Concept of Variables, Theory Generation, and Theoretical Framework

Concept of Theory

A theory is a formal, testable explanation of some events that includes explanations of how things relate to one another. Theories are simply generalizations that help us better understand reality. A theory helps the research scholar(s) in

Understanding, to gain an understanding of the relationship among various phenomena.

Prediction, a theory enables us to predict the behavior or characteristics of one phenomenon from the knowledge of another phenomenon.

The Need for Theoretical Framework

A theoretical framework represents your beliefs on how certain phenomena (or variables or concepts) are related to each other (a model) and an explanation of why you believe that these variables are associated with each other (a theory).

Both the model and the theory flow logically from the documentation of previous research in the problem area. Integrating your logical beliefs with published research, taking into consideration the boundaries and constraints governing the situation, is pivotal in developing a scientific basis for investigating the research problem.

The process of building a theoretical framework includes:

  1. Introducing definitions of the concepts or variables in your model.
  2. Developing a conceptual model that provides a descriptive representation of your theory.
  3. Coming up with a theory that provides an explanation for relationships between the variables in your model.

From the theoretical framework, then, testable hypotheses can be developed to examine whether your theory is valid or not. The hypothesized relationships can thereafter be tested through appropriate statistical analyses.

Hence, the entire deductive research project rests on the basis of the theoretical framework. Even if testable hypotheses are not necessarily generated (as in some applied research projects), developing a good theoretical framework is central to examining the problem under investigation.

Since a theoretical framework involves the identification of the network of relationships among the variables considered important to the study of any given problem situation, it is essential to understand what a variable means and what the different types of variables are.


A variable is anything that can take on differing or varying values. The values can differ at various times for the same object or person, or at the same time for different objects or persons. Examples of variables are production units, absenteeism, and motivation.

Four main types of variables are discussed in this chapter:

  1. The dependent variable (also known as the criterion variable).
  2. The independent variable (also known as the predictor variable).
  3. The moderating variable.
  4. The mediating variable.

Each of these variables can be discrete (e.g., male/female) or continuous (e.g., the age of an individual).

Dependent Variable

The dependent variable is the variable of primary interest to the researcher. The researcher’s goal is to understand and describe the dependent variable, or to explain its variability, or predict it. It is the variable that is being influenced by other variable(s).

Independent Variable

Independent variable is one that influences the dependent variable in either a positive or negative way. That is, when the independent variable is present, the dependent variable is also present, and with each unit of increase in the independent variable, there is an increase or decrease in the dependent variable.

Moderating Variable

A moderating variable is the one that modifies the existing relationship between the independent and dependent variable I-e it holds a strong contingent effect on the association of IV and DV. Modification could mean to strengthen, weaken, or altogether change the direction of relationship.

Mediating Variable

A mediator variable is the variable that causes mediation in the dependent and the independent variables. In other words, it explains the relationship between the dependent variable and the independent variable. The variable that explains the mechanism of impact of IV on DV is referred to as a mediator. When we say that the impact of IV on DV is not direct, and it is through another variable(s), that third variable is the mediator. Simply mean the IV affect the MV and that leads to the DV. What we are in simple term saying is that IV does not affect the DV directly, but it is actually the IV affecting the MV and that in turn affect the DV.

Components of Theoretical Framework

A good theoretical framework identifies and defines the important variables that are relevant to the problem and subsequently describes and explains the interconnections among these variables.

The relationships among the independent variables, the dependent variable(s), and, if applicable, the moderating and mediating variables are elaborated. Should there be any moderating variable(s), it is important to explain how and what specific relationships they moderate.

An explanation of why they operate as moderators should also be offered. If there are any mediating variables, a discussion on how or why they are treated as mediating variables is necessary.

Note that a good theoretical framework is not necessarily a complex framework.

There are three basic features that should be incorporated in any theoretical framework:

  1. The variables considered relevant to the study should be clearly defined.
  2. A conceptual model that describes the relationships between the variables in the model should be given.
  3. There should be a clear explanation of why we expect these relationships to exist.
Sekaran, U., & Bougie, R. (2019). Research methods for business: A skill building approach. john wiley & sons.

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