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What is a Theoretical Framework? | A Step-by-Step Guide

Published on 14 February 2020 by Shona McCombes . Revised on 10 October 2022.

A theoretical framework is a foundational review of existing theories that serves as a roadmap for developing the arguments you will use in your own work.

Theories are developed by researchers to explain phenomena, draw connections, and make predictions. In a theoretical framework, you explain the existing theories that support your research, showing that your work is grounded in established ideas.

In other words, your theoretical framework justifies and contextualises your later research, and it’s a crucial first step for your research paper , thesis, or dissertation . A well-rounded theoretical framework sets you up for success later on in your research and writing process.

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Table of contents

Why do you need a theoretical framework, how to write a theoretical framework, structuring your theoretical framework, example of a theoretical framework, frequently asked questions about theoretical frameworks.

Before you start your own research, it’s crucial to familiarise yourself with the theories and models that other researchers have already developed. Your theoretical framework is your opportunity to present and explain what you’ve learned, situated within your future research topic.

There’s a good chance that many different theories about your topic already exist, especially if the topic is broad. In your theoretical framework, you will evaluate, compare, and select the most relevant ones.

By “framing” your research within a clearly defined field, you make the reader aware of the assumptions that inform your approach, showing the rationale behind your choices for later sections, like methodology and discussion . This part of your dissertation lays the foundations that will support your analysis, helping you interpret your results and make broader generalisations .

  • In literature , a scholar using postmodernist literary theory would analyse The Great Gatsby differently than a scholar using Marxist literary theory.
  • In psychology , a behaviourist approach to depression would involve different research methods and assumptions than a psychoanalytic approach.
  • In economics , wealth inequality would be explained and interpreted differently based on a classical economics approach than based on a Keynesian economics one.

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To create your own theoretical framework, you can follow these three steps:

  • Identifying your key concepts
  • Evaluating and explaining relevant theories
  • Showing how your research fits into existing research

1. Identify your key concepts

The first step is to pick out the key terms from your problem statement and research questions . Concepts often have multiple definitions, so your theoretical framework should also clearly define what you mean by each term.

To investigate this problem, you have identified and plan to focus on the following problem statement, objective, and research questions:

Problem : Many online customers do not return to make subsequent purchases.

Objective : To increase the quantity of return customers.

Research question : How can the satisfaction of company X’s online customers be improved in order to increase the quantity of return customers?

2. Evaluate and explain relevant theories

By conducting a thorough literature review , you can determine how other researchers have defined these key concepts and drawn connections between them. As you write your theoretical framework, your aim is to compare and critically evaluate the approaches that different authors have taken.

After discussing different models and theories, you can establish the definitions that best fit your research and justify why. You can even combine theories from different fields to build your own unique framework if this better suits your topic.

Make sure to at least briefly mention each of the most important theories related to your key concepts. If there is a well-established theory that you don’t want to apply to your own research, explain why it isn’t suitable for your purposes.

3. Show how your research fits into existing research

Apart from summarising and discussing existing theories, your theoretical framework should show how your project will make use of these ideas and take them a step further.

You might aim to do one or more of the following:

  • Test whether a theory holds in a specific, previously unexamined context
  • Use an existing theory as a basis for interpreting your results
  • Critique or challenge a theory
  • Combine different theories in a new or unique way

A theoretical framework can sometimes be integrated into a literature review chapter , but it can also be included as its own chapter or section in your dissertation. As a rule of thumb, if your research involves dealing with a lot of complex theories, it’s a good idea to include a separate theoretical framework chapter.

There are no fixed rules for structuring your theoretical framework, but it’s best to double-check with your department or institution to make sure they don’t have any formatting guidelines. The most important thing is to create a clear, logical structure. There are a few ways to do this:

  • Draw on your research questions, structuring each section around a question or key concept
  • Organise by theory cluster
  • Organise by date

As in all other parts of your research paper , thesis, or dissertation , make sure to properly cite your sources to avoid plagiarism .

To get a sense of what this part of your thesis or dissertation might look like, take a look at our full example .

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While a theoretical framework describes the theoretical underpinnings of your work based on existing research, a conceptual framework allows you to draw your own conclusions, mapping out the variables you may use in your study and the interplay between them.

A literature review and a theoretical framework are not the same thing and cannot be used interchangeably. While a theoretical framework describes the theoretical underpinnings of your work, a literature review critically evaluates existing research relating to your topic. You’ll likely need both in your dissertation .

A theoretical framework can sometimes be integrated into a  literature review chapter , but it can also be included as its own chapter or section in your dissertation . As a rule of thumb, if your research involves dealing with a lot of complex theories, it’s a good idea to include a separate theoretical framework chapter.

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a dissertation , thesis, research paper , or proposal .

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Theories are formulated to explain, predict, and understand phenomena and, in many cases, to challenge and extend existing knowledge within the limits of critical bounded assumptions or predictions of behavior. The theoretical framework is the structure that can hold or support a theory of a research study. The theoretical framework encompasses not just the theory, but the narrative explanation about how the researcher engages in using the theory and its underlying assumptions to investigate the research problem. It is the structure of your paper that summarizes concepts, ideas, and theories derived from prior research studies and which was synthesized in order to form a conceptual basis for your analysis and interpretation of meaning found within your research.

Abend, Gabriel. "The Meaning of Theory." Sociological Theory 26 (June 2008): 173–199; Kivunja, Charles. "Distinguishing between Theory, Theoretical Framework, and Conceptual Framework: A Systematic Review of Lessons from the Field." International Journal of Higher Education 7 (December 2018): 44-53; Swanson, Richard A. Theory Building in Applied Disciplines . San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers 2013; Varpio, Lara, Elise Paradis, Sebastian Uijtdehaage, and Meredith Young. "The Distinctions between Theory, Theoretical Framework, and Conceptual Framework." Academic Medicine 95 (July 2020): 989-994.

Importance of Theory and a Theoretical Framework

Theories can be unfamiliar to the beginning researcher because they are rarely applied in high school social studies curriculum and, as a result, can come across as unfamiliar and imprecise when first introduced as part of a writing assignment. However, in their most simplified form, a theory is simply a set of assumptions or predictions about something you think will happen based on existing evidence and that can be tested to see if those outcomes turn out to be true. Of course, it is slightly more deliberate than that, therefore, summarized from Kivunja (2018, p. 46), here are the essential characteristics of a theory.

  • It is logical and coherent
  • It has clear definitions of terms or variables, and has boundary conditions [i.e., it is not an open-ended statement]
  • It has a domain where it applies
  • It has clearly described relationships among variables
  • It describes, explains, and makes specific predictions
  • It comprises of concepts, themes, principles, and constructs
  • It must have been based on empirical data [i.e., it is not a guess]
  • It must have made claims that are subject to testing, been tested and verified
  • It must be clear and concise
  • Its assertions or predictions must be different and better than those in existing theories
  • Its predictions must be general enough to be applicable to and understood within multiple contexts
  • Its assertions or predictions are relevant, and if applied as predicted, will result in the predicted outcome
  • The assertions and predictions are not immutable, but subject to revision and improvement as researchers use the theory to make sense of phenomena
  • Its concepts and principles explain what is going on and why
  • Its concepts and principles are substantive enough to enable us to predict a future

Given these characteristics, a theory can best be understood as the foundation from which you investigate assumptions or predictions derived from previous studies about the research problem, but in a way that leads to new knowledge and understanding as well as, in some cases, discovering how to improve the relevance of the theory itself or to argue that the theory is outdated and a new theory needs to be formulated based on new evidence.

A theoretical framework consists of concepts and, together with their definitions and reference to relevant scholarly literature, existing theory that is used for your particular study. The theoretical framework must demonstrate an understanding of theories and concepts that are relevant to the topic of your research paper and that relate to the broader areas of knowledge being considered.

The theoretical framework is most often not something readily found within the literature . You must review course readings and pertinent research studies for theories and analytic models that are relevant to the research problem you are investigating. The selection of a theory should depend on its appropriateness, ease of application, and explanatory power.

The theoretical framework strengthens the study in the following ways :

  • An explicit statement of  theoretical assumptions permits the reader to evaluate them critically.
  • The theoretical framework connects the researcher to existing knowledge. Guided by a relevant theory, you are given a basis for your hypotheses and choice of research methods.
  • Articulating the theoretical assumptions of a research study forces you to address questions of why and how. It permits you to intellectually transition from simply describing a phenomenon you have observed to generalizing about various aspects of that phenomenon.
  • Having a theory helps you identify the limits to those generalizations. A theoretical framework specifies which key variables influence a phenomenon of interest and highlights the need to examine how those key variables might differ and under what circumstances.
  • The theoretical framework adds context around the theory itself based on how scholars had previously tested the theory in relation their overall research design [i.e., purpose of the study, methods of collecting data or information, methods of analysis, the time frame in which information is collected, study setting, and the methodological strategy used to conduct the research].

By virtue of its applicative nature, good theory in the social sciences is of value precisely because it fulfills one primary purpose: to explain the meaning, nature, and challenges associated with a phenomenon, often experienced but unexplained in the world in which we live, so that we may use that knowledge and understanding to act in more informed and effective ways.

The Conceptual Framework. College of Education. Alabama State University; Corvellec, Hervé, ed. What is Theory?: Answers from the Social and Cultural Sciences . Stockholm: Copenhagen Business School Press, 2013; Asher, Herbert B. Theory-Building and Data Analysis in the Social Sciences . Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1984; Drafting an Argument. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Kivunja, Charles. "Distinguishing between Theory, Theoretical Framework, and Conceptual Framework: A Systematic Review of Lessons from the Field." International Journal of Higher Education 7 (2018): 44-53; Omodan, Bunmi Isaiah. "A Model for Selecting Theoretical Framework through Epistemology of Research Paradigms." African Journal of Inter/Multidisciplinary Studies 4 (2022): 275-285; Ravitch, Sharon M. and Matthew Riggan. Reason and Rigor: How Conceptual Frameworks Guide Research . Second edition. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2017; Trochim, William M.K. Philosophy of Research. Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006; Jarvis, Peter. The Practitioner-Researcher. Developing Theory from Practice . San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1999.

Strategies for Developing the Theoretical Framework

I.  Developing the Framework

Here are some strategies to develop of an effective theoretical framework:

  • Examine your thesis title and research problem . The research problem anchors your entire study and forms the basis from which you construct your theoretical framework.
  • Brainstorm about what you consider to be the key variables in your research . Answer the question, "What factors contribute to the presumed effect?"
  • Review related literature to find how scholars have addressed your research problem. Identify the assumptions from which the author(s) addressed the problem.
  • List  the constructs and variables that might be relevant to your study. Group these variables into independent and dependent categories.
  • Review key social science theories that are introduced to you in your course readings and choose the theory that can best explain the relationships between the key variables in your study [note the Writing Tip on this page].
  • Discuss the assumptions or propositions of this theory and point out their relevance to your research.

A theoretical framework is used to limit the scope of the relevant data by focusing on specific variables and defining the specific viewpoint [framework] that the researcher will take in analyzing and interpreting the data to be gathered. It also facilitates the understanding of concepts and variables according to given definitions and builds new knowledge by validating or challenging theoretical assumptions.

II.  Purpose

Think of theories as the conceptual basis for understanding, analyzing, and designing ways to investigate relationships within social systems. To that end, the following roles served by a theory can help guide the development of your framework.

  • Means by which new research data can be interpreted and coded for future use,
  • Response to new problems that have no previously identified solutions strategy,
  • Means for identifying and defining research problems,
  • Means for prescribing or evaluating solutions to research problems,
  • Ways of discerning certain facts among the accumulated knowledge that are important and which facts are not,
  • Means of giving old data new interpretations and new meaning,
  • Means by which to identify important new issues and prescribe the most critical research questions that need to be answered to maximize understanding of the issue,
  • Means of providing members of a professional discipline with a common language and a frame of reference for defining the boundaries of their profession, and
  • Means to guide and inform research so that it can, in turn, guide research efforts and improve professional practice.

Adapted from: Torraco, R. J. “Theory-Building Research Methods.” In Swanson R. A. and E. F. Holton III , editors. Human Resource Development Handbook: Linking Research and Practice . (San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 1997): pp. 114-137; Jacard, James and Jacob Jacoby. Theory Construction and Model-Building Skills: A Practical Guide for Social Scientists . New York: Guilford, 2010; Ravitch, Sharon M. and Matthew Riggan. Reason and Rigor: How Conceptual Frameworks Guide Research . Second edition. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2017; Sutton, Robert I. and Barry M. Staw. “What Theory is Not.” Administrative Science Quarterly 40 (September 1995): 371-384.

Structure and Writing Style

The theoretical framework may be rooted in a specific theory , in which case, your work is expected to test the validity of that existing theory in relation to specific events, issues, or phenomena. Many social science research papers fit into this rubric. For example, Peripheral Realism Theory, which categorizes perceived differences among nation-states as those that give orders, those that obey, and those that rebel, could be used as a means for understanding conflicted relationships among countries in Africa. A test of this theory could be the following: Does Peripheral Realism Theory help explain intra-state actions, such as, the disputed split between southern and northern Sudan that led to the creation of two nations?

However, you may not always be asked by your professor to test a specific theory in your paper, but to develop your own framework from which your analysis of the research problem is derived . Based upon the above example, it is perhaps easiest to understand the nature and function of a theoretical framework if it is viewed as an answer to two basic questions:

  • What is the research problem/question? [e.g., "How should the individual and the state relate during periods of conflict?"]
  • Why is your approach a feasible solution? [i.e., justify the application of your choice of a particular theory and explain why alternative constructs were rejected. I could choose instead to test Instrumentalist or Circumstantialists models developed among ethnic conflict theorists that rely upon socio-economic-political factors to explain individual-state relations and to apply this theoretical model to periods of war between nations].

The answers to these questions come from a thorough review of the literature and your course readings [summarized and analyzed in the next section of your paper] and the gaps in the research that emerge from the review process. With this in mind, a complete theoretical framework will likely not emerge until after you have completed a thorough review of the literature .

Just as a research problem in your paper requires contextualization and background information, a theory requires a framework for understanding its application to the topic being investigated. When writing and revising this part of your research paper, keep in mind the following:

  • Clearly describe the framework, concepts, models, or specific theories that underpin your study . This includes noting who the key theorists are in the field who have conducted research on the problem you are investigating and, when necessary, the historical context that supports the formulation of that theory. This latter element is particularly important if the theory is relatively unknown or it is borrowed from another discipline.
  • Position your theoretical framework within a broader context of related frameworks, concepts, models, or theories . As noted in the example above, there will likely be several concepts, theories, or models that can be used to help develop a framework for understanding the research problem. Therefore, note why the theory you've chosen is the appropriate one.
  • The present tense is used when writing about theory. Although the past tense can be used to describe the history of a theory or the role of key theorists, the construction of your theoretical framework is happening now.
  • You should make your theoretical assumptions as explicit as possible . Later, your discussion of methodology should be linked back to this theoretical framework.
  • Don’t just take what the theory says as a given! Reality is never accurately represented in such a simplistic way; if you imply that it can be, you fundamentally distort a reader's ability to understand the findings that emerge. Given this, always note the limitations of the theoretical framework you've chosen [i.e., what parts of the research problem require further investigation because the theory inadequately explains a certain phenomena].

The Conceptual Framework. College of Education. Alabama State University; Conceptual Framework: What Do You Think is Going On? College of Engineering. University of Michigan; Drafting an Argument. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Lynham, Susan A. “The General Method of Theory-Building Research in Applied Disciplines.” Advances in Developing Human Resources 4 (August 2002): 221-241; Tavallaei, Mehdi and Mansor Abu Talib. "A General Perspective on the Role of Theory in Qualitative Research." Journal of International Social Research 3 (Spring 2010); Ravitch, Sharon M. and Matthew Riggan. Reason and Rigor: How Conceptual Frameworks Guide Research . Second edition. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2017; Reyes, Victoria. Demystifying the Journal Article. Inside Higher Education; Trochim, William M.K. Philosophy of Research. Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006; Weick, Karl E. “The Work of Theorizing.” In Theorizing in Social Science: The Context of Discovery . Richard Swedberg, editor. (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2014), pp. 177-194.

Writing Tip

Borrowing Theoretical Constructs from Other Disciplines

An increasingly important trend in the social and behavioral sciences is to think about and attempt to understand research problems from an interdisciplinary perspective. One way to do this is to not rely exclusively on the theories developed within your particular discipline, but to think about how an issue might be informed by theories developed in other disciplines. For example, if you are a political science student studying the rhetorical strategies used by female incumbents in state legislature campaigns, theories about the use of language could be derived, not only from political science, but linguistics, communication studies, philosophy, psychology, and, in this particular case, feminist studies. Building theoretical frameworks based on the postulates and hypotheses developed in other disciplinary contexts can be both enlightening and an effective way to be more engaged in the research topic.

CohenMiller, A. S. and P. Elizabeth Pate. "A Model for Developing Interdisciplinary Research Theoretical Frameworks." The Qualitative Researcher 24 (2019): 1211-1226; Frodeman, Robert. The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity . New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Another Writing Tip

Don't Undertheorize!

Do not leave the theory hanging out there in the introduction never to be mentioned again. Undertheorizing weakens your paper. The theoretical framework you describe should guide your study throughout the paper. Be sure to always connect theory to the review of pertinent literature and to explain in the discussion part of your paper how the theoretical framework you chose supports analysis of the research problem or, if appropriate, how the theoretical framework was found to be inadequate in explaining the phenomenon you were investigating. In that case, don't be afraid to propose your own theory based on your findings.

Yet Another Writing Tip

What's a Theory? What's a Hypothesis?

The terms theory and hypothesis are often used interchangeably in newspapers and popular magazines and in non-academic settings. However, the difference between theory and hypothesis in scholarly research is important, particularly when using an experimental design. A theory is a well-established principle that has been developed to explain some aspect of the natural world. Theories arise from repeated observation and testing and incorporates facts, laws, predictions, and tested assumptions that are widely accepted [e.g., rational choice theory; grounded theory; critical race theory].

A hypothesis is a specific, testable prediction about what you expect to happen in your study. For example, an experiment designed to look at the relationship between study habits and test anxiety might have a hypothesis that states, "We predict that students with better study habits will suffer less test anxiety." Unless your study is exploratory in nature, your hypothesis should always explain what you expect to happen during the course of your research.

The key distinctions are:

  • A theory predicts events in a broad, general context;  a hypothesis makes a specific prediction about a specified set of circumstances.
  • A theory has been extensively tested and is generally accepted among a set of scholars; a hypothesis is a speculative guess that has yet to be tested.

