, I am attending a workshop on ecological engineering for

sustainable management in rice landscapes in Banaue, Ifugao province.. reply
retweet favorite

devcompage Was in Vinh Long for EE tv launching. Hilarious 1st program with
comedians tackling the question: What is ecological engineering? reply
retweet favorite

devcompage Ecological Engineering TV series on Vinh Long TV launched. First

program in series broadcast on 23 June in Vietnam. reply retweet favorite

new_ag [site] Traditional forecasting to help small farmers: Indigenous weather

forecasting techniques, practised by tr... reply retweet favorite

FAOnews RT @ifpri: What are the implications of a #greeneconomy for the poor &
hungry? What role can #agriculture play? #rio4ag reply retweet

devcompage Will be in the Mekong Delta this week (June 4-8) to track the
multiplier effects of communication campaign on ecological engineering, reply
retweet favorite

devcompage Am in Bangkok this week attending workshop on insecticide misuse

and planthopper outbreaks as wicked problems. reply retweet favorite

devcompage Now in Yangon training interviewers for a baseline survey and

pretesting a questionnaire. reply retweet favorite

devcompage Today I will leave for Hainan, China to initiate a media inventory and
audience analysis with research partners in Hainan University. reply retweet

warrencomminit Relationship Between Care-givers' Misconceptions and Non-use

of ITNs by Under-five Nigerian Children reply retweet
Join the conversation

Select Category

Recent Posts

Communication and adoption of National Abaca Research Centers umbak handicraft


Information environment, perceptions of vulnerability and responses to landslide of

upland residents in Liloan, Southern Leyte

Do TV food ads influence grade school pupils food preferences, product purchase
and consumption?

How to write a thesis introduction

How to check a thesis outline

Recent Comments

Daphne Reyes on Ask Devcompage

Sophia on Writing the thesis outline: Theoretical framework

Faith on Ask Devcompage

devcompage on Thesis/research coach

devcompage on Ask Devcompage

This work by is licensed under a Creative Commons AttributionShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Visitor location


Log in

Entries RSS

Comments RSS

"This week, I am attending a workshop on ecological engineering for sustainable management in

rice landscapes in Banaue, Ifugao province.." devcompage



Thesis/research coach

Ask Devcompage


Links and resources


The Latest

Communication and adoption of National Abaca Research Centers umbak

handicraft making
This article is based on the authors BS Development Communication thesis. Suggested []


Thanks for dropping by! Feel free to join the discussion by leaving comments, and stay updated by
subscribing to the RSS feed.
2010 Devcompage