A theoretical framework is an idea or a group of ideas that provide structure to a theory in a research study. Researchers may use theoretical frameworks to guide their studies, discover or analyze new perspectives, or find connections between seemingly unrelated concepts. Theoretical frameworks are often used in science, economics, and many other fields of study. Researchers may choose among an almost limitless variety of theoretical frameworks, but should choose one appropriate to the topic being studied and the goal of the study.
Although the term does not have a clear and consistent definition, theoretical framework is defined as any empirical or quasi-empirical theory of social and/or psychological processes, at a variety of levels (e.g., grand, mid-range, and explanatory), that can be applied to the understanding of phenomena. Qualitative research has often been criticized for not being guided by theory in its development and conduct. Additionally, students as well as experienced researchers who employ qualitative methods frequently have trouble identifying and using theoretical frameworks in their research (i.e., understanding how and what it affects in the process of conducting the research).