Cherry, Kendra. Introduction to Research Methods: Theory and Hypothesis. About.com Psychology; Gezae, Michael et al. Welcome Presentation on Hypothesis. Slideshare presentation.

Still Yet Another Writing Tip

Be Prepared to Challenge the Validity of an Existing Theory

Theories are meant to be tested and their underlying assumptions challenged; they are not rigid or intransigent, but are meant to set forth general principles for explaining phenomena or predicting outcomes. Given this, testing theoretical assumptions is an important way that knowledge in any discipline develops and grows. If you're asked to apply an existing theory to a research problem, the analysis will likely include the expectation by your professor that you should offer modifications to the theory based on your research findings.

Indications that theoretical assumptions may need to be modified can include the following:

  • Your findings suggest that the theory does not explain or account for current conditions or circumstances or the passage of time,
  • The study reveals a finding that is incompatible with what the theory attempts to explain or predict, or
  • Your analysis reveals that the theory overly generalizes behaviors or actions without taking into consideration specific factors revealed from your analysis [e.g., factors related to culture, nationality, history, gender, ethnicity, age, geographic location, legal norms or customs , religion, social class, socioeconomic status, etc.].

Philipsen, Kristian. "Theory Building: Using Abductive Search Strategies." In Collaborative Research Design: Working with Business for Meaningful Findings . Per Vagn Freytag and Louise Young, editors. (Singapore: Springer Nature, 2018), pp. 45-71; Shepherd, Dean A. and Roy Suddaby. "Theory Building: A Review and Integration." Journal of Management 43 (2017): 59-86.

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Considering methodological options for reviews of theory: illustrated by a review of theories linking income and health

  • Mhairi Campbell 1 ,
  • Matt Egan 2 ,
  • Theo Lorenc 3 ,
  • Lyndal Bond 4 ,
  • Frank Popham 1 ,
  • Candida Fenton 1 &
  • Michaela Benzeval 1 , 5  

Systematic Reviews volume  3 , Article number:  114 ( 2014 ) Cite this article

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Review of theory is an area of growing methodological advancement. Theoretical reviews are particularly useful where the literature is complex, multi-discipline, or contested. It has been suggested that adopting methods from systematic reviews may help address these challenges. However, the methodological approaches to reviews of theory, including the degree to which systematic review methods can be incorporated, have received little discussion in the literature. We recently employed systematic review methods in a review of theories about the causal relationship between income and health.

This article discusses some of the methodological issues we considered in developing the review and offers lessons learnt from our experiences. It examines the stages of a systematic review in relation to how they could be adapted for a review of theory. The issues arising and the approaches taken in the review of theories in income and health are considered, drawing on the approaches of other reviews of theory.

Different approaches to searching were required, including electronic and manual searches, and electronic citation tracking to follow the development of theories. Determining inclusion criteria was an iterative process to ensure that inclusion criteria were specific enough to make the review practical and focused, but not so narrow that key literature was excluded. Involving subject specialists was valuable in the literature searches to ensure principal papers were identified and during the inductive approaches used in synthesis of theories to provide detailed understanding of how theories related to another. Reviews of theory are likely to involve iterations and inductive processes throughout, and some of the concepts and techniques that have been developed for qualitative evidence synthesis can be usefully translated to theoretical reviews of this kind.

Conclusions

It may be useful at the outset of a review of theory to consider whether the key aim of the review is to scope out theories relating to a particular issue; to conduct in-depth analysis of key theoretical works with the aim of developing new, overarching theories and interpretations; or to combine both these processes in the review. This can help decide the most appropriate methodological approach to take at particular stages of the review.

Peer Review reports

Theory is fundamental to research and rational thought. The term ‘theory’ has been variously defined, and is frequently used without definition, but often refers to an explanatory framework for observations. In science, theories generally purport to explain empirical observations and form the basis on which testable hypotheses are generated to provide support for, or challenge, the theory. Gorelick defines theory as ‘the creative, inductive, and synthetic discipline of forming hypotheses’ [ 1 ], p. 7. Popper defined a scientific theory as one that is experimentally falsifiable [ 2 ]. Merton has contrasted ‘grand’ social theories such as Marxism, functionalism, and post-modernism with ‘middle-range theories’ that start with an empirical phenomenon and abstract from it to create general statements that can be verified by data [ 3 ]. Mid-range theories are dominant within empirical and scientific approaches to research. Gough usefully categorises such research as aiming to generate, explore, or test theories. Of particular importance in health literature are studies which include theories about cause and effect; such studies may test these theories in a ‘black box’ way or attempt to generate, explore, and test more clearly articulated causal-pathway frameworks, such as those presented in logic models [ 4 ]. For this discussion, the terms ‘causal pathway’, ‘causal maps’, and ‘logic model’ refer to qualitative models used to identify key concepts and the links between them [ 5 ].

Within the health sciences, it is widely understood that individual and population health are influenced by a wide array of interconnecting factors, so theoretical models can be complex and, at times, contested [ 6 ]. However, different disciplines approach such research in different ways and are not always well connected. Reviews of theory may aid our attempts to navigate a diverse literature and potentially lead to insights into how factors relate to one another [ 6 – 9 ]. Theory reviews could have one or more of the following aims: identifying and mapping a comprehensive range of relevant theories; assessing which theories have become influential and which have been, or have become over time, largely overlooked; and integrating complementary theories and facilitating the analysis and synthesis of theories into more generalised or abstract ‘meta-theories’. By focusing on theory, rather than diverse empirical studies, reviews can be useful devices to describe complex topics across different disciplines and inform policy debates.

The purpose of this article is to consider the ways in which theoretical reviews might be conducted and in particular the role of systematic approaches within this. It illustrates the discussion by drawing on the approach of a recent theoretical review the authors undertook of income and health [ 10 ]. It discusses some of the methodological challenges and options that reviewers may face when planning and conducting reviews that focus on theoretical literature. We think the discussion will be particularly relevant to reviewers considering the degree to which they might attempt to use and adapt methods commonly associated with systematic reviews, which tend to have been developed around reviews of empirical research and thus not specifically designed to assess descriptions of theories underpinning research. We will discuss the extent to which methods developed and used for reviews of empirical research may, or indeed may not, be usefully adapted to meet the challenges posed when reviewing theories on the phenomena of interest. In particular, we will discuss some of the methods we (the authors) employed when conducting our own recent review of theories of income and health [ 10 ]. Reviews of theory are part of a growing methodological advancement, and we think this would be an opportune time to contribute lessons learnt from our project and others and discuss some of the methodological considerations that inform such a review. Some of our reflections are based on the methods we employed in our review; others result from critical thinking and discussions that took place following the review’s completion.

Below, we outline general approaches in the literature to conducting reviews of theories. We then describe the broad principles of our approach before providing a detailed summary of each stage of the review and the way in which we incorporated systematic approaches into them. We examine how this contributed to our understanding of the literature on income and health and reflect on the value of this approach.

Existing approaches to reviews of theory

There is often substantial variation in the methodologies of reviews that consider theory. Some take the form of traditional literature reviews, often reliant on expert knowledge in the relevant field. Such expert knowledge allows in-depth understanding of theories and links between them. However, it can be limited to the disciplinary perspective of the reviewer, not necessarily identifying less popular or emerging theories, and cannot provide a sense of the extent to which different theories are employed in the literature. Given these limitations, some reviewers of theory have employed methodologies associated with systematic reviews such as comprehensive searches and clear criteria for including, appraising, and synthesising the literature to provide a more comprehensive picture [ 11 , 12 ]. Reviews of theory are thus rather different to reviews of empirical data. In particular, the primary goal of using systematic methods in the latter case is to minimise bias. In theory reviews—where it is not even clear that the concept of ‘bias’ is substantively meaningful—their main contribution may be more in ‘opening up’ reviewers’ thinking about the research topic and widening the potential space of hypothesis generation.

Often reviews of theory are conducted to assist reviewers involved in carrying out systematic reviews of intervention effectiveness. Realist review [ 13 , 14 ] is currently a key area of methodological development around the integration of theory into reviews of interventions. Realist reviews aim to draw out and test ‘programme theories’ about the causal pathways through which interventions work, in order to bring together evidence on effectiveness with data on implementation and context. In some cases, theory reviews may have relatively narrow inclusion criteria tied to theories about a specific intervention. However, narrow criteria do not necessarily lead to small-scale review. Two systematic reviews of theory conducted in relation to larger reviews are Baxter and Allmark’s [ 12 ] review of chest pain and medical assistance and Bonell et al.’s [ 11 ] review of theories on school environment and health: the former has a narrower research question with a search result of around 100 papers, but the latter entailed screening more than 62,000 papers.

A recent systematic review of interventions on crime, fear of crime, health, and the environment was preceded by a mapping broad review of theories that attempted to explain associations between these factors [ 5 ]. The crime review used a pragmatic approach to searching and selecting literature and did not attempt to provide a comprehensive systematic review of all theories related to the topic. Rather, the theory review aimed to construct a coherent framework for integrating relevant theories, in order to contextualise and better understand the empirical data.

The income and health review of theory

We conducted a review of theories about causal relationships between income and health (see Additional file 1 for brief description). Given the wide-ranging literatures across disciplines, and the contested nature of many debates, we felt that a systematic approach to the review would help shed light on the range of casual paths that had been posited. Our intention was to gain some of the benefits of applying systematic review methods to a review of theory, such as clarity, comprehensiveness, and transparency. By making the literature search as systematic and transparent as possible, a review can extend beyond researcher knowledge and disciplinary background [ 15 ]. Developing inclusion criteria and devising methods to uniformly capture data across included papers strengthens objectivity [ 15 ]. By the time the included papers have been assessed, it is hoped that the explicit methods used reduce subjectivity. Once the theories are gathered through the systematic searching, screening, and extracting, the interpretation of their content at the synthesis stage may be still be at risk of subjectivity.

Reviews of theory may be particularly valuable in seeking to develop a synoptic understanding of questions where a number of different disciplines overlap. In our recent review of theories describing pathways linking individual and family income to health [ 10 ], we included theories from public health, psychology, social policy, sociology, and economics, all of which have distinct traditions and vocabularies. In addition, many of the causal pathways between income and health described by these theories are long and complex. In cases such as these, syntheses of theory can help to produce new insights about complex fields by drawing together different paradigms and translating concepts between disciplines.

The techniques developed in the crime theory review were adapted by the authors of the present article for a review of theories linking income to health across the lifecourse [ 10 ]. In the income and health review, an attempt was made to incorporate more techniques from systematic reviews, including a priori inclusion criteria, comprehensive electronic searching, and standardised data extraction. These methods were employed to capture theories from literature in disciplines with which we may have been less familiar. The methods used for our review are indebted to those developed by realist reviewers. However, our review focused less specifically on evaluating mid-range theories of the mechanisms and contexts of interventions and more on mapping and synthesising the whole landscape of theories around income, health, and the lifecourse. The resulting review was a methodological hybrid including elements of the earlier crime review, drawing on seminal literature to create a framework, and more standard systematic reviews. Below, we outline key review stages, illustrated by the methods used in the income and health review of theory. Challenges faced and tactics to address, these are described. The aim was to generate guidance and discussion of methods that may be useful when planning and conducting a review of theory.

Results and discussion

Developing the research question.

An explicitly stated research question is a characteristic of systematic reviews that can be adopted for reviews of theory. The question should be designed following consideration of what the end users will find useful, so consultations with potential end users may be part of the process [ 15 ]. As stated above, review questions can be broad or narrow in scope. A broad question may reflect the reviewers’ aim to scope out and map a wide range of theories within a subject area. The purpose of this income and health review was to use theory as a tool to support a larger programme of work exploring the importance of income and other aspects of family resources in determining a wide range of health and social outcomes. In contrast, if the aim is to identify theories relating to a specific phenomenon or intervention, then a narrow question may be more appropriate. For example, the review of theories of behaviour change in limiting gestational weight gain [ 16 ]; and in another review, Sherman et al. [ 17 ] used self regulatory theory to examine psychological adjustment among male partners in response to women’s cancer. Both these reviews of theory have a narrow topic, distinct from the broad scope of the income and health review.

Assembling the team

Guidance for conducting a systematic review recommends gathering a team that includes an experienced reviewer, a subject specialist, and an information scientist with advanced knowledge of bibliographic search strategies [ 15 ], p. 85; [ 18 ]. For theory reviews, the role of the subject specialists and the stages at which their contribution is valuable may become particularly crucial. Besides helping to ensure that key papers within the field are identified for inclusion in the review, specialists can provide a detailed understanding of how different theories came to be developed, how one theory relates to another, and where the points of controversy lie. It may be useful to have input from more than one specialist if the scope of the review is multi-disciplinary or covers a subject area that is divided by rival theoretical ‘camps’. Conducting the income and health review was aided by the team including members with experience of systematic reviews, theory reviews, and information science, as well as reviewers with backgrounds in lifecourse epidemiology, social policy, and economics. We also worked with an advisory group that included end users and researchers with a range of experience in social science research.

The degree of specialist input required will be influenced by the depth of analysis required. Reviews that aim to provide in-depth synthesis, including attempts to develop meta-theories, are likely to require greater specialist input than reviews that aim to scope the various theories in the literature. This echoes guidance for other types of review. For example, Cochrane’s Qualitative and Implementation Methods group states that greater subject expertise is required to appraise the theoretical contributions made by qualitative research compared to that required simply to include or exclude relevant evidence [ 19 ]. Hence, the most appropriate team for any particular review will depend not only on the subject matter being reviewed, but also on the degree to which the review is intended primarily to be a scoping exercise or a more specialist theoretical analysis.

Inclusion and exclusion

A priori inclusion and exclusion criteria are a mainstay of systematic reviews, helping to guide the literature search and ensure clear focus and transparency in the selection of studies. Frameworks for developing such criteria have been developed. For example, Cochrane advocates the use of criteria that specifies population, intervention, comparison, outcome, and study (PICOS) design. Qualitative reviewers have an alternative framework: sample, phenomenon of interest, design, evaluation, and research type (SPIDER) [ 20 ]. No comparable frameworks currently exist for theory reviews. When conducting reviews of theory, the task of creating inclusion/exclusion criteria can present challenges. First, the term ‘theory’ needs to be defined with enough precision to enable reviewers to consistently filter out papers that are insufficiently theoretical. Generic definitions, such as those highlighted at the beginning of this article, are conceptually helpful, but in practice, reviewers may find themselves struggling to decide whether a text is describing a theory or a hypothesis or speculation (and wondering how crucial these distinctions might be for the review). They may also struggle to find a consistent way of distinguishing a general discussion of issues from a more fully expounded theory. The decisions that were taken of includable theory during the income and health review were guided by screening for substantial hypothesis of exposure—mechanism—outcome and study design. We found considering papers in relation to these criteria a useful tool to clarify the theory content of papers, although we would emphasise that in this particular example it is theories of cause and effect that is being examined. Reviews of alternative types of theory would require alternative criteria.

A second challenge relates to the tension between having inclusion criteria that are specific enough to make the review practical and focused, but not so specific that key literature is excluded. Although this issue is not exclusive to reviews of theory, we found that a particular problem with the income and health theory review was that some of the most widely recognised theoretical texts did not originate from literature that focused on income, health, or lifecourse (i.e. not all three of these elements simultaneously) specifically. The Black Report [ 21 ], for instance, continues to exert a huge influence on how researchers think about the causes of health inequalities, and its theoretical framework can be seen to underpin some of the literature that was relevant to our review. However, the Black Report itself generally refers to the broader concept of socio-economic status rather than more specifically to the issue of income. We did not want to exclude the theoretical framework outlined in the Black Report nor did we want to open up our inclusion criteria so that it included all theories of socio-economic status and health (to do so would have been an enormous undertaking).

One potential solution to both these challenges is to acknowledge that overly rigid a priori inclusion criteria may be less useful for theory reviews, whilst more subjective methods of selecting relevant studies may be more useful; what may be required is a careful balance between these approaches. In the income and health review we developed inclusion criteria in advance of the review but acknowledged that there could be some papers key to explaining relevant theories that might be missed and therefore we allowed reviewers some leeway to include papers that did not quite fit the criteria if deemed sufficiently relevant. Subjective appraisals for relevance should ideally be conducted independently by more than one reviewer reading each text and, if necessary, resolving disagreements through discussion and/or an additional reviewer’s input. However, this process can be time consuming and resource intensive if a literature search has identified large numbers of potentially relevant papers. Another solution could be to use a second reviewer to independently check a random sample of included papers to verify that the criteria are being met consistently. Reviewers may also choose to modify inclusion criteria as the review progresses so that apparent gaps can be redressed and points of interest can be pursued in more detail [ 18 ]. Whilst potentially useful, these ‘solutions’ all carry possible risks of their own related to subjective bias, transparency, size, scope, and manageability of the review.

Our own ‘solution’ to the challenge of determining inclusion criteria was a pragmatic combination of approaches. Two of the review authors (MB, FP) with expert knowledge of socio-economics and income-health literature were able to identify ‘seminal’ papers (key texts, widely regarded as theoretically influential within the field) which are often cited as making important advances in the understanding of how socio-economic factors and health are related. The number of papers included at that stage was small, but the inclusion criteria were broad in the sense that we included theories that considered socio-economic status broadly rather than the narrow definition of income alone. From this review, we created a conceptual framework within which to structure a more in-depth review. A second stage of the review sought out wide-ranging literatures from different disciplines with theories that related specifically to income, health, and lifecourse (or life stages). For this second stage, we developed a priori criteria which were modified slightly as the review progressed. In addition for this stage, we developed criteria for identifying theory based broadly on Pawson and Tilley’s [ 22 ] concepts of context, mechanism, and outcome; although as noted above, the aim of our review was broader than most realist reviews and not focused on evaluation. To be included, a theory had to describe a causal association connecting income to health through a specific pathway or mechanism. More complex theories (e.g. those that involve multiple and multi-staged pathways and outcomes, feedback loops, contextual factors) were included if they involved the three core components of income, causal pathway or mechanism, and health outcome. Papers were excluded if they did not discuss theories at all or if they did not present theories containing all three of the core components. Papers were also excluded if the theoretical discussion was judged (subjectively) by reviewers to be cursory, for example, where a hypothesis or existing theory was briefly referred to or implied as part of a general discussion.

Literature searches for systematic reviews often incorporate formal electronic searches of subject-relevant research databases such as MEDLINE, EconLit, and PsycINFO. It is also good practice to include so-called ‘hand searching’ (a misnomer, as much of this searching is also electronic) techniques. Hand searching may include expert consultations, trawls through specific journals, checking the references of included studies, and seeing where included studies have themselves been cited (some databases such as Web of Knowledge and Scopus allow for this type of forward citation tracking) [ 15 ], p. 104.

