Connecting the Theoretical Framework to Your Quantitative Study

Literature Review

For your theoretical framework, you want to define your theory, along with any associated components, discuss what researchers have used the theory for, and connect it to your study. Defining the theory and discussing what researchers have used it for are relatively straightforward. However, people are usually a little more uncertain about what it means to connect the framework to your study. But it’s not as tricky as you might think, and the answer lies in the definition of your theory, its components, and your variables.

When thinking about frameworks for quantitative studies, you need to consider your variables and the instrument you’re using to measure them. Variables have theoretical foundations; they can’t exist as such without the ideas that undergird them. So, your variables and the instrument you’re using to measure them will have a theoretical foundation, and this the theoretical foundation you want to use to define your theory and its components. In other words, your theory and your instrument need to align. Let’s look at an example.
Suppose you are studying ethical leadership. Ok, well, there are several instruments for measuring ethical leadership. You need to decide on the instrument that best assesses what you are studying. You decide that Brown, Treviño, and Harrison’s (2005) Ethical Leadership Scale suits your purpose. Now, you would need to find an article by these researchers that includes their definition of ethical leadership, not a general definition of ethical leadership nor someone else’s definition. Brown et al.’s definition of the theory is the one you need to use. Their instrument, their definition. So far so good.

Now, about connecting the theory to your study. Brown et al.’s (2005) theory includes three components: leaders modelling normatively appropriate behavior (e.g., honesty, trustworthiness, fairness, etc.); two-way communication between leaders and subordinates; and leaders making choices based on the ethical consequences of their behavior. Define the components, again, using the definitions of the researchers who developed the scale. Now, you have just connected the theory to your study; you are measuring the components of the theory as your variables. If you want to elaborate a little more, you can explain why it is important to examine these components in relation to your purpose and research problem.

Reference: Brown, M. E., Treviño, L. K., & Harrison, D. A. (2005). Ethical leadership: A social learning perspective for construct development and testing. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 97(2), 117-134.

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