In our review of income and health, the aim of the electronic searches was to identify papers outwith our personal collections. The intentionally broad focus of the review question, combined with the vast amount of literature relating to income and health, resulted in our development of a two part electronic search strategy (see Additional file 2 ). One focused on ‘highly cited literature’ and the other aimed to capture ‘recent literature’, although both employed the same search terms. The highly cited search was an attempt to identify the most influential theoretical work. This used electronic databases, SCOPUS and Web of Knowledge, which focus on high impact journals and may be used for citation tracking. The top 2,000 papers, ordered by number of citations, were taken from each database, on the assumption that the most highly cited papers were most likely to have been particularly influential. This search was repeated twice as we refined our search terms. Given the focus on highly cited papers, these searches tended to identify older papers. The ‘recent literature’ search was designed to be more specifically focused on identifying emerging theories from different disciplines. It focused on subject-specific databases from the fields of health sciences (such as epidemiology, medical sociology, health economics, health psychology, health geography, clinical sciences, public health), economics, political sciences, geography, and sociology. This search was limited to papers published within the past 10 years to identify more recent theories and those that have current application.There are no well-tested search strategies for identifying theoretical literature. Our approach identified 5,021 papers; of these, 272 were employed in the review. Several of the authors had extensive collections of papers relevant to this study, referred to here as ‘personal collection’. To satisfy our curiosity of the final contribution of the electronic and hand searching to the income and health review, we compared original search results prior to de-duplication. For this exercise, we included personal collections and citation tracking as hand searching and the ‘highly cited’ and ‘recent literature’ electronic searches as electronic. The final proportions of these groups are shown in Figure  1 . Of the papers finally included in the income and health review, 76% were identified solely through hand searching: of these, 64% were in the personal collections of subject specialists and 12% came from either forward or backwards citation tracking. The citation searching included tracking references from papers found through the electronic searches. The electronic bibliographic searches identified 12% of final inclusion papers (along with a further 12% of included papers that were found both through the electronic and hand-searching methods). Therefore, for the income and health review, we found that electronic bibliographic literature searches had limitations, with a large amount of effort yielding a relatively small proportion of the final included papers. However, those papers were not identified by any of the other search strategies and hence were important to the aim of including multi-discipline literature. Citation tracking, both backwards and forwards, also resulted in useful literature being found, particularly for compiling our theoretical framework of how mechanisms interact to impact on health.

figure 1

Source of included papers for the income and health review of theory.

Whilst piloting our electronic search strategy, we developed and tested search terms to help us identify theoretical papers. We found that the string of terms ‘theory or pathway or model or mechanism or review’ (with truncations appropriate to specific databases) were useful for identifying papers that discussed theories. Nonetheless, when the terms for ‘income’, ‘theory’, and ‘health’ were checked separately and then combined, we also found that 17% of papers that we wanted to retrieve from our initial (and intentionally broad) electronic search did not include all of the terms in the title or abstract—and therefore would have been missed from any literature search that used that term as a filter; 8% had no term to identify theory in the title or abstract.

In other reviews, the searching process for relevant theory has been dependent on the search strategy for empirical evidence on the same topic. The theory-based review by Baxter and Allmark on chest pain and medical assistance was conducted on literature identified from a previous systematic review of empirical evidence. Hence, the reviewers focused on literature already searched and filtered [ 12 ]. The review of theory on school environment and health combined searching for theory with the searches for relevant empirical studies [ 23 ]. Therefore, papers containing relevant theory were identified during the screening process of papers reporting empirical studies. A potential limitation of this approach is that it could omit publications that provided detailed theoretical discussions without presenting empirical data. Optimising the balance between search specificity and selectivity is a perennial problem for systematic reviewers. The challenges described here underline the need for multiple approaches, including formal electronic searches and hand searches, so that the strengths of one approach can help to compensate for the deficiencies of another whilst ensuring the reviewers’ task is manageable. A consequence of the initial broad electronic searching for the income and health review was the time it took to screen over 5,000 papers. This was amplified by the fact that frequently the title and abstract gave no indication of whether there was any theoretical content and the full text had to be retrieved and screened. This is likely to be a feature of many reviews of theory and perhaps consideration has to be given to the following: achieving a balance between including search terms to limit the focus to papers including theory, with the risk of missing important texts; acknowledging a realistic timescale required for thorough searching and screening for relevant papers, with the possibility of a low ‘hit’ rate; or reconsider the objectives to establish whether a tighter focus is preferable.

Data extraction

Reviewers have a number of options regarding how they select and extract data from included papers in such a way as to manage often substantial amounts of information and to aid synthesis. One option is to produce standardised extraction forms to help ensure that similar types of data are taken from each paper to facilitate cross-comparison. If the included documents are too heterogeneous to fit a standardised approach, or if the reviewers are looking to conduct more detailed qualitative analysis, an alternative approach is more useful. In systematic reviews of qualitative research, reviewers may work with whole texts rather than selected extracts, using ethnographic or other techniques to code and then analyse the data. Textual analysis software such as NVivo can be used to aid this process. If the reviewers feel they have a thorough knowledge of the papers, they may feel that formal data extraction and coding are unnecessary.

Reviewers of theory have a similar range of standardised and qualitative approaches to extracting data, and their choice may be determined on the purpose of the review (e.g. the extent of scoping or in-depth analysis) and their degree of familiarity with the material. As the income and health review combined an in-depth analysis of seminal literature with a broader scope of relevant theories, a combination of approaches was used. The analysis of the small number of key papers was conducted by subject specialists without a formal data extraction process. In contrast, the scoping part of the review led to the inclusion of 147 papers that were summarised using a data extraction form that we created in Microsoft Access specifically for the review (see Additional file 3 for fields included). The extracted data were then coded into broader categories of theory relating to causal mechanisms from the review of seminal papers. Data were extracted by one reviewer, and a second reviewer independently extracted a sample of studies; results were compared and differences discussed to develop a common consistent approach.

Quality appraisal

For most systematic reviews, appraisals of the methodological quality of included evidence are a crucial stage that then enables reviewers to determine the strength of evidence and potential for bias relating to specific findings. Within evidence synthesis, in particular qualitative synthesis, there is discussion of whether it is appropriate to appraise the quality of studies and what form such appraisals might take [ 4 , 24 ]. Similarly, theoretical evidence cannot be appraised using the kinds of tools which have been developed for more conventional systematic reviews, most of which tend to focus on internal validity and study design. Some reviews have emphasised theories identified in empirical papers that were judged to be of high methodological quality [ 12 ]. However, study methodology and theoretical development are different areas of research demanding different skills and so it does not necessarily follow that high quality empirical methods necessarily occur alongside good or influential theories [ 24 ]. It may be that the appraisal process helps to distinguish between papers presenting a theory based on flawed empirical study and papers presenting a comprehensively argued theory which fail to clearly report research methods.

Detailed appraisal of theories is likely to involve an inductive and subjective approach by researchers with a thorough knowledge of the field, rather than the use of standardised checklists (although one exception to this is the checklist devised by Bonell et al. [ 23 ]). Our income and health review did not include a standardised critical appraisal of the theories we included. In retrospect, it may have been useful to have attempted to grade theories by relevance to the review question and, possibly, by level of detail or originality, to help exclude studies that included relatively minor theoretical discussions or simply referred to the work of other theorists.

Approaches to data synthesis will differ depending on the different aims of a review. Gough helpfully distinguishes between aggregative and configurative reviews—the former generally focus on synthesising empirical papers and ‘add up’ their findings, whilst the latter aim to interpret and configure findings from existing literature to develop new understandings of existing research [ 4 ]. Theoretical reviews often lean more to configurative approaches but may also contain some aspects of aggregation depending on the aim. This results in different approaches to synthesis. Some reviews (e.g. Bonell et al. [ 11 ]) have treated the individual theory as the unit of analysis, with a focus on constructing a typology of theories within an overarching picture of causal determinants. Others have an in-depth or configurative approach, for example, Lorenc et al. [ 25 ] aimed to analytically isolate specific causal or interpretive assertions from diverse theories and then to develop a causal ‘map’ of the interrelations between different factors.

However, there remain a number of unanswered questions around synthesis of theories, particularly whether diverse, complex, and potentially incommensurable conceptual vocabularies can be effectively integrated. A review of theory that attempted a more in-depth analysis could incorporate techniques developed for qualitative reviews, for example, from thematic synthesis [ 26 ] or meta-ethnography [ 27 ]. The reviewers could attempt to distinguish between different orders of theory: those framed directly around specific data, those that result from an author’s attempts to juxtapose pre-existing theories and/or ideological positions with empirical observations, and those resulting from the reviewers own reflections based on comparisons of the included literature. Broadly following the meta-ethnographical approach, reviewers could explore whether the relationship between different theories is reciprocal (i.e. the theories are mutually supportive) or refutational (i.e. the theories appear to contradict one another) or whether the theories can potentially form part of the same line of argument (e.g. by representing different stages along the same causal pathway) [ 27 ].

As has been noted, the income and health review was a hybrid that combined an expert review of key literature with a wider scope of relevant theoretical literature drawn from systematic searches. The seminal texts in the expert review were synthesised through a subjective process of induction by specialists who had immersed themselves in the literature. A key synthesising stage of the systematic searches was the interpretative collating of findings which was used to create a causal map and review the key concepts and relations that were believed to be important. Through an iterative process of checking between this mapping process and the themes we had developed from the systematic scoping literature, a framework of theoretical pathways between income and health was constructed.

The synthesis process used in the income and health review combined standardised and iterative elements. Guided by Baxter et al.’s [ 6 ] method of developing a conceptual framework, papers were scanned to extract descriptions of specific pathways/theories linking income to health. The extracted literature was organised by a coding framework: a typology of theories, developed iteratively in conjunction with the analysis of seminal texts. The extracted texts were then organised by themes emerging from the data within each theory type, drawing together similar theoretical pathways from differing disciplines including sociology, economics, public health, and psychology. Narrative synthesis techniques were used to scope, compare, and contrast the key theories that were identified and focused on: the definition of key concepts, hypothesised pathways, the range of contextual factors included in the model/theory, and the time sequencing of hypothesised influences and outcomes within the lifecourse. These methods are similar to the processes involved in thematic synthesis described by Thomas and Harden [ 26 ]. In retrospect, awareness that the synthesis process we undertook would concentrate entirely on qualitative techniques would have enabled us to adopt qualitative software and analysis methods at an early stage of the review. This may have made the data collection quicker and the synthesis more intuitive.

In this article, we have discussed some of the methodological issues involved when conducting a review of theory, using examples from a recently conducted theoretical review of income and health. The article should be read as a discussion of what we learnt rather than an attempt at formal guidance. The aim has been to help provide a starting point for anyone considering their own review of theory to think about the possible purpose of their review and the methods that are most appropriate for that purpose. We suggest that there are a spectra of methods for conducting theory reviews that stretch from scoping out theories relating to a particular issue to in-depth analysis of key theoretical works with the aim of developing new, overarching theories and interpretations. The two types of approach are not mutually exclusive; the income and health review included elements of both. We think it may be useful at the outset of a review of theory to spend time considering whether the key aim of the review is to scope, to conduct in-depth analysis, or to combine both these aspects in the review. Identifying the type of review can clarify the most appropriate approach. Scoping reviews are more likely to require a more standardised approach to searching, inclusion and exclusion, and data extraction to help manage the potentially large numbers of studies that may be identified. However, in our experience, scoping reviews of theory also benefit from the flexibility and nuance that can come from more subjective and inductive processes. In-depth reviews of theory are likely to involve iterations and inductive processes throughout, and we have suggested that some of the concepts and techniques that have been developed for qualitative evidence synthesis can be usefully translated to theory reviews of this kind.

Reflecting on our experience of conducting the review of theories on income and health, we feel that there were positive and negative aspects to the process. Table  1 summarises the main challenges we faced. Taking the time to grapple with defining and applying inclusion criteria was a process which helped clarify what we were looking for and how we wanted to use it. The systematic searching was extensive and laborious, and we found that it contributed only a small amount to the review in comparison with that found through personal libraries. However, those papers would have been omitted without the systematic search methods, probably reducing the scope of the review.

Our team of authors included members with substantial knowledge of the income and health topic; it is possible that conducting the review without access to this knowledge would make the systematic searching of far greater relevance. The team also included members with considerable experience in conducting systematic reviews. Although this had some advantages in terms of methodological expertise, we have tried to show here that systematic review methods are not always appropriate or may need to be adapted for theory reviews—and the reviewers need the confidence and flexibility to do this.

We suggested in the background above that systematic methods may be valuable in reviews of theory for two reasons: to complement the review team’s existing expertise as a framework for hypothesis generation and to increase reliability in the synthesis. Our experience suggests that these benefits are real, in that the systematic approach helps to distance reviewers from commitments to particular perspectives. Nonetheless, reviewer expertise continued to define the interpretation of the theories and was also indispensable in searching.

Reviewers wondering which approach and methods would best suit them should consider the purpose of the review in terms of what would be most useful to end users. Furthermore, if reviews of theory are to be more common, their general utility requires greater consideration. At this stage in their development, there is an opportunity to pose searching questions about the uses and usefulness of such reviews. How would the focus and content alter depending on whether their main function was as an academic resource, as a support for decision makers, or as a combination of the two? Do their findings genuinely advance our understanding of theory (e.g. by identifying overlooked theories, by showing how apparently rival theories relate to one another, or by aiding the generation of meta-theories)? Conversely, do they tend to reiterate theoretical viewpoints that are already well established (including, for example, the view that social phenomena are frequently ‘complex’)? Future work on this kind of synthesis will doubtless lead to a refinement of methods and can shed more light on the added value that can be obtained by reviewing theory.

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Acknowledgements

MC was funded on the income and health review of theory by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. At the time of the review, LB, ME and CF were funded by the UK Medical Research Council/Chief Scientist Office Evaluating the Health Effects of Social Interventions programme (MC_UU_12017/4), and MC is currently funded by this programme; MB and FP were funded by the Social Patterning of Health over the Lifecourse programme (MC_UU_12017/7) at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow. Mark Petticrew, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, was a co-author of the income and health review of theory and provided helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article.

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Mhairi Campbell, Frank Popham, Candida Fenton & Michaela Benzeval

NHS NIHR School of Public Health Research, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK

STEaPP, University College London, London, UK

Theo Lorenc

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MC and ME wrote the first draft of this article, with MB and TL contributing to drafting. All authors contributed to revising the manuscript and approved the final draft. All authors were involved in developing and conducting the income health review of theory.

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13643_2014_288_moesm1_esm.doc.

Additional file 1: Purpose and methods for the income and health review [ [ 21 ] , [ 28 ] - [ 30 ] ]. The review is on theories about causal relationships between income and health. (DOC 48 KB)

13643_2014_288_MOESM2_ESM.doc

Additional file 2: Further details of income and health electronic literature searches. Details show development of a two part electronic search strategy. (DOC 48 KB)

13643_2014_288_MOESM3_ESM.doc

Additional file 3: Data extraction for the income and health review [ [ 30 ] - [ 41 ] ]. List shows the details collected from the papers included in the systematic search. (DOC 48 KB)

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Campbell, M., Egan, M., Lorenc, T. et al. Considering methodological options for reviews of theory: illustrated by a review of theories linking income and health. Syst Rev 3 , 114 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1186/2046-4053-3-114

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DOI : https://doi.org/10.1186/2046-4053-3-114

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Theoretical Frameworks

Theoretical frameworks provide a particular perspective, or lens, through which to examine a topic. There are many different lenses, such as psychological theories, social theories, organizational theories and economic theories, which may be used to define concepts and explain phenomena. Sometimes these frameworks may come from an area outside of your immediate academic discipline. Using a theoretical framework for your dissertation can help you to better analyze past events by providing a particular set of questions to ask, and a particular perspective to use when examining your topic.

Traditionally, Ph.D. and Applied Degree research must include relevant theoretical framework(s) to frame, or inform, every aspect of the dissertation. Further, Ph.D. dissertations should make an original contribution to the field by adding support for the theory, or, conversely, demonstrating ways in which the theory may not be as explanatory as originally thought. You can learn more about the theoretical framework requirements in the NU Dissertation Center .

It can be difficult to find scholarly work that takes a particular theoretical approach because articles, books, and book chapters are typically described according to the topics they tackle rather than the methods they use to tackle them. Further, there is no single database or search technique for locating theoretical information. However, the suggestions below provide techniques for locating possible theoretical frameworks and theorists in the Library databases. In addition to your Library research, you should discuss possible theories your Dissertation Chair to ensure they align with your study. Also, keep in mind that you will probably find and discard several potential theoretical frameworks before one is finally chosen.

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  • Theoretical Frameworks in Qualitative Research Book effectively explains, through discussion and example, what a theoretical framework is, how it is used in qualitative research, and the effects it has on the research process.

Conceptual Frameworks

A conceptual framework provides the concept or set of related concepts supporting the basis or foundation of a study. It creates a conceptual model for possible strategies or courses of action identified as important for researching a particular problem or issue. While a conceptual framework is often referred to interchangeably with a theoretical framework, it maintains a distinct purpose. A conceptual framework is used to clarify concepts, organize ideas, and identify relationships with which to frame a study. Concepts are logically developed and organized to support an overall framework and often exhibited graphically within dissertation research. Note that a dissertation may include both a theoretical framework and a conceptual framework.

The suggestions below provide techniques for locating possible conceptual frameworks in the Library databases. Note when examples may use the term "theoretical framework," you may change your search terms to "conceptual framework." In addition to your Library research, you should discuss possible frameworks your Dissertation Chair to ensure they align with your study. Also, keep in mind that you will probably find and discard several potential conceptual frameworks before one is finally chosen.

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Use the Library’s e-book databases to gather background information on a particular theory or theorist. Since the e-book databases will contain fewer resources than a database containing thousands of scholarly journal articles, it is best to keep your search terms a little more broad.

For example, a search for education theory in the Ebook Central database results in many relevant e-books, as shown below. Expanding the Table of Contents will provide additional details about the e-book.

Ebook Central search results screen showing books related to education theories.

Encyclopedias and handbooks will also provide reliable background information on particular theories. For example, a search for cognitive developmental theory in the Credo Reference database results in a number of reference entries which discuss the history of the theory, identify relevant theorists, and cite seminal research studies.

Credo Reference search results screen for cognitive developmental theory.

You may search for theorists and theoretical information using Google and Google Scholar , as well. However, please keep in mind that you will need to be more discriminating when it comes to using material found on open access websites. We recommend reviewing the Website Evaluation guidelines when considering online sources.

One method that may be used in Google is limiting your search by a particular domain name. If a website ends in .org, .gov, or .edu, it is more likely to be a scholarly source. If it ends in .com or .net it is less likely to be a scholarly source. In the search below, for example, we have limited our search for "leadership theories" to just those websites ending with .edu. You may also find this domain limiter under Tools>Advanced Search.

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The ProQuest Dissertations & Theses database (PQDT) is the world's most comprehensive collection of dissertations and theses. It is the database of record for graduate research, with over 2.3 million dissertations and theses included from around the world.

Since most doctoral research requires a theoretical framework, looking at completed dissertations related to your topic is an effective way to identify relevant theories and theorists. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global provides access to over 3 million full text doctoral dissertations and graduate theses. You may limit your search to only doctoral dissertations by using the Advanced Search screen. Look at the table of contents or abstract for reference to theoretical framework, as shown below. The dissertation’s references/bibliography will have a full citation to the original theorist’s research.

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On the NavigatorSearchscreen, include theor* as one your search terms, as shown below. It will retrieve results that include one of the following keywords: theory, theories, theoretical, theorist, or theorists . It is important to keep in mind, however, that this is not a foolproof method for locating theoretical frameworks. Scholars will often cite theory or theorists in order to refute them, or because they are saying something that's tangentially related, or they may even just refer to theory briefly in passing. In our example, we have selected the field for AB Abstract because if theory is mentioned within the abstract, the study is more likely to take a theoretical approach.  

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As shown below, results from our example search clearly include articles which apply theory to the topic of curriculum design.  

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Remember to look past the article title. Theoretical information may be mentioned in a subheading, or referred to elsewhere in the document. Use the FIND feature in your PDF viewer or internet browser to scan the document for terms such as theor*  (to pull up theory, theorist, theoretical), framework, conceptual, perspective , etc., as shown below.

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SAGE Research Methods  is a multimedia database containing more than 1,000 books, reference works, journal articles, and instructional videos covering every step of the research process. It includes e-books and e-book chapters which may help you better understand the theoretical framework aspect of your research study. A selection of resources is included below:

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Use the main search bar to locate information about theoretical frameworks. Search the general phrase "theoretical frameworks," or the name of a specific theoretical framework like "social cognitive theory," in quotation marks to yield results with that specific phrase. See the example below.

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  • Anfara, V. (2008). Theoretical frameworks. In L. M. Given (Ed.), The SAGE Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods. (pp. 870-874). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
  • Anfara, V. A., & Mertz, N. T. (Eds.). (2006). Theoretical frameworks in qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
  • Theoretical framework. (2014). In Walker, R., & Solvason, C. Success with your early years research project (pp. 21-32). London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Content: Citations and articles in multi-disciplines not found through a NavigatorSearch.

Purpose: Used to conduct topic searches as well as find additional resources that have cited a specific resource (citation network).

You may conduct a Cited Reference Search in Web of Science to find articles that cite a primary theorist in your area. These articles are likely to tackle your topic through your theoretical lens, or will point you toward another article that does. To access Web of Knowledge, go to A-Z Databases from the Library’s home page.

On the Web of Science home page, click on Cited Reference Search  to search for articles that cite a person's work. 

Enter the name of a key theorist in your area (in our example, John Dewey) in the format they specify (in this case Dewey J*), as shown below, and press "Search."

literature review of theoretical models

On the results screen, select the appropriate Web of Science category under Refine Results. For example, we could select “Education Educational Research” and then click “Refine.” You may wish to further refine by Document Type, Research Area, Author, etc. (also located on the left hand menu). Sorting your results by “Times Cited - Oldest to Newest"  is an effective way to discover the most frequently cited works. 

literature review of theoretical models

  • 12Manage Global knowledge platform on management and business administration, including descriptions of frameworks. Requires free email sign up.
  • Academic Theories Includes alphabetical listing of theories, as well as grouping by type.
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  • Psychological Theories Browse alphabetically or use the clusters feature to view theories grouped by similar topics or approaches.
  • Theories Used in Information Systems (IS) Research Click on a linked theory name to find details about the theory, some examples of IS papers using the theory, and links to related sites.

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Lau F, Kuziemsky C, editors. Handbook of eHealth Evaluation: An Evidence-based Approach [Internet]. Victoria (BC): University of Victoria; 2017 Feb 27.

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Handbook of eHealth Evaluation: An Evidence-based Approach [Internet].

Chapter 9 methods for literature reviews.

Guy Paré and Spyros Kitsiou .

9.1. Introduction

Literature reviews play a critical role in scholarship because science remains, first and foremost, a cumulative endeavour ( vom Brocke et al., 2009 ). As in any academic discipline, rigorous knowledge syntheses are becoming indispensable in keeping up with an exponentially growing eHealth literature, assisting practitioners, academics, and graduate students in finding, evaluating, and synthesizing the contents of many empirical and conceptual papers. Among other methods, literature reviews are essential for: (a) identifying what has been written on a subject or topic; (b) determining the extent to which a specific research area reveals any interpretable trends or patterns; (c) aggregating empirical findings related to a narrow research question to support evidence-based practice; (d) generating new frameworks and theories; and (e) identifying topics or questions requiring more investigation ( Paré, Trudel, Jaana, & Kitsiou, 2015 ).

Literature reviews can take two major forms. The most prevalent one is the “literature review” or “background” section within a journal paper or a chapter in a graduate thesis. This section synthesizes the extant literature and usually identifies the gaps in knowledge that the empirical study addresses ( Sylvester, Tate, & Johnstone, 2013 ). It may also provide a theoretical foundation for the proposed study, substantiate the presence of the research problem, justify the research as one that contributes something new to the cumulated knowledge, or validate the methods and approaches for the proposed study ( Hart, 1998 ; Levy & Ellis, 2006 ).

The second form of literature review, which is the focus of this chapter, constitutes an original and valuable work of research in and of itself ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Rather than providing a base for a researcher’s own work, it creates a solid starting point for all members of the community interested in a particular area or topic ( Mulrow, 1987 ). The so-called “review article” is a journal-length paper which has an overarching purpose to synthesize the literature in a field, without collecting or analyzing any primary data ( Green, Johnson, & Adams, 2006 ).

When appropriately conducted, review articles represent powerful information sources for practitioners looking for state-of-the art evidence to guide their decision-making and work practices ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Further, high-quality reviews become frequently cited pieces of work which researchers seek out as a first clear outline of the literature when undertaking empirical studies ( Cooper, 1988 ; Rowe, 2014 ). Scholars who track and gauge the impact of articles have found that review papers are cited and downloaded more often than any other type of published article ( Cronin, Ryan, & Coughlan, 2008 ; Montori, Wilczynski, Morgan, Haynes, & Hedges, 2003 ; Patsopoulos, Analatos, & Ioannidis, 2005 ). The reason for their popularity may be the fact that reading the review enables one to have an overview, if not a detailed knowledge of the area in question, as well as references to the most useful primary sources ( Cronin et al., 2008 ). Although they are not easy to conduct, the commitment to complete a review article provides a tremendous service to one’s academic community ( Paré et al., 2015 ; Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ). Most, if not all, peer-reviewed journals in the fields of medical informatics publish review articles of some type.

The main objectives of this chapter are fourfold: (a) to provide an overview of the major steps and activities involved in conducting a stand-alone literature review; (b) to describe and contrast the different types of review articles that can contribute to the eHealth knowledge base; (c) to illustrate each review type with one or two examples from the eHealth literature; and (d) to provide a series of recommendations for prospective authors of review articles in this domain.

9.2. Overview of the Literature Review Process and Steps

As explained in Templier and Paré (2015) , there are six generic steps involved in conducting a review article:

  • formulating the research question(s) and objective(s),
  • searching the extant literature,
  • screening for inclusion,
  • assessing the quality of primary studies,
  • extracting data, and
  • analyzing data.

Although these steps are presented here in sequential order, one must keep in mind that the review process can be iterative and that many activities can be initiated during the planning stage and later refined during subsequent phases ( Finfgeld-Connett & Johnson, 2013 ; Kitchenham & Charters, 2007 ).

Formulating the research question(s) and objective(s): As a first step, members of the review team must appropriately justify the need for the review itself ( Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ), identify the review’s main objective(s) ( Okoli & Schabram, 2010 ), and define the concepts or variables at the heart of their synthesis ( Cooper & Hedges, 2009 ; Webster & Watson, 2002 ). Importantly, they also need to articulate the research question(s) they propose to investigate ( Kitchenham & Charters, 2007 ). In this regard, we concur with Jesson, Matheson, and Lacey (2011) that clearly articulated research questions are key ingredients that guide the entire review methodology; they underscore the type of information that is needed, inform the search for and selection of relevant literature, and guide or orient the subsequent analysis. Searching the extant literature: The next step consists of searching the literature and making decisions about the suitability of material to be considered in the review ( Cooper, 1988 ). There exist three main coverage strategies. First, exhaustive coverage means an effort is made to be as comprehensive as possible in order to ensure that all relevant studies, published and unpublished, are included in the review and, thus, conclusions are based on this all-inclusive knowledge base. The second type of coverage consists of presenting materials that are representative of most other works in a given field or area. Often authors who adopt this strategy will search for relevant articles in a small number of top-tier journals in a field ( Paré et al., 2015 ). In the third strategy, the review team concentrates on prior works that have been central or pivotal to a particular topic. This may include empirical studies or conceptual papers that initiated a line of investigation, changed how problems or questions were framed, introduced new methods or concepts, or engendered important debate ( Cooper, 1988 ). Screening for inclusion: The following step consists of evaluating the applicability of the material identified in the preceding step ( Levy & Ellis, 2006 ; vom Brocke et al., 2009 ). Once a group of potential studies has been identified, members of the review team must screen them to determine their relevance ( Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ). A set of predetermined rules provides a basis for including or excluding certain studies. This exercise requires a significant investment on the part of researchers, who must ensure enhanced objectivity and avoid biases or mistakes. As discussed later in this chapter, for certain types of reviews there must be at least two independent reviewers involved in the screening process and a procedure to resolve disagreements must also be in place ( Liberati et al., 2009 ; Shea et al., 2009 ). Assessing the quality of primary studies: In addition to screening material for inclusion, members of the review team may need to assess the scientific quality of the selected studies, that is, appraise the rigour of the research design and methods. Such formal assessment, which is usually conducted independently by at least two coders, helps members of the review team refine which studies to include in the final sample, determine whether or not the differences in quality may affect their conclusions, or guide how they analyze the data and interpret the findings ( Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ). Ascribing quality scores to each primary study or considering through domain-based evaluations which study components have or have not been designed and executed appropriately makes it possible to reflect on the extent to which the selected study addresses possible biases and maximizes validity ( Shea et al., 2009 ). Extracting data: The following step involves gathering or extracting applicable information from each primary study included in the sample and deciding what is relevant to the problem of interest ( Cooper & Hedges, 2009 ). Indeed, the type of data that should be recorded mainly depends on the initial research questions ( Okoli & Schabram, 2010 ). However, important information may also be gathered about how, when, where and by whom the primary study was conducted, the research design and methods, or qualitative/quantitative results ( Cooper & Hedges, 2009 ). Analyzing and synthesizing data : As a final step, members of the review team must collate, summarize, aggregate, organize, and compare the evidence extracted from the included studies. The extracted data must be presented in a meaningful way that suggests a new contribution to the extant literature ( Jesson et al., 2011 ). Webster and Watson (2002) warn researchers that literature reviews should be much more than lists of papers and should provide a coherent lens to make sense of extant knowledge on a given topic. There exist several methods and techniques for synthesizing quantitative (e.g., frequency analysis, meta-analysis) and qualitative (e.g., grounded theory, narrative analysis, meta-ethnography) evidence ( Dixon-Woods, Agarwal, Jones, Young, & Sutton, 2005 ; Thomas & Harden, 2008 ).

9.3. Types of Review Articles and Brief Illustrations

EHealth researchers have at their disposal a number of approaches and methods for making sense out of existing literature, all with the purpose of casting current research findings into historical contexts or explaining contradictions that might exist among a set of primary research studies conducted on a particular topic. Our classification scheme is largely inspired from Paré and colleagues’ (2015) typology. Below we present and illustrate those review types that we feel are central to the growth and development of the eHealth domain.

9.3.1. Narrative Reviews

The narrative review is the “traditional” way of reviewing the extant literature and is skewed towards a qualitative interpretation of prior knowledge ( Sylvester et al., 2013 ). Put simply, a narrative review attempts to summarize or synthesize what has been written on a particular topic but does not seek generalization or cumulative knowledge from what is reviewed ( Davies, 2000 ; Green et al., 2006 ). Instead, the review team often undertakes the task of accumulating and synthesizing the literature to demonstrate the value of a particular point of view ( Baumeister & Leary, 1997 ). As such, reviewers may selectively ignore or limit the attention paid to certain studies in order to make a point. In this rather unsystematic approach, the selection of information from primary articles is subjective, lacks explicit criteria for inclusion and can lead to biased interpretations or inferences ( Green et al., 2006 ). There are several narrative reviews in the particular eHealth domain, as in all fields, which follow such an unstructured approach ( Silva et al., 2015 ; Paul et al., 2015 ).

Despite these criticisms, this type of review can be very useful in gathering together a volume of literature in a specific subject area and synthesizing it. As mentioned above, its primary purpose is to provide the reader with a comprehensive background for understanding current knowledge and highlighting the significance of new research ( Cronin et al., 2008 ). Faculty like to use narrative reviews in the classroom because they are often more up to date than textbooks, provide a single source for students to reference, and expose students to peer-reviewed literature ( Green et al., 2006 ). For researchers, narrative reviews can inspire research ideas by identifying gaps or inconsistencies in a body of knowledge, thus helping researchers to determine research questions or formulate hypotheses. Importantly, narrative reviews can also be used as educational articles to bring practitioners up to date with certain topics of issues ( Green et al., 2006 ).

Recently, there have been several efforts to introduce more rigour in narrative reviews that will elucidate common pitfalls and bring changes into their publication standards. Information systems researchers, among others, have contributed to advancing knowledge on how to structure a “traditional” review. For instance, Levy and Ellis (2006) proposed a generic framework for conducting such reviews. Their model follows the systematic data processing approach comprised of three steps, namely: (a) literature search and screening; (b) data extraction and analysis; and (c) writing the literature review. They provide detailed and very helpful instructions on how to conduct each step of the review process. As another methodological contribution, vom Brocke et al. (2009) offered a series of guidelines for conducting literature reviews, with a particular focus on how to search and extract the relevant body of knowledge. Last, Bandara, Miskon, and Fielt (2011) proposed a structured, predefined and tool-supported method to identify primary studies within a feasible scope, extract relevant content from identified articles, synthesize and analyze the findings, and effectively write and present the results of the literature review. We highly recommend that prospective authors of narrative reviews consult these useful sources before embarking on their work.

Darlow and Wen (2015) provide a good example of a highly structured narrative review in the eHealth field. These authors synthesized published articles that describe the development process of mobile health ( m-health ) interventions for patients’ cancer care self-management. As in most narrative reviews, the scope of the research questions being investigated is broad: (a) how development of these systems are carried out; (b) which methods are used to investigate these systems; and (c) what conclusions can be drawn as a result of the development of these systems. To provide clear answers to these questions, a literature search was conducted on six electronic databases and Google Scholar . The search was performed using several terms and free text words, combining them in an appropriate manner. Four inclusion and three exclusion criteria were utilized during the screening process. Both authors independently reviewed each of the identified articles to determine eligibility and extract study information. A flow diagram shows the number of studies identified, screened, and included or excluded at each stage of study selection. In terms of contributions, this review provides a series of practical recommendations for m-health intervention development.

9.3.2. Descriptive or Mapping Reviews

The primary goal of a descriptive review is to determine the extent to which a body of knowledge in a particular research topic reveals any interpretable pattern or trend with respect to pre-existing propositions, theories, methodologies or findings ( King & He, 2005 ; Paré et al., 2015 ). In contrast with narrative reviews, descriptive reviews follow a systematic and transparent procedure, including searching, screening and classifying studies ( Petersen, Vakkalanka, & Kuzniarz, 2015 ). Indeed, structured search methods are used to form a representative sample of a larger group of published works ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Further, authors of descriptive reviews extract from each study certain characteristics of interest, such as publication year, research methods, data collection techniques, and direction or strength of research outcomes (e.g., positive, negative, or non-significant) in the form of frequency analysis to produce quantitative results ( Sylvester et al., 2013 ). In essence, each study included in a descriptive review is treated as the unit of analysis and the published literature as a whole provides a database from which the authors attempt to identify any interpretable trends or draw overall conclusions about the merits of existing conceptualizations, propositions, methods or findings ( Paré et al., 2015 ). In doing so, a descriptive review may claim that its findings represent the state of the art in a particular domain ( King & He, 2005 ).

In the fields of health sciences and medical informatics, reviews that focus on examining the range, nature and evolution of a topic area are described by Anderson, Allen, Peckham, and Goodwin (2008) as mapping reviews . Like descriptive reviews, the research questions are generic and usually relate to publication patterns and trends. There is no preconceived plan to systematically review all of the literature although this can be done. Instead, researchers often present studies that are representative of most works published in a particular area and they consider a specific time frame to be mapped.

An example of this approach in the eHealth domain is offered by DeShazo, Lavallie, and Wolf (2009). The purpose of this descriptive or mapping review was to characterize publication trends in the medical informatics literature over a 20-year period (1987 to 2006). To achieve this ambitious objective, the authors performed a bibliometric analysis of medical informatics citations indexed in medline using publication trends, journal frequencies, impact factors, Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) term frequencies, and characteristics of citations. Findings revealed that there were over 77,000 medical informatics articles published during the covered period in numerous journals and that the average annual growth rate was 12%. The MeSH term analysis also suggested a strong interdisciplinary trend. Finally, average impact scores increased over time with two notable growth periods. Overall, patterns in research outputs that seem to characterize the historic trends and current components of the field of medical informatics suggest it may be a maturing discipline (DeShazo et al., 2009).

9.3.3. Scoping Reviews

Scoping reviews attempt to provide an initial indication of the potential size and nature of the extant literature on an emergent topic (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005; Daudt, van Mossel, & Scott, 2013 ; Levac, Colquhoun, & O’Brien, 2010). A scoping review may be conducted to examine the extent, range and nature of research activities in a particular area, determine the value of undertaking a full systematic review (discussed next), or identify research gaps in the extant literature ( Paré et al., 2015 ). In line with their main objective, scoping reviews usually conclude with the presentation of a detailed research agenda for future works along with potential implications for both practice and research.

Unlike narrative and descriptive reviews, the whole point of scoping the field is to be as comprehensive as possible, including grey literature (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005). Inclusion and exclusion criteria must be established to help researchers eliminate studies that are not aligned with the research questions. It is also recommended that at least two independent coders review abstracts yielded from the search strategy and then the full articles for study selection ( Daudt et al., 2013 ). The synthesized evidence from content or thematic analysis is relatively easy to present in tabular form (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005; Thomas & Harden, 2008 ).

One of the most highly cited scoping reviews in the eHealth domain was published by Archer, Fevrier-Thomas, Lokker, McKibbon, and Straus (2011) . These authors reviewed the existing literature on personal health record ( phr ) systems including design, functionality, implementation, applications, outcomes, and benefits. Seven databases were searched from 1985 to March 2010. Several search terms relating to phr s were used during this process. Two authors independently screened titles and abstracts to determine inclusion status. A second screen of full-text articles, again by two independent members of the research team, ensured that the studies described phr s. All in all, 130 articles met the criteria and their data were extracted manually into a database. The authors concluded that although there is a large amount of survey, observational, cohort/panel, and anecdotal evidence of phr benefits and satisfaction for patients, more research is needed to evaluate the results of phr implementations. Their in-depth analysis of the literature signalled that there is little solid evidence from randomized controlled trials or other studies through the use of phr s. Hence, they suggested that more research is needed that addresses the current lack of understanding of optimal functionality and usability of these systems, and how they can play a beneficial role in supporting patient self-management ( Archer et al., 2011 ).

9.3.4. Forms of Aggregative Reviews

Healthcare providers, practitioners, and policy-makers are nowadays overwhelmed with large volumes of information, including research-based evidence from numerous clinical trials and evaluation studies, assessing the effectiveness of health information technologies and interventions ( Ammenwerth & de Keizer, 2004 ; Deshazo et al., 2009 ). It is unrealistic to expect that all these disparate actors will have the time, skills, and necessary resources to identify the available evidence in the area of their expertise and consider it when making decisions. Systematic reviews that involve the rigorous application of scientific strategies aimed at limiting subjectivity and bias (i.e., systematic and random errors) can respond to this challenge.

Systematic reviews attempt to aggregate, appraise, and synthesize in a single source all empirical evidence that meet a set of previously specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a clearly formulated and often narrow research question on a particular topic of interest to support evidence-based practice ( Liberati et al., 2009 ). They adhere closely to explicit scientific principles ( Liberati et al., 2009 ) and rigorous methodological guidelines (Higgins & Green, 2008) aimed at reducing random and systematic errors that can lead to deviations from the truth in results or inferences. The use of explicit methods allows systematic reviews to aggregate a large body of research evidence, assess whether effects or relationships are in the same direction and of the same general magnitude, explain possible inconsistencies between study results, and determine the strength of the overall evidence for every outcome of interest based on the quality of included studies and the general consistency among them ( Cook, Mulrow, & Haynes, 1997 ). The main procedures of a systematic review involve:

  • Formulating a review question and developing a search strategy based on explicit inclusion criteria for the identification of eligible studies (usually described in the context of a detailed review protocol).
  • Searching for eligible studies using multiple databases and information sources, including grey literature sources, without any language restrictions.
  • Selecting studies, extracting data, and assessing risk of bias in a duplicate manner using two independent reviewers to avoid random or systematic errors in the process.
  • Analyzing data using quantitative or qualitative methods.
  • Presenting results in summary of findings tables.
  • Interpreting results and drawing conclusions.

Many systematic reviews, but not all, use statistical methods to combine the results of independent studies into a single quantitative estimate or summary effect size. Known as meta-analyses , these reviews use specific data extraction and statistical techniques (e.g., network, frequentist, or Bayesian meta-analyses) to calculate from each study by outcome of interest an effect size along with a confidence interval that reflects the degree of uncertainty behind the point estimate of effect ( Borenstein, Hedges, Higgins, & Rothstein, 2009 ; Deeks, Higgins, & Altman, 2008 ). Subsequently, they use fixed or random-effects analysis models to combine the results of the included studies, assess statistical heterogeneity, and calculate a weighted average of the effect estimates from the different studies, taking into account their sample sizes. The summary effect size is a value that reflects the average magnitude of the intervention effect for a particular outcome of interest or, more generally, the strength of a relationship between two variables across all studies included in the systematic review. By statistically combining data from multiple studies, meta-analyses can create more precise and reliable estimates of intervention effects than those derived from individual studies alone, when these are examined independently as discrete sources of information.

The review by Gurol-Urganci, de Jongh, Vodopivec-Jamsek, Atun, and Car (2013) on the effects of mobile phone messaging reminders for attendance at healthcare appointments is an illustrative example of a high-quality systematic review with meta-analysis. Missed appointments are a major cause of inefficiency in healthcare delivery with substantial monetary costs to health systems. These authors sought to assess whether mobile phone-based appointment reminders delivered through Short Message Service ( sms ) or Multimedia Messaging Service ( mms ) are effective in improving rates of patient attendance and reducing overall costs. To this end, they conducted a comprehensive search on multiple databases using highly sensitive search strategies without language or publication-type restrictions to identify all rct s that are eligible for inclusion. In order to minimize the risk of omitting eligible studies not captured by the original search, they supplemented all electronic searches with manual screening of trial registers and references contained in the included studies. Study selection, data extraction, and risk of bias assessments were performed inde­­pen­dently by two coders using standardized methods to ensure consistency and to eliminate potential errors. Findings from eight rct s involving 6,615 participants were pooled into meta-analyses to calculate the magnitude of effects that mobile text message reminders have on the rate of attendance at healthcare appointments compared to no reminders and phone call reminders.

Meta-analyses are regarded as powerful tools for deriving meaningful conclusions. However, there are situations in which it is neither reasonable nor appropriate to pool studies together using meta-analytic methods simply because there is extensive clinical heterogeneity between the included studies or variation in measurement tools, comparisons, or outcomes of interest. In these cases, systematic reviews can use qualitative synthesis methods such as vote counting, content analysis, classification schemes and tabulations, as an alternative approach to narratively synthesize the results of the independent studies included in the review. This form of review is known as qualitative systematic review.

A rigorous example of one such review in the eHealth domain is presented by Mickan, Atherton, Roberts, Heneghan, and Tilson (2014) on the use of handheld computers by healthcare professionals and their impact on access to information and clinical decision-making. In line with the methodological guide­lines for systematic reviews, these authors: (a) developed and registered with prospero ( www.crd.york.ac.uk/ prospero / ) an a priori review protocol; (b) conducted comprehensive searches for eligible studies using multiple databases and other supplementary strategies (e.g., forward searches); and (c) subsequently carried out study selection, data extraction, and risk of bias assessments in a duplicate manner to eliminate potential errors in the review process. Heterogeneity between the included studies in terms of reported outcomes and measures precluded the use of meta-analytic methods. To this end, the authors resorted to using narrative analysis and synthesis to describe the effectiveness of handheld computers on accessing information for clinical knowledge, adherence to safety and clinical quality guidelines, and diagnostic decision-making.

In recent years, the number of systematic reviews in the field of health informatics has increased considerably. Systematic reviews with discordant findings can cause great confusion and make it difficult for decision-makers to interpret the review-level evidence ( Moher, 2013 ). Therefore, there is a growing need for appraisal and synthesis of prior systematic reviews to ensure that decision-making is constantly informed by the best available accumulated evidence. Umbrella reviews , also known as overviews of systematic reviews, are tertiary types of evidence synthesis that aim to accomplish this; that is, they aim to compare and contrast findings from multiple systematic reviews and meta-analyses ( Becker & Oxman, 2008 ). Umbrella reviews generally adhere to the same principles and rigorous methodological guidelines used in systematic reviews. However, the unit of analysis in umbrella reviews is the systematic review rather than the primary study ( Becker & Oxman, 2008 ). Unlike systematic reviews that have a narrow focus of inquiry, umbrella reviews focus on broader research topics for which there are several potential interventions ( Smith, Devane, Begley, & Clarke, 2011 ). A recent umbrella review on the effects of home telemonitoring interventions for patients with heart failure critically appraised, compared, and synthesized evidence from 15 systematic reviews to investigate which types of home telemonitoring technologies and forms of interventions are more effective in reducing mortality and hospital admissions ( Kitsiou, Paré, & Jaana, 2015 ).

9.3.5. Realist Reviews

Realist reviews are theory-driven interpretative reviews developed to inform, enhance, or supplement conventional systematic reviews by making sense of heterogeneous evidence about complex interventions applied in diverse contexts in a way that informs policy decision-making ( Greenhalgh, Wong, Westhorp, & Pawson, 2011 ). They originated from criticisms of positivist systematic reviews which centre on their “simplistic” underlying assumptions ( Oates, 2011 ). As explained above, systematic reviews seek to identify causation. Such logic is appropriate for fields like medicine and education where findings of randomized controlled trials can be aggregated to see whether a new treatment or intervention does improve outcomes. However, many argue that it is not possible to establish such direct causal links between interventions and outcomes in fields such as social policy, management, and information systems where for any intervention there is unlikely to be a regular or consistent outcome ( Oates, 2011 ; Pawson, 2006 ; Rousseau, Manning, & Denyer, 2008 ).

To circumvent these limitations, Pawson, Greenhalgh, Harvey, and Walshe (2005) have proposed a new approach for synthesizing knowledge that seeks to unpack the mechanism of how “complex interventions” work in particular contexts. The basic research question — what works? — which is usually associated with systematic reviews changes to: what is it about this intervention that works, for whom, in what circumstances, in what respects and why? Realist reviews have no particular preference for either quantitative or qualitative evidence. As a theory-building approach, a realist review usually starts by articulating likely underlying mechanisms and then scrutinizes available evidence to find out whether and where these mechanisms are applicable ( Shepperd et al., 2009 ). Primary studies found in the extant literature are viewed as case studies which can test and modify the initial theories ( Rousseau et al., 2008 ).

The main objective pursued in the realist review conducted by Otte-Trojel, de Bont, Rundall, and van de Klundert (2014) was to examine how patient portals contribute to health service delivery and patient outcomes. The specific goals were to investigate how outcomes are produced and, most importantly, how variations in outcomes can be explained. The research team started with an exploratory review of background documents and research studies to identify ways in which patient portals may contribute to health service delivery and patient outcomes. The authors identified six main ways which represent “educated guesses” to be tested against the data in the evaluation studies. These studies were identified through a formal and systematic search in four databases between 2003 and 2013. Two members of the research team selected the articles using a pre-established list of inclusion and exclusion criteria and following a two-step procedure. The authors then extracted data from the selected articles and created several tables, one for each outcome category. They organized information to bring forward those mechanisms where patient portals contribute to outcomes and the variation in outcomes across different contexts.

9.3.6. Critical Reviews

Lastly, critical reviews aim to provide a critical evaluation and interpretive analysis of existing literature on a particular topic of interest to reveal strengths, weaknesses, contradictions, controversies, inconsistencies, and/or other important issues with respect to theories, hypotheses, research methods or results ( Baumeister & Leary, 1997 ; Kirkevold, 1997 ). Unlike other review types, critical reviews attempt to take a reflective account of the research that has been done in a particular area of interest, and assess its credibility by using appraisal instruments or critical interpretive methods. In this way, critical reviews attempt to constructively inform other scholars about the weaknesses of prior research and strengthen knowledge development by giving focus and direction to studies for further improvement ( Kirkevold, 1997 ).

Kitsiou, Paré, and Jaana (2013) provide an example of a critical review that assessed the methodological quality of prior systematic reviews of home telemonitoring studies for chronic patients. The authors conducted a comprehensive search on multiple databases to identify eligible reviews and subsequently used a validated instrument to conduct an in-depth quality appraisal. Results indicate that the majority of systematic reviews in this particular area suffer from important methodological flaws and biases that impair their internal validity and limit their usefulness for clinical and decision-making purposes. To this end, they provide a number of recommendations to strengthen knowledge development towards improving the design and execution of future reviews on home telemonitoring.

9.4. Summary

Table 9.1 outlines the main types of literature reviews that were described in the previous sub-sections and summarizes the main characteristics that distinguish one review type from another. It also includes key references to methodological guidelines and useful sources that can be used by eHealth scholars and researchers for planning and developing reviews.

Table 9.1. Typology of Literature Reviews (adapted from Paré et al., 2015).

Typology of Literature Reviews (adapted from Paré et al., 2015).

As shown in Table 9.1 , each review type addresses different kinds of research questions or objectives, which subsequently define and dictate the methods and approaches that need to be used to achieve the overarching goal(s) of the review. For example, in the case of narrative reviews, there is greater flexibility in searching and synthesizing articles ( Green et al., 2006 ). Researchers are often relatively free to use a diversity of approaches to search, identify, and select relevant scientific articles, describe their operational characteristics, present how the individual studies fit together, and formulate conclusions. On the other hand, systematic reviews are characterized by their high level of systematicity, rigour, and use of explicit methods, based on an “a priori” review plan that aims to minimize bias in the analysis and synthesis process (Higgins & Green, 2008). Some reviews are exploratory in nature (e.g., scoping/mapping reviews), whereas others may be conducted to discover patterns (e.g., descriptive reviews) or involve a synthesis approach that may include the critical analysis of prior research ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Hence, in order to select the most appropriate type of review, it is critical to know before embarking on a review project, why the research synthesis is conducted and what type of methods are best aligned with the pursued goals.

9.5. Concluding Remarks

In light of the increased use of evidence-based practice and research generating stronger evidence ( Grady et al., 2011 ; Lyden et al., 2013 ), review articles have become essential tools for summarizing, synthesizing, integrating or critically appraising prior knowledge in the eHealth field. As mentioned earlier, when rigorously conducted review articles represent powerful information sources for eHealth scholars and practitioners looking for state-of-the-art evidence. The typology of literature reviews we used herein will allow eHealth researchers, graduate students and practitioners to gain a better understanding of the similarities and differences between review types.

We must stress that this classification scheme does not privilege any specific type of review as being of higher quality than another ( Paré et al., 2015 ). As explained above, each type of review has its own strengths and limitations. Having said that, we realize that the methodological rigour of any review — be it qualitative, quantitative or mixed — is a critical aspect that should be considered seriously by prospective authors. In the present context, the notion of rigour refers to the reliability and validity of the review process described in section 9.2. For one thing, reliability is related to the reproducibility of the review process and steps, which is facilitated by a comprehensive documentation of the literature search process, extraction, coding and analysis performed in the review. Whether the search is comprehensive or not, whether it involves a methodical approach for data extraction and synthesis or not, it is important that the review documents in an explicit and transparent manner the steps and approach that were used in the process of its development. Next, validity characterizes the degree to which the review process was conducted appropriately. It goes beyond documentation and reflects decisions related to the selection of the sources, the search terms used, the period of time covered, the articles selected in the search, and the application of backward and forward searches ( vom Brocke et al., 2009 ). In short, the rigour of any review article is reflected by the explicitness of its methods (i.e., transparency) and the soundness of the approach used. We refer those interested in the concepts of rigour and quality to the work of Templier and Paré (2015) which offers a detailed set of methodological guidelines for conducting and evaluating various types of review articles.

To conclude, our main objective in this chapter was to demystify the various types of literature reviews that are central to the continuous development of the eHealth field. It is our hope that our descriptive account will serve as a valuable source for those conducting, evaluating or using reviews in this important and growing domain.

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  • Paré G., Trudel M.-C., Jaana M., Kitsiou S. Synthesizing information systems knowledge: A typology of literature reviews. Information & Management. 2015; 52 (2):183–199.
  • Patsopoulos N. A., Analatos A. A., Ioannidis J.P. A. Relative citation impact of various study designs in the health sciences. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2005; 293 (19):2362–2366. [ PubMed : 15900006 ]
  • Paul M. M., Greene C. M., Newton-Dame R., Thorpe L. E., Perlman S. E., McVeigh K. H., Gourevitch M.N. The state of population health surveillance using electronic health records: A narrative review. Population Health Management. 2015; 18 (3):209–216. [ PubMed : 25608033 ]
  • Pawson R. Evidence-based policy: a realist perspective. London: SAGE Publications; 2006.
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  • Cite this Page Paré G, Kitsiou S. Chapter 9 Methods for Literature Reviews. In: Lau F, Kuziemsky C, editors. Handbook of eHealth Evaluation: An Evidence-based Approach [Internet]. Victoria (BC): University of Victoria; 2017 Feb 27.
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Selected Books on Theory

literature review of theoretical models

Selected Journals on Theory

  • Historical Materialism Historical Materialism is an interdisciplinary journal dedicated to exploring and developing the critical and explanatory potential of Marxist theory.
  • International Journal of Social Research Methodology Focuses on current & emerging methodological debates across a wide range of social science disciplines & substantive interests.
  • Journal of Professional Counseling: Practice, Theory & Research Includes practical & unique applications of counseling techniques in schools & clinical settings, as well as significant quantitative & qualitative research.
  • Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory Peer reviewed coverage of the research and theory of public administration, including reports of empirical work, and both quantitative and qualitative areas of research.
  • Reconceptualizing Educational Research Methodology Reconceptualizing Educational Research Methodology (RERM) is an internationally refereed journal for researchers and practitioners investigating, tracing and theorizing practices, documentations and politics in education.

What is Meant by Theory?

A theory is a well-established principle that has been developed to explain some aspect of the natural world.

Theory of Everything comic by ThadGuy.com and used with permission.

Defining Theory

Theories are formulated to explain, predict, and understand phenomena and, in many cases, to challenge and extend existing knowledge, within the limits of the critical bounding assumptions.

  • The theoretical framework is the structure that can hold or support a theory of a research study.
  • The theoretical framework introduces and describes the theory which explains why the research problem under study exists.

The Importance of Theory

A theoretical framework consists of concepts, together with their definitions, and existing theory/theories that are used for your particular study. The theoretical framework must demonstrate an understanding of theories and concepts that are relevant to the topic of your  research paper and that will relate it to the broader fields of knowledge in the class you are taking.

The theoretical framework is not something that is found readily available in the literature . You must review course readings and pertinent research literature for theories and analytic models that are relevant to the research problem you are investigating. The selection of a theory should depend on its appropriateness, ease of application, and explanatory power.

The theoretical framework strengthens the study in the following ways .

  • An explicit statement of  theoretical assumptions permits the reader to evaluate them critically.
  • The theoretical framework connects the researcher to existing knowledge. Guided by a relevant theory, you are given a basis for your hypotheses and choice of research methods.
  • Articulating the theoretical assumptions of a research study forces you to address questions of why and how. It permits you to move from simply describing a phenomenon observed to generalizing about various aspects of that phenomenon.
  • Having a theory helps you to identify the limits to those generalizations. A theoretical framework specifies which key variables influence a phenomenon of interest. It alerts you to examine how those key variables might differ and under what circumstances.

By virtue of its application nature, good theory in the social sciences is of value precisely because it fulfills one primary purpose: to explain the meaning, nature, and challenges of a phenomenon, often experienced but unexplained in the world in which we live, so that we may use that knowledge and understanding to act in more informed and effective ways.

The Conceptual Framework . College of Education. Alabama State University; Drafting an Argument . Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Trochim, William M.K. Philosophy of Research . Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006.

Strategies for Developing the Theoretical Framework

I.  Developing the Framework

Here are some strategies to develop of an effective theoretical framework:

  • Examine your thesis title and research problem . The research problem anchors your entire study and forms the basis from which you construct your theoretical framework.
  • Brainstorm on what you consider to be the key variables in your research . Answer the question, what factors contribute to the presumed effect?
  • Review related literature to find answers to your research question.
  • List  the constructs and variables that might be relevant to your study. Group these variables into independent and dependent categories.
  • Review the key social science theories that are introduced to you in your course readings and choose the theory or theories that can best explain the relationships between the key variables in your study [note the Writing Tip on this page].
  • Discuss the assumptions or propositions of this theory and point out their relevance to your research.

A theoretical framework is used to limit the scope of the relevant data by focusing on specific variables and defining the specific viewpoint (framework) that the researcher will take in analyzing and interpreting the data to be gathered, understanding concepts and variables according to the given definitions, and building knowledge by validating or challenging theoretical assumptions.

II.  Purpose

Think of theories as the conceptual basis for understanding, analyzing, and designing ways to investigate relationships within social systems. To the end, the following roles served by a theory can help guide the development of your framework.*

  • Means by which new research data can be interpreted and coded for future use,
  • Response to new problems that have no previously identified solutions strategy,
  • Means for identifying and defining research problems,
  • Means for prescribing or evaluating solutions to research problems,
  • Way of telling us that certain facts among the accumulated knowledge are important and which facts are not,
  • Means of giving old data new interpretations and new meaning,
  • Means by which to identify important new issues and prescribe the most critical research questions that need to be answered to maximize understanding of the issue,
  • Means of providing members of a professional discipline with a common language and a frame of reference for defining boundaries of their profession, and
  • Means to guide and inform research so that it can, in turn, guide research efforts and improve professional practice.

*Adapted from: Torraco, R. J. “Theory-Building Research Methods.” In Swanson R. A. and E. F. Holton III , editors. Human Resource Development Handbook: Linking Research and Practice . (San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 1997): pp. 114-137; Sutton, Robert I. and Barry M. Staw. “What Theory is Not.” Administrative Science Quarterly 40 (September 1995): 371-384.

Incorporating Theory in Your Structure and Writing Style

The theoretical framework may be rooted in a specific theory , in which case, you are expected to test the validity of an existing theory in relation to specific events, issues, or phenomena. Many social science research papers fit into this rubric. For example, Peripheral Realism theory, which categorizes perceived differences between nation-states as those that give orders, those that obey, and those that rebel, could be used as a means for understanding conflicted relationships among countries in Africa.

A test of this theory could be the following: Does Peripheral Realism theory help explain intra-state actions, such as, the growing split between southern and northern Sudan that may likely lead to the creation of two nations?

However, you may not always be asked by your professor to test a specific theory in your paper, but to develop your own framework from which your analysis of the research problem is derived . Given this, it is perhaps easiest to understand the nature and function of a theoretical framework if it is viewed as the answer to two basic questions:

  • What is the research problem/question? [e.g., "How should the individual and the state relate during periods of conflict?"]
  • Why is your approach a feasible solution? [I could choose to test Instrumentalist or Circumstantialists models developed among Ethnic Conflict Theorists that rely upon socio-economic-political factors to explain individual-state relations and to apply this theoretical model to periods of war between nations].

The answers to these questions come from a thorough review of the literature and your course readings [summarized and analyzed in the next section of your paper] and the gaps in the research that emerge from the review process. With this in mind, a complete theoretical framework will likely not emerge until after you have completed a thorough review of the literature .

In writing this part of your research paper, keep in mind the following:

  • Clearly describe the framework, concepts, models, or specific theories that underpin your study . This includes noting who the key theorists are in the field who have conducted research on the problem you are investigating and, when necessary, the historical context that supports the formulation of that theory. This latter element is particularly important if the theory is relatively unknown or it is borrowed from another discipline.
  • Position your theoretical framework within a broader context of related frameworks , concepts, models, or theories . There will likely be several concepts, theories, or models that can be used to help develop a framework for understanding the research problem. Therefore, note why the framework you've chosen is the appropriate one.
  • The present tense is used when writing about theory.
  • You should make your theoretical assumptions as explicit as possible . Later, your discussion of methodology should be linked back to this theoretical framework.
  • Don’t just take what the theory says as a given! Reality is never accurately represented in such a simplistic way; if you imply that it can be, you fundamentally distort a reader's ability to understand the findings that emerge. Given this, always note the limitiations of the theoretical framework you've chosen [i.e., what parts of the research problem require further investigation because the theory does not explain a certain phenomena].

The Conceptual Framework . College of Education. Alabama State University; Conceptual Framework: What Do You Think is Going On? College of Engineering. University of Michigan; Drafting an Argument . Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Lynham, Susan A. “The General Method of Theory-Building Research in Applied Disciplines.” Advances in Developing Human Resources 4 (August 2002): 221-241; Tavallaei, Mehdi and Mansor Abu Talib. A General Perspective on the Role of Theory in Qualitative Research. Journal of International Social Research 3 (Spring 2010); Trochim, William M.K. Philosophy of Research . Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006.

Video on Creating a Theoretical Framework

  • Theoretical Framework A short introduction to theoretical frameworks and how to approach constructing one. Presented by Francois J. Desjardins, Associate Professor at University of Ontario Institute of Technology. NOTE: Dr. Desjardins speaks a bit quickly at times but the content of his presentation is very good.

Writing Tip | Borrowing Theoretical Constructs

Borrowing Theoretical Constructs from Elsewhere

A growing and increasingly important trend in the social sciences is to think about and attempt to understand specific research problems from an interdisciplinary perspective. One way to do this is to not rely exclusively on the theories you've read about in a particular class, but to think about how an issue might be informed by theories developed in other disciplines.

For example, if you are a political science student studying the rhetorical strategies used by female incumbants in state legislature campaigns, theories about the use of language could be derived, not only from political science, but linguistics, communication studies, philosophy, psychology, and, in this particular case, feminist studies.

Building theoretical frameworks based on the postulates and hypotheses developed in other disciplinary contexts can be both enlightening and an effective way to be fully engaged in the research topic.

Writing Tip | Don't Undertheorize

Never leave the theory hanging out there in the Introduction never to be mentioned again. Undertheorizing weakens your paper. The theoretical framework you introduce should guide your study throughout the paper.

Be sure to always connect theory to the analysis and to explain in the discussion part of your paper how the theoretical framework you chose fit the research problem, or if appropriate, was inadequate in explaining the phenomenon you were investigating. In that case, don't be afraid to propose your own theory based on your findings.

Writing Tip | Theory vs Hypothesis

What's a Theory? What's a Hypothesis?

The terms theory and hypothesis are often used interchangeably in everyday use. However, the difference between them in scholarly research is important, particularly when using an experimental design. A theory is a well-established principle that has been developed to explain some aspect of the natural world.

Theories arise from repeated observation and testing and incorporates facts, laws, predictions, and tested hypotheses that are widely accepted [e.g., rational choice theory; grounded theory].

A hypothesis is a specific, testable prediction about what you expect to happen in your study. For example, an experiment designed to look at the relationship between study habits and test anxiety might have a hypothesis that states, "We predict that students with better study habits will suffer less test anxiety." Unless your study is exploratory in nature, your hypothesis should always explain what you expect to happen during the course of your research.

The key distinctions are:

  • A theory predicts events in a broad, general context;  a hypothesis makes a specific prediction about a specified set of circumstances.
  • A theory has been extensively tested and is generally accepted among scholars; a hypothesis is a speculative guess that has yet to be tested.

Cherry, Kendra. Introduction to Research Methods: Theory and Hypothesis . About.com Psychology; Gezae, Michael et al. Welcome Presentation on Hypothesis . Slideshare presentation.

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Home » Theoretical Framework – Types, Examples and Writing Guide

Theoretical Framework – Types, Examples and Writing Guide

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Theoretical Framework

Theoretical Framework

Definition:

Theoretical framework refers to a set of concepts, theories, ideas , and assumptions that serve as a foundation for understanding a particular phenomenon or problem. It provides a conceptual framework that helps researchers to design and conduct their research, as well as to analyze and interpret their findings.

In research, a theoretical framework explains the relationship between various variables, identifies gaps in existing knowledge, and guides the development of research questions, hypotheses, and methodologies. It also helps to contextualize the research within a broader theoretical perspective, and can be used to guide the interpretation of results and the formulation of recommendations.

Types of Theoretical Framework

Types of Types of Theoretical Framework are as follows:

Conceptual Framework

This type of framework defines the key concepts and relationships between them. It helps to provide a theoretical foundation for a study or research project .

Deductive Framework

This type of framework starts with a general theory or hypothesis and then uses data to test and refine it. It is often used in quantitative research .

Inductive Framework

This type of framework starts with data and then develops a theory or hypothesis based on the patterns and themes that emerge from the data. It is often used in qualitative research .

Empirical Framework

This type of framework focuses on the collection and analysis of empirical data, such as surveys or experiments. It is often used in scientific research .

Normative Framework

This type of framework defines a set of norms or values that guide behavior or decision-making. It is often used in ethics and social sciences.

Explanatory Framework

This type of framework seeks to explain the underlying mechanisms or causes of a particular phenomenon or behavior. It is often used in psychology and social sciences.

Components of Theoretical Framework

The components of a theoretical framework include:

  • Concepts : The basic building blocks of a theoretical framework. Concepts are abstract ideas or generalizations that represent objects, events, or phenomena.
  • Variables : These are measurable and observable aspects of a concept. In a research context, variables can be manipulated or measured to test hypotheses.
  • Assumptions : These are beliefs or statements that are taken for granted and are not tested in a study. They provide a starting point for developing hypotheses.
  • Propositions : These are statements that explain the relationships between concepts and variables in a theoretical framework.
  • Hypotheses : These are testable predictions that are derived from the theoretical framework. Hypotheses are used to guide data collection and analysis.
  • Constructs : These are abstract concepts that cannot be directly measured but are inferred from observable variables. Constructs provide a way to understand complex phenomena.
  • Models : These are simplified representations of reality that are used to explain, predict, or control a phenomenon.

How to Write Theoretical Framework

A theoretical framework is an essential part of any research study or paper, as it helps to provide a theoretical basis for the research and guide the analysis and interpretation of the data. Here are some steps to help you write a theoretical framework:

  • Identify the key concepts and variables : Start by identifying the main concepts and variables that your research is exploring. These could include things like motivation, behavior, attitudes, or any other relevant concepts.
  • Review relevant literature: Conduct a thorough review of the existing literature in your field to identify key theories and ideas that relate to your research. This will help you to understand the existing knowledge and theories that are relevant to your research and provide a basis for your theoretical framework.
  • Develop a conceptual framework : Based on your literature review, develop a conceptual framework that outlines the key concepts and their relationships. This framework should provide a clear and concise overview of the theoretical perspective that underpins your research.
  • Identify hypotheses and research questions: Based on your conceptual framework, identify the hypotheses and research questions that you want to test or explore in your research.
  • Test your theoretical framework: Once you have developed your theoretical framework, test it by applying it to your research data. This will help you to identify any gaps or weaknesses in your framework and refine it as necessary.
  • Write up your theoretical framework: Finally, write up your theoretical framework in a clear and concise manner, using appropriate terminology and referencing the relevant literature to support your arguments.

Theoretical Framework Examples

Here are some examples of theoretical frameworks:

  • Social Learning Theory : This framework, developed by Albert Bandura, suggests that people learn from their environment, including the behaviors of others, and that behavior is influenced by both external and internal factors.
  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs : Abraham Maslow proposed that human needs are arranged in a hierarchy, with basic physiological needs at the bottom, followed by safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization at the top. This framework has been used in various fields, including psychology and education.
  • Ecological Systems Theory : This framework, developed by Urie Bronfenbrenner, suggests that a person’s development is influenced by the interaction between the individual and the various environments in which they live, such as family, school, and community.
  • Feminist Theory: This framework examines how gender and power intersect to influence social, cultural, and political issues. It emphasizes the importance of understanding and challenging systems of oppression.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Theory: This framework suggests that our thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes influence our behavior, and that changing our thought patterns can lead to changes in behavior and emotional responses.
  • Attachment Theory: This framework examines the ways in which early relationships with caregivers shape our later relationships and attachment styles.
  • Critical Race Theory : This framework examines how race intersects with other forms of social stratification and oppression to perpetuate inequality and discrimination.

When to Have A Theoretical Framework

Following are some situations When to Have A Theoretical Framework:

  • A theoretical framework should be developed when conducting research in any discipline, as it provides a foundation for understanding the research problem and guiding the research process.
  • A theoretical framework is essential when conducting research on complex phenomena, as it helps to organize and structure the research questions, hypotheses, and findings.
  • A theoretical framework should be developed when the research problem requires a deeper understanding of the underlying concepts and principles that govern the phenomenon being studied.
  • A theoretical framework is particularly important when conducting research in social sciences, as it helps to explain the relationships between variables and provides a framework for testing hypotheses.
  • A theoretical framework should be developed when conducting research in applied fields, such as engineering or medicine, as it helps to provide a theoretical basis for the development of new technologies or treatments.
  • A theoretical framework should be developed when conducting research that seeks to address a specific gap in knowledge, as it helps to define the problem and identify potential solutions.
  • A theoretical framework is also important when conducting research that involves the analysis of existing theories or concepts, as it helps to provide a framework for comparing and contrasting different theories and concepts.
  • A theoretical framework should be developed when conducting research that seeks to make predictions or develop generalizations about a particular phenomenon, as it helps to provide a basis for evaluating the accuracy of these predictions or generalizations.
  • Finally, a theoretical framework should be developed when conducting research that seeks to make a contribution to the field, as it helps to situate the research within the broader context of the discipline and identify its significance.

Purpose of Theoretical Framework

The purposes of a theoretical framework include:

  • Providing a conceptual framework for the study: A theoretical framework helps researchers to define and clarify the concepts and variables of interest in their research. It enables researchers to develop a clear and concise definition of the problem, which in turn helps to guide the research process.
  • Guiding the research design: A theoretical framework can guide the selection of research methods, data collection techniques, and data analysis procedures. By outlining the key concepts and assumptions underlying the research questions, the theoretical framework can help researchers to identify the most appropriate research design for their study.
  • Supporting the interpretation of research findings: A theoretical framework provides a framework for interpreting the research findings by helping researchers to make connections between their findings and existing theory. It enables researchers to identify the implications of their findings for theory development and to assess the generalizability of their findings.
  • Enhancing the credibility of the research: A well-developed theoretical framework can enhance the credibility of the research by providing a strong theoretical foundation for the study. It demonstrates that the research is based on a solid understanding of the relevant theory and that the research questions are grounded in a clear conceptual framework.
  • Facilitating communication and collaboration: A theoretical framework provides a common language and conceptual framework for researchers, enabling them to communicate and collaborate more effectively. It helps to ensure that everyone involved in the research is working towards the same goals and is using the same concepts and definitions.

Characteristics of Theoretical Framework

Some of the characteristics of a theoretical framework include:

  • Conceptual clarity: The concepts used in the theoretical framework should be clearly defined and understood by all stakeholders.
  • Logical coherence : The framework should be internally consistent, with each concept and assumption logically connected to the others.
  • Empirical relevance: The framework should be based on empirical evidence and research findings.
  • Parsimony : The framework should be as simple as possible, without sacrificing its ability to explain the phenomenon in question.
  • Flexibility : The framework should be adaptable to new findings and insights.
  • Testability : The framework should be testable through research, with clear hypotheses that can be falsified or supported by data.
  • Applicability : The framework should be useful for practical applications, such as designing interventions or policies.

Advantages of Theoretical Framework

Here are some of the advantages of having a theoretical framework:

  • Provides a clear direction : A theoretical framework helps researchers to identify the key concepts and variables they need to study and the relationships between them. This provides a clear direction for the research and helps researchers to focus their efforts and resources.
  • Increases the validity of the research: A theoretical framework helps to ensure that the research is based on sound theoretical principles and concepts. This increases the validity of the research by ensuring that it is grounded in established knowledge and is not based on arbitrary assumptions.
  • Enables comparisons between studies : A theoretical framework provides a common language and set of concepts that researchers can use to compare and contrast their findings. This helps to build a cumulative body of knowledge and allows researchers to identify patterns and trends across different studies.
  • Helps to generate hypotheses: A theoretical framework provides a basis for generating hypotheses about the relationships between different concepts and variables. This can help to guide the research process and identify areas that require further investigation.
  • Facilitates communication: A theoretical framework provides a common language and set of concepts that researchers can use to communicate their findings to other researchers and to the wider community. This makes it easier for others to understand the research and its implications.

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  • Peter Schröder-Bäck 1  

Health Research Policy and Systems volume  22 , Article number:  52 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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Knowledge Translation (KT) aims to convey novel ideas to relevant stakeholders, motivating their response or action to improve people’s health. Initially, the KT literature focused on evidence-based medicine, applying findings from laboratory and clinical research to disease diagnosis and treatment. Since the early 2000s, the scope of KT has expanded to include decision-making with health policy implications.

This systematic scoping review aims to assess the evolving knowledge-to-policy concepts, that is, macro-level KT theories, models and frameworks (KT TMFs). While significant attention has been devoted to transferring knowledge to healthcare settings (i.e. implementing health policies, programmes or measures at the meso-level), the definition of 'context' in the realm of health policymaking at the macro-level remains underexplored in the KT literature. This study aims to close the gap.

A total of 32 macro-level KT TMFs were identified, with only a limited subset of them offering detailed insights into contextual factors that matter in health policymaking. Notably, the majority of these studies prompt policy changes in low- and middle-income countries and received support from international organisations, the European Union, development agencies or philanthropic entities.

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Few concepts are used by health researchers as vaguely and yet as widely as Knowledge Translation (KT), a catch-all term that accommodates a broad spectrum of ambitions. Arguably, to truly understand the role of context in KT, we first need to clarify what KT means. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines KT as ‘the synthesis, exchange and application of knowledge by relevant stakeholders to accelerate the benefits of global and local innovation in strengthening health systems and improving people’s health’ [ 1 ]. Here, particular attention should be paid to ‘innovation’, given that without unpacking this term, the meaning of KT would still remain ambiguous. Rogers’ seminal work ‘Diffusion of Innovations’ [ 2 ] defines innovation as an idea, practice or object that is perceived as novel by individuals or groups adopting it. In this context, he argues that the objective novelty of an idea in terms of the amount of time passed after its discovery holds little significance [ 2 ]. Rather, it is the subjective perception of newness by the individual that shapes their response [ 2 ]. In other words, if an idea seems novel to individuals, and thereby relevant stakeholders according to the aforementioned WHO definition, it qualifies as an innovation. From this perspective, it can be stated that a fundamental activity of KT is to communicate ideas that could be perceived as original to the targeted stakeholders, with the aim of motivating their response to improve health outcomes. This leaves us with the question of who exactly these stakeholders might be and what kind of actions would be required from them.

The scope of stakeholders in KT has evolved over time, along with their prompted responses. Initially, during the early phases of KT, the focus primarily revolved around healthcare providers and their clinical decisions, emphasising evidence-based medicine. Nearly 50 years ago, the first scientific article on KT was published, introducing Tier 1 KT, which concentrated on applying laboratory discoveries to disease diagnosis or treatment, also known as bench-to-bedside KT [ 3 ]. The primary motivation behind this initial conceptualisation of KT was to engage healthcare providers as the end-users of specific forms of knowledge, primarily related to randomised controlled trials of pharmaceuticals and evidence-based medicine [ 4 ]. In the early 2000s, the second phase of KT (Tier 2) emerged under the term ‘campus-to-clinic KT’ [ 3 ]. This facet, also known as translational research, was concerned with using evidence from health services research in healthcare provision, both in practice and policy [ 4 ]. Consequently, by including decision-makers as relevant end-users, KT scholars expanded the realm of research-to-action from the clinical environment to policy-relevant decision-making [ 5 ]. Following this trajectory, additional KT schemes (Tier 3–Tier 5) have been introduced into academic discourse, encompassing the dissemination, implementation and broader integration of knowledge into public policies [ 6 , 7 ]. Notably, the latest scheme (Tier 5) is becoming increasingly popular and represents the broadest approach, which describes the translation of knowledge to global communities and aims to involve fundamental, universal change in attitudes, policies and social systems [ 7 ].

In other words, a noticeable shift in KT has occurred with time towards macro-level interventions, named initially as evidence- based policymaking and later corrected to evidence- informed policymaking. In parallel with these significant developments, various alternative terms to KT have emerged, including ‘implementation science’, ‘knowledge transfer’, and ‘dissemination and research use’, often with considerable overlap [ 8 ]. Arguably, among the plethora of alternative terms proposed, implementation science stands out prominently. While initially centred on evidence-based medicine at the meso-level (e.g. implementing medical guidelines), it has since broadened its focus to ‘encompass all aspects of research relevant to the scientific study of methods to promote the uptake of research findings into routine settings in clinical, community and policy contexts’ [ 9 ], closely mirroring the definition to KT. Thus, KT, along with activities under different names that share the same objective, has evolved into an umbrella term over the years, encompassing a wide range of strategies aimed at enhancing the impact of research not only on clinical practice but also on public policies [ 10 ]. Following the adoption of such a comprehensive definition of KT, some researchers have asserted that using evidence in public policies is not merely commendable but essential [ 11 ].

In alignment with the evolution of KT from (bio-)medical sciences to public policies, an increasing number of scholars have offered explanations on how health policies should be developed [ 12 ], indicating a growing focus on exploring the mechanisms of health policymaking in the KT literature. However, unlike in the earlier phases of KT, which aimed to transfer knowledge from the laboratory to healthcare provision, decisions made for public policies may be less technical and more complex than those in clinical settings [ 3 , 13 , 14 ]. Indeed, social scientists point out that scholarly works on evidence use in health policies exhibit theoretical shortcomings as they lack engagement with political science and public administration theories and concepts [ 15 , 16 , 17 , 18 ]; only a few of these works employ policy theories and political concepts to guide data collection and make sense of their findings [ 19 ]. Similarly, contemporary literature that conceptualises KT as an umbrella term for both clinical and public policy decision-making, with calls for a generic ‘research-to-action’ [ 20 ], may fail to recognise the different types of actions required to change clinical practices and influence health policies. In many respects, such calls can even lead to a misconception that evidence-informed policymaking is simply a scaled-up version of evidence-based medicine [ 21 ].

In this study, we systematically review knowledge translation theories, models and frameworks (also known as KT TMFs) that were developed for health policies. Essentially, KT TMFs can be depicted as bridges that connect findings across diverse studies, as they establish a common language and standardise the measurement and assessment of desired policy changes [ 22 ]. This makes them essential for generalising implementation efforts and research findings [ 23 ]. While distinctions between a theory, a model or a framework are not always crystal-clear [ 24 ], the following definitions shed light on how they are interpreted in the context of KT. To start with, theory can be described as a set of analytical principles or statements crafted to structure our observations, enhance our understanding and explain the world [ 24 ]. Within implementation science, theories are encapsulated as either generalised models or frameworks. In other words, they are integrated into broader concepts, allowing researchers to form assumptions that help clarify phenomena and create hypotheses for testing [ 25 ].

Whereas theories in the KT literature are explanatory as well as descriptive, KT models are only descriptive with a more narrowly defined scope of explanation [ 24 ]; hence they have a more specific focus than theories [ 25 ]. KT models are created to facilitate the formulation of specific assumptions regarding a set of parameters or variables, which can subsequently be tested against outcomes using predetermined methods [ 25 ]. By offering simplified representations of complex situations, KT models can describe programme elements expected to produce desired results, or theoretical constructs believed to influence or moderate observed outcomes. In this way, they encompass theories related to change or explanation [ 22 ].

Lastly, frameworks in the KT language define a set of variables and the relations among them in a broad sense [ 25 ]. Frameworks, without the aim of providing explanations, solely describe empirical phenomena, representing a structure, overview, outline, system or plan consisting of various descriptive categories and the relations between them that are presumed to account for a phenomenon [ 24 ]. They portray loosely-structured constellations of theoretical constructs, without necessarily specifying their relationships; they can also offer practical methods for achieving implementation objectives [ 22 ]. Some scholars suggest sub-classifications and categorise a framework as ‘actionable’ if it has the potential to facilitate macro-level policy changes [ 11 ].

Context, which encompasses the entire environment in which policy decisions are made, is not peripheral but central to policymaking, playing a crucial role in its conceptualisation [ 26 , 27 , 28 , 29 , 30 , 31 , 32 , 33 , 34 ]. In the KT literature, the term ‘context’ is frequently employed, albeit often with a lack of precision [ 35 ]. It tends to serve as a broad term including various elements within a situation that are relevant to KT in some way but have not been explicitly identified [36]. However, there is a growing interest in delving deeper into what context refers to, as evidenced by increasing research attention [ 31 , 32 , 37 , 38 , 39 , 40 , 41 ]. While the definition of context in the transfer of knowledge to healthcare settings (i.e. implementing health policies, programmes or measures at the meso-level) has been systematically studied [ 36 , 37 , 42 , 43 ], the question of how KT scholars detail context in health policymaking remains unanswered. With our systematic scoping review, we aim to close this gap.

While KT TMFs, emerged from evidence-based medicine, have historically depicted the use of evidence from laboratories or healthcare organisations as the gold standard, we aimed to assess in this study whether and to what extent the evolving face of KT, addressing health policies, succeeded in foregrounding ‘context’. Our objective was thus not to evaluate the quality of these KT TMFs but rather to explore how scholars have incorporated contextual influences into their reasoning. We conducted a systematic scoping review to explore KT TMFs that are relevant to agenda-setting, policy formulation or policy adoption, in line with the aim of this study. Therefore, publications related to policy implementation in healthcare organisations or at the provincial level, as well as those addressing policy evaluation, did not meet our inclusion criteria. Consequently, given our focus on macro-level interventions, we excluded all articles that concentrate on translating clinical research into practice (meso-level interventions) and health knowledge to patients or citizens (micro-level interventions).

Prior systematic scoping reviews in the area of KT TMFs serve as a valuable foundation upon which to build further studies [ 44 , 45 ]. Using established methodologies may ensure a validated approach, allowing for a more nuanced understanding of KT TMFs in the context of existing scholarly work. Our review methodology employed a similar approach to that followed by Strifler et al. in 2018, who conducted a systematic scoping review of KT TMFs in the field of cancer prevention and management, as well as other chronic diseases [ 44 ]. Their search strategy was preferred over others for two primary reasons. First, Strifler et al. investigated KT TMFs altogether, systematically and comprehensively. Second, unlike many other review studies on KT, they focused on macro-level KT and included all relevant keywords useful for the purpose of our study in their Ovid/MEDLINE search query [ 44 ]. For our scoping review, we adapted their search query with the assistance of a specialist librarian. This process involved eliminating terms associated with cancer and chronic diseases, removing time limitation on the published papers, and including an additional language other than English due to authors’ proficiency in German. We included articles published in peer-reviewed journals until November 2022, excluding opinion papers, conference abstracts and study protocols, without any restriction on publication date or place. Our search query is presented in Table  1 .

Following a screening methodology similar to that employed by Votruba et al. [ 11 ], the first author conducted an initial screening of the titles and abstracts of 2918 unique citations. Full texts were selected and scrutinised if they appeared relevant to the topics of agenda-setting, policy formulation or policy adoption. Among these papers, the first author also identified those that conceptualised a KT TMF. Simultaneously, the last author independently screened 2918 titles and abstracts, randomly selecting 20% of them to identify studies related to macro-level KT. Regarding papers that conceptualised a KT TMF, all those initially selected by the first author underwent a thorough examination by the last author as well. In the papers reviewed by these two authors of this study, KT TMFs were typically presented as either Tables or Figures. In cases where these visual representations did not contain sufficient information about ‘context’, the main body of the study was carefully scrutinised by both reviewers to ensure no relevant information was missed. Any unclear cases were discussed and resolved to achieve 100% inter-rater agreement between the first and second reviewers. This strategy resulted in the inclusion of 32 relevant studies. The flow chart outlining our review process is provided in Fig.  1 .

figure 1

Flow chart of the review process

According to the results of our systematic scoping review (Table  2 ), the first KT TMF developed for health policies dates back to 2003, confirming the emergence of a trend that expanded the meaning of the term Knowledge Translation to include policymakers as end-users of evidence during approximately the same period. In their study, Jacobson et al. [ 46 ] present a framework derived from a literature review to enhance understanding of user groups by organising existing knowledge, identifying gaps and emphasising the importance of learning about new contexts. However, despite acknowledging the significance of the user group context, the paper lacks a thorough explanation of the authors’ understanding of this term. The second study in our scoping review provides some details. Recognising a shift from evidence-based medicine to evidence-based health policymaking in the KT literature, the article by Dobrow et al. from 2004 [ 30 ] emphasises the importance of considering contextual factors. They present a conceptual framework for evidence-based decision-making, highlighting the influence of context in KT. Illustrated through examples from colorectal cancer screening policy development, their conceptual framework emphasises the significance of context in the introduction, interpretation and application of evidence. Third, Lehoux et al. [ 47 ] examine the field of Health Technology Assessment (HTA) and its role in informing decision and policymaking in Canada. By developing a conceptual framework for HTA dissemination and use, they touch on the institutional environment and briefly describe contextual factors.

Notably, the first three publications in our scoping review are authored by scholars affiliated with Canada, which is less of a coincidence, given the role of Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the federal funding agency for health research: The CIHR Act (Bill C-13) mandates CIHR to ensure that the translation of health knowledge permeates every aspect of its work [ 48 ]. Moreover, it was CIHR that coined the term Knowledge Translation, defining KT as ‘a dynamic and iterative process that includes the synthesis, dissemination, exchange and ethically sound application of knowledge to improve health, provide more effective health services and products, and strengthen the health care system’ [ 49 ] . This comprehensive definition has since been adapted by international organisations (IOs), including WHO. The first document published by WHO that utilised KT to influence health policies dates back to 2005, entitled ‘Bridging the “know-do” gap: Meeting on knowledge translation in global health’, an initiative that was supported by the Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research, the Canadian International Development Agency, the German Agency for Technical Cooperation and the WHO Special Programme on Research and Training in Tropical Diseases [ 1 ]. Following this official recognition by WHO, studies in our scoping review after 2005 indicate a noticeable expansion of KT, encompassing a wider geographical area than Canada.

The article of Ashford et al. from 2006 [ 50 ] discusses the challenge of policy decisions in Kenya in the health field being disconnected from scientific evidence and presents a model for translating knowledge into policy actions through agenda-setting, coalition building and policy learning. However, the framework lacks explicit incorporation of contextual factors influencing health policies. Bauman et al. [ 51 ] propose a six-step framework for successful dissemination of physical activity evidence, illustrated through four case studies from three countries (Canada, USA and Brazil) and a global perspective. They interpret contextual factors as barriers and facilitators to physical activity and public health innovations. Focusing on the USA, Gold [ 52 ] explains factors, processes and actors that shape pathways between research and its use in a summary diagram, including a reference to ‘other influences in process’ for context. Green et al. [ 4 ] examine the gap between health research and its application in public health without focusing on a specific geographical area. Their study comprehensively reviews various concepts of diffusion, dissemination and implementation in public health, proposing ways to blend diffusion theory with other theories. Their ‘utilization-focused surveillance framework’ interprets context as social determinants as structures, economics, politics and culture.

Further, the article by Dhonukshe-Rutten et al. from 2010 [ 53 ] presents a general framework that outlines the process of translating nutritional requirements into policy applications from a European perspective. The framework incorporates scientific evidence, stakeholder interests and the socio-political context. The description of this socio-political context is rather brief, encompassing political and social priorities, legal context, ethical issues and economic implications. Ir et al. [ 54 ] analyse the use of knowledge in shaping policy on health equity funds in Cambodia, with the objective of understanding how KT contributes to the development of health policies that promote equity. Yet no information on context is available in the framework that they suggest. A notable exception among these early KT TMFs until 2010 is the conceptual framework for analysing integration of targeted health interventions into health systems by Atun et al. [ 55 ], in which the authors provide details about the factors that have an influence on the process of bringing evidence to health policies. Focusing on the adoption, diffusion and assimilation of health interventions, their conceptual framework provides a systematic approach for evaluating and informing policies in this field. Compared to the previous studies discussed above, their definition of context for this framework is comprehensive (Table  2 ). Overall, most of the studies containing macro-level KT TMFs published until 2010 either do not fully acknowledge contextual factors or provide generic terms such as cultural, political and economic for brief description (9 out of 10; 90%).

Studies published after 2010 demonstrate a notable geographical shift, with a greater emphasis on low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). By taking the adoption of the directly observed treatment, short-course (DOTS) strategy for tuberculosis control in Mexico as a case study, Bissell et al. [ 56 ] examine policy transfer to Mexico and its relevance to operational research efforts and suggest a model for analysis of health policy transfer. The model interprets context as health system, including political, economic, social, cultural and technological features. Focusing on HIV/AIDS in India, Tran et al. [ 57 ] explore KT by considering various forms of evidence beyond scientific evidence, such as best practices derived from programme experience and disseminated through personal communication. Their proposed framework aims to offer an analytical tool for understanding how evidence-based influence is exerted. In their framework, no information is available on context. Next, Bertone et al. [ 58 ] report on the effectiveness of Communities of Practice (CoPs) in African countries and present a conceptual framework for analysing and assessing transnational CoPs in health policy. The framework organises the key elements of CoPs, linking available resources, knowledge management activities, policy and practice changes, and improvements in health outcomes. Context is only briefly included in this framework.

Some other studies include both European and global perspectives. The publication from Timotijevic et al. from 2013 [ 59 ] introduces an epistemological framework that examines the considerations influencing the policy-making process, with a specific focus on micronutrient requirements in Europe. They present case studies from several European countries, highlighting the relevance of the framework in understanding the policy context related to micronutrients. Context is interpreted in this framework as global trends, data, media, broader consumer beliefs, ethical considerations, and wider social, legal, political, and economic environment. Next, funded by the European Union, the study by Onwujekwe et al. [ 60 ] examines the role of different types of evidence in health policy development in Nigeria. Although they cover the factors related to policy actors in their framework for assessing the role of evidence in policy development, they provide no information on context. Moreover, Redman et al. [ 61 ] present the SPIRIT Action Framework, which aims to enhance the use of research in policymaking. Context is interpreted in this framework as policy influences, i.e. public opinion, media, economic climate, legislative/policy infrastructure, political ideology and priorities, stakeholder interests, expert advice, and resources. From a global perspective, Spicer et al. [ 62 ] explore the contextual factors that influenced the scale-up of donor-funded maternal and newborn health innovations in Ethiopia, India and Nigeria, highlighting the importance of context in assessing and adapting innovations. Their suggested contextual factors influencing government decisions to accept, adopt and finance innovations at scale are relatively comprehensive (Table  2 ).

In terms of publication frequency, the pinnacle of reviewed KT studies was in 2017. Among six studies published in 2017, four lack details about context in their KT conceptualisations and one study touches on context very briefly. Bragge et al. [ 5 ] brought for their study an international terminology working group together to develop a simplified framework of interventions to integrate evidence into health practices, systems, and policies, named as the Aims, Ingredients, Mechanism, Delivery framework, albeit without providing details on contextual factors. Second, Mulvale et al. [ 63 ] present a conceptual framework that explores the impact of policy dialogues on policy development, illustrating how these dialogues can influence different stages of the policy cycle. Similar to the previous one, this study too, lacks information on context. In a systematic review, Sarkies et al. [ 64 ] evaluate the effectiveness of research implementation strategies in promoting evidence-informed policy decisions in healthcare. The study explores the factors associated with effective strategies and their inter-relationship, yet without further information on context. Fourth, Houngbo et al. [ 65 ] focus on the development of a strategy to implement a good governance model for health technology management in the public health sector, drawing from their experience in Benin. They outline a six-phase model that includes preparatory analysis, stakeholder identification and problem analysis, shared analysis and visioning, development of policy instruments for pilot testing, policy development and validation, and policy implementation and evaluation. They provide no information about context in their model. Fifth, Mwendera et al. [ 66 ] present a framework for improving the use of malaria research in policy development in Malawi, which was developed based on case studies exploring the policymaking process, the use of local malaria research, and assessing facilitators and barriers to research utilisation. Contextual setting is considered as Ministry of Health (MoH) with political set up, leadership system within the MoH, government policies and cultural set up. In contrast to these five studies, Ellen et al. [ 67 ] present a relatively comprehensive framework to support evidence-informed policymaking in ageing and health. The framework includes thought-provoking questions to discover contextual factors (Table  2 ).

Continuing the trend, studies published after 2017 focus increasingly on LMICs. In their embedded case study, Ongolo-Zogo et al. [ 68 ] examine the influence of two Knowledge Translation Platforms (KTPs) on policy decisions to achieve the health millennium development goals in Cameroon and Uganda. It explores how these KTPs influenced policy through interactions within policy issue networks, engagement with interest groups, and the promotion of evidence-supported ideas, ultimately shaping the overall policy climate for evidence-informed health system policymaking. Contextual factors are thereby interpreted as institutions (structures, legacies, policy networks), interests, ideas (values, research evidence) and external factors (reports, commitments). Focusing on the ‘Global South’, Plamondon et al. [ 69 ] suggest blending integrated knowledge translation with global health governance as an approach for strengthening leadership for health equity action. In terms of contextual factors, they include some information such as adapting knowledge to local context, consideration of the composition of non-traditional actors, such as civil society and private sector, in governance bodies and guidance for meaningful engagement between actors, particularly in shared governance models. Further, Vincenten et al. [ 70 ] propose a conceptual model to enhance understanding of interlinking factors that influence the evidence implementation process. Their evidence implementation model for public health systems refers to ‘context setting’, albeit without providing further detail.

Similarly, the study by Motani et al. from 2019 [ 71 ] assesses the outcomes and lessons learned from the EVIDENT partnership that focused on knowledge management for evidence-informed decision-making in nutrition and health in Africa. Although they mention ‘contextualising evidence’ in their conceptual framework, information about context is lacking. Focusing on Latin America and the Caribbean, Varallyay et al. [ 72 ] introduce a conceptual framework for evaluating embedded implementation research in various contexts. The framework outlines key stages of evidence-informed decision-making and provides guidance on assessing embeddedness and critical contextual factors. Compared to others, their conceptual framework provides a relatively comprehensive elaboration on contextual factors. In addition, among all the studies reviewed, Leonard et al. [ 73 ] present an exceptionally comprehensive analysis, where they identify the facilitators and barriers to the sustainable implementation of evidence-based health innovations in LMICs. Through a systematic literature review, they scrutinise 79 studies and categorise the identified barriers and facilitators into seven groups: context, innovation, relations and networks, institutions, knowledge, actors, and resources. The first one, context, contains rich information that could be seen in Table  2 .

Continuing from LMICs, Votruba et al. [ 74 ] present in their study the EVITA (EVIdence To Agenda setting) conceptual framework for mental health research-policy interrelationships in LMICs with some information about context, detailed as external influences and political context. In a follow-up study, they offer an updated framework for understanding evidence-based mental health policy agenda-setting [ 75 ]. In their revised framework, context is interpreted as external context and policy sphere, encompassing policy agenda, window of opportunity, political will and key individuals. Lastly, to develop a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation framework for evidence-to-policy networks, Kuchenmüller et al. [ 76 ] present the EVIPNet Europe Theory of Change and interpret contextual factors for evidence-informed policymaking as political, economic, logistic and administrative. Overall, it can be concluded that studies presenting macro-level KT TMFs from 2011 until 2022 focus mainly on LMICs (15 out of 22; close to 70%) and the majority of them were funded by international (development) organisations, the European Commission and global health donor agencies. An overwhelming number of studies among them (19 out of 22; close to 90%) provide either no information on contextual details or these were included only partly with some generic terms in KT TMFs.

Our systematic scoping review suggests that the approach of KT, which has evolved from evidence-based medicine to evidence-informed policymaking, tends to remain closely tied to its clinical origins when developing TMFs. In other words, macro-level KT TMFs place greater emphasis on the (public) health issue at hand rather than considering the broader decision-making context, a viewpoint shared by other scholars as well [ 30 ]. One reason could be that in the early stages of KT TMFs, the emphasis primarily focused on implementing evidence-based practices within clinical settings. At that time, the spotlight was mostly on content, including aspects like clinical studies, checklists and guidelines serving as the evidence base. In those meso-level KT TMFs, a detailed description of context, i.e. the overall environment in which these practices should be implemented, might have been deemed less necessary, given that healthcare organisations, such as hospitals to implement medical guidelines or surgical safety checklists, show similar characteristics globally.

However, as the scope of KT TMFs continues to expand to include the influence on health policies, a deeper understanding of context-specific factors within different jurisdictions and the dynamics of the policy process is becoming increasingly crucial. This is even more important for KT scholars aiming to conceptualise large-scale changes, as described in KT Tier 5, which necessitate a thorough understanding of targeted behaviours within societies. As the complexity of interventions increases due to the growing number of stakeholders either affecting or being affected by them, the interventions are surrounded by a more intricate web of attitudes, incentives, relationships, rules of engagement and spheres of influence [ 7 ]. The persisting emphasis on content over context in the evolving field of KT may oversimplify the complex process of using evidence in policymaking and understanding the society [ 77 ]. Some scholars argue that this common observation in public health can be attributed to the dominance of experts primarily from medical sciences [ 78 , 79 , 80 ]. Our study confirms the potential limitation of not incorporating insights from political science and public policy studies, which can lead to what is often termed a ‘naïve’ conceptualisation of evidence-to-policy schemes [ 15 , 16 , 17 ]. It is therefore strongly encouraged that the emerging macro-level KT concepts draw on political science and public administration if KT scholars intend to effectively communicate new ideas to policymakers, with the aim of prompting their action or response. We summarised our findings into three points.

Firstly, KT scholars may want to identify and pinpoint exactly where a change should occur within the policy process. The main confusion that we observed in the KT literature arises from a lack of understanding of how public policies are made. Notably, the term ‘evidence-informed policymaking’ can refer to any stage of the policy cycle, spanning from agenda-setting to policy formulation, adoption, implementation and evaluation. Understanding these steps will allow researchers to refine their language when advocating for policy changes across various jurisdictions; for instance, the word ‘implementation’ is often inappropriately used in KT literature. As commonly known, at the macro-level, public policies take the form of legislation, law-making and regulation, thereby shaping the practices or policies to be implemented at the meso- and micro-levels [ 81 ]. In other words, the process of using specific knowledge to influence health policies, however evidence-based it might be, falls mostly under the responsibility and jurisdiction of sovereign states. For this reason, macro-level KT TMFs should reflect the importance of understanding the policy context and the complexities associated with policymaking, rather than suggesting flawed or unrealistic top-down ‘implementation’ strategies in countries by foregrounding the content, or the (public) health issue at hand.

Our second observation from this systematic scoping review points towards a selective perception among researchers when reporting on policy interventions. Research on KT does not solely exist due to the perceived gap between scientific evidence and policy but also because of the pressures the organisations or researchers face in being accountable to their funding sources, ensuring the continuity of financial support for their activities and claiming output legitimacy to change public policies [ 8 ]. This situation indirectly compels researchers working to influence health policies in the field to provide ‘evidence-based’ feedback on the success of their projects to donors [ 82 ]. In doing so, researchers may overly emphasise the content of the policy intervention in their reporting to secure further funding, while they underemphasis the contextual factors. These factors, often perceived as a given, might actually be the primary facilitators of their success. Such a lack of transparency regarding the definition of context is particularly visible in the field of global health, where LMICs often rely on external donors. It is important to note that this statement is not intended as a negative critique of their missions or an evaluation of health outcomes in countries following such missions. Rather, it seeks to explain the underlying reason why researchers, particularly those reliant on donors in LMICs, prioritise promoting the concept of KT from a technical standpoint, giving less attention to contextual factors in their reasoning.

Lastly, and connected to the previous point, it is our observation that the majority of macro-level KT TMFs fail to give adequate consideration to both power dynamics in countries (internal vs. external influences) and the actual role that government plays in public policies. Notably, although good policymaking entails an honest effort to use the best available evidence, the belief that this will completely negate the role of power and politics in decision-making is a technocratic illusion [ 83 ]. Among the studies reviewed, the framework put forth by Leonard et al. [ 73 ] offers the most comprehensive understanding of context and includes a broad range of factors (such as political, social, and economic) discovered also in other reviewed studies. Moreover, the framework, developed through an extensive systematic review, offers a more in-depth exploration of these contextual factors than merely listing them as a set of keywords. Indeed, within the domains of political science and public policy, such factors shaping health policies have received considerable scholarly attention for decades. To define what context entails, Walt refers in her book ‘Health Policy: An Introduction to Process and Power’ [ 84 ] to the work of Leichter from 1979 [ 85 ], who provides a scheme for analysing public policy. This includes i) situational factors, which are transient, impermanent, or idiosyncratic; ii) structural factors, which are relatively unchanging elements of the society and polity; iii) cultural factors, which are value commitments of groups; and iv) environmental factors, which are events, structures and values that exist outside the boundaries of a political system and influence decisions within it. His detailed sub-categories for context can be found in Table  3 . This flexible public policy framework may offer KT researchers a valuable approach to understanding contextual factors and provide some guidance to define the keywords to focus on. Scholars can adapt this framework to suit a wide range of KT topics, creating more context-sensitive and comprehensive KT TMFs.

Admittedly, our study has certain limitations. Despite choosing one of the most comprehensive bibliographic databases for our systematic scoping review, which includes materials from biomedicine, allied health fields, biological and physical sciences, humanities, and information science in relation to medicine and healthcare, we acknowledge that we may have missed relevant articles indexed in other databases. Hence, exclusively using Ovid/MEDLINE due to resource constraints may have narrowed the scope and diversity of scholarly literature examined in this study. Second, our review was limited to peer-reviewed publications in English and German. Future studies could extend our findings by examining the extent to which contextual factors are detailed in macro-level KT TMFs published in grey literature and in different languages. Given the abundance of KT reports, working papers or policy briefs published by IOs and development agencies, such an endeavour could enrich our findings and either support or challenge our conclusions. Nonetheless, to our knowledge, this study represents the first systematic review and critical appraisal of emerging knowledge-to-policy concepts, also known as macro-level KT TMFs. It successfully blends insights from both biomedical and public policy disciplines, and could serve as a roadmap for future research.

The translation of knowledge to policymakers involves more than technical skills commonly associated with (bio-)medical sciences, such as creating evidence-based guidelines or clinical checklists. Instead, evidence-informed policymaking reflects an ambition to engage in the political dimensions of states. Therefore, the evolving KT concepts addressing health policies should be seen as a political decision-making process, rather than a purely analytical one, as is the case with evidence-based medicine. To better understand the influence of power dynamics and governance structures in policymaking, we suggest that future macro-level KT TMFs draw on insights from political science and public administration. Collaborative, interdisciplinary research initiatives could be undertaken to bridge the gap between these fields. Technocratic KT TMFs that overlook contextual factors risk propagating misconceptions in academic circles about how health policies are made, as they become increasingly influential over time. Research, the systematic pursuit of knowledge, is neither inherently good nor bad; it can be sought after, used or misused, like any other tool in policymaking. What is needed in the KT discourse is not another generic call for ‘research-to-action’ but rather an understanding of the dividing line between research-to- clinical -action and research-to- political -action.

Availability of data and materials

Available upon reasonable request.

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Schmitt, T., Czabanowska, K. & Schröder-Bäck, P. What is context in knowledge translation? Results of a systematic scoping review. Health Res Policy Sys 22 , 52 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12961-024-01143-5

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literature review of theoretical models

Theories, determinants, and intervention models and approaches on inequalities of undernutrition amongst under fives: A literature review

Affiliations.

  • 1 School of Dentistry University of Rwanda Kigali Rwanda.
  • 2 Child Health and Wellbeing (CHAW) Program Cephas Health Research Initiative Inc Ibadan Nigeria.
  • 3 Faculty of Dentistry University of Puthisastra Phnom Penh Cambodia.
  • 4 School of Health and Life Sciences Teesside University Middlesbrough UK.
  • 5 Department of Sociology Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto Nigeria.
  • 6 Center for Child and Adolescent Mental Health University College Hospital Ibadan Nigeria.
  • PMID: 38690007
  • PMCID: PMC11058263
  • DOI: 10.1002/hsr2.2078

Background and aims: One of the greatest public health problems of the 21st century is undernutrition in children under the age of 5 years (CAUFY). Globally, over 232 million CUAFY are undernourished and approximately 45% of mortality in this population are undernutrition-induced. This paper reviewed and critically explained the factors perpetuating undernutrition in CUAFY in the global space. It further explained the multi-level determinants that influence health inequalities and consequently exacerbate undernutrition amongst CUAFY globally. It also went further to explain the intervention models and approaches that can be used to tackle undernutrition in CUAFY.

Methods/literature search strategy: Demiris et al.'s approach to narrative review was utilized for this paper. Relevant articles on child nutrition were retrieved from multiple credible databases and websites of foremost health organizations. Using an iterative process, multiple combinations of search terms were done by stringing relevant key terms and their synonyms with Boolean Operators. This process was constantly refined to align search results with the study aim. Database search produced relevant and resourceful publications which were utilized to develop this review.

Results: The global burden of undernutrition remains high, especially in Oceania with the highest prevalence of stunting and wasting (41.4% and 12.5%), with Africa and Asia following closely. Malnutrition eradication is a global health issue of high priority as demonstrated by the "Goal 2" of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the United Nations (UN) Decade of Action on Nutrition 2016-2025. The review identified no significant positive outcome from previous interventions due to the endemic health inequalities. Determinants of the multi-level health inequalities associated with undernutrition in CUAFY, and probable solutions are explained with theoretical models of health inequalities. A diagonal intervention approach was proposed as a viable solution to ending undernutrition in CUAFY.

Conclusion: The application of relevant theoretical models and context-specific intervention approaches can be utilized by stakeholders to close the existing inequality gaps, thereby reducing undernutrition amongst CUAFY globally.

Keywords: approach; children; determinants; global health; inequality; intervention; model; review; theory; undernutrition.

© 2024 The Authors. Health Science Reports published by Wiley Periodicals LLC.

REVIEW article

The inverted-u model of employee happiness (iumeh): examining overdose happiness in context of personal characteristics, job-relationship dependency, benign stress, and various theories.

SERAP KALFAOĞLU

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In recent years, the management literature has begun to deal with individual and organizational results after happiness rather than the pursuit of happiness in business life and finally reaching happiness. After the fact that everything in an overdose is harmful, it has become the subject of even more research with paradoxical results that happiness that evokes positive emotions is not as innocent as it seems. In this study, which aims to reveal the harmful effects of overdose of employee happiness, the reasons for the manager's fear -or anxiety -about the happiness of his employees are interpreted. The Inverted-U Model of Employee Happiness (IUMEH) has been developed and individual work outputs have been evaluated in three areas that 1) support happiness, 2) reflect balanced happiness, and 3) turn negative with an overdose of happiness intoxication. It has been suggested that IUMEH, which is thought to contribute to the literature as it is the first descriptive model to emerge, should be supported by applied studies, and it has been reminded that the curvilinear aspect of the model may include differences in terms of culture, type and characteristics of job, private, public or non-profit enterprises, generations of managers and the level of managers (front-line, middle level and senior level etc.).

Keywords: IUMEH, Employee happiness, Job-Relationship Dependency, Benign Stress, Flow theory

Received: 29 Aug 2023; Accepted: 03 May 2024.

Copyright: © 2024 KALFAOĞLU. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: SERAP KALFAOĞLU, Selçuk University, Istanbul, Türkiye

Disclaimer: All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article or claim that may be made by its manufacturer is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

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    Theoretical. A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

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    Using a theoretical framework for your dissertation can help you to better analyze past events by providing a particular set of questions to ask, and a particular perspective to use when examining your topic. Traditionally, Ph.D. and Applied Degree research must include relevant theoretical framework (s) to frame, or inform, every aspect of the ...

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    A theoretical framework guides the research process like a roadmap for the study, so you need to get this right. Theoretical framework 1,2 is the structure that supports and describes a theory. A theory is a set of interrelated concepts and definitions that present a systematic view of phenomena by describing the relationship among the variables for explaining these phenomena.

  19. Theoretical Framework

    Models: These are simplified representations of reality that are used to explain, predict, or control a phenomenon. How to Write Theoretical Framework. A theoretical framework is an essential part of any research study or paper, as it helps to provide a theoretical basis for the research and guide the analysis and interpretation of the data.

  20. Theoretical Models of Consumer Behaviour: A Literature Review

    Theoretical Models of Consumer Behaviour: A Literature Review. The purpose of this study is to present the evolution of theories that have influenced consumer buying decision processes in a unique way. Consumer behaviour is the study of how individual customers or groups of organisations, select, buy, use, and dispose ideas, goods and services ...

  21. Review A literature review of theoretical models for drop and bubble

    This paper presents a literature review on mechanisms and models for the breakage of bubbles and drops (fluid particles) in turbulent dispersions. For the mechanisms, four categories are summarized, namely, turbulence fluctuation, viscous shear stress, shearing-off process and interfacial instability. ... A theoretical bubble breakup model for ...

  22. What Is a Theoretical Model? (Plus How To Build One)

    Compose a literature review, which is a comprehensive overview of your research that aims to provide a valuable context for your research inquiry. It helps you develop your theoretical model by helping you identify and connect key ideas in the sources you collected, which can allow you the ability to develop an effective hypothesis.

  23. What is context in knowledge translation? Results of a systematic

    In this study, we systematically review knowledge translation theories, models and frameworks (also known as KT TMFs) that were developed for health policies. Essentially, KT TMFs can be depicted as bridges that connect findings across diverse studies, as they establish a common language and standardise the measurement and assessment of desired ...

  24. Theories, determinants, and intervention models and approaches on

    It also went further to explain the intervention models and approaches that can be used to tackle undernutrition in CUAFY. Methods/literature search strategy: Demiris et al.'s approach to narrative review was utilized for this paper. Relevant articles on child nutrition were retrieved from multiple credible databases and websites of foremost ...

  25. Frontiers

    It has been suggested that IUMEH, which is thought to contribute to the literature as it is the first descriptive model to emerge, should be supported by applied studies, and it has been reminded that the curvilinear aspect of the model may include differences in terms of culture, type and characteristics of job, private, public or non-profit ...

  26. Building Information Modelling Facility Management (BIM-FM)

    Defined digital Facilities' Management (FM) systems will contribute to the realisation of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11. Of the available digital FM systems, Building Information Modelling (BIM) for FM, herein referred to as BIM-FM, is the least developed. Where BIM-FM varies from existing digital FM tools is its advanced 3D visualisation capabilities. A semi ...