Logical Structure or Theoretical Framework
Logical Structure or Theoretical Framework Problems do not exist in nature but in the minds of people. This can be seen from an examination of the definition of problem: problems stem from the juxtaposition of factors which results in a perplexing or enigmatic state of mind (a cognitive problem), an undesirable consequence (a psychological or value problem), or a conflict which obscures the appropriate course of action (a practical problem). Cognitions, values and practices are attributes of persons, not the objective world (whatever that is).
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Problems cannot be articulated except within a conceptual system. No inquirer can investigate a problem from all perspectives simultaneously. And that is what a logical structure or theoretical framework is all about. It establishes a vantage point, a perspective, a set of lenses through which the researcher views the problem. In this sense, the selection of a logical framework is both a clarifying and exclusionary step in the research process.
While it sharpens focus and consequently increases clarity brought to the problem area, it excludes from the view of the inquirer other perspectives that might be brought to bear on the problem, but does so in explicit recognition of those perspective and the rationale for their rejection. In fact, it is the choice of frameworks chosen by the researcher that has contributed to new understandings or problem solutions by some researchers, or to inadequate inquiry or false conclusions by others.
For example, decades of research on organizational management and behavior viewed organizations from the classic, rational model of hierarchical bureaucracy with tightly coupled substructures and linked and linear organizational processes (as posited by the German sociologist Max Weber in the early part of this century)(2). But that perspective never led to adequate understandings of how organizations, such as corporations and universities, actually work.
Recent researchers, working from the vantage point of alternative perspectives, using metaphors derived from long-term observation of life in universities and other organizations, have broken away from the image of organizations as bureaucracies to study them as “organized anarchies”(3) and “loosely coupled systems. “(4) They have created a powerful new line of inquiry that has greatly enhanced our understanding of the structures and processes of work life in public institutions.
The point is, there are usually multiple frameworks from which to view the same problem, the more viable often being obscured by the dominance of a worn-out paradigm that blinds the observer to alternative views of the world. The framework used by the researcher is not always explicit (as in the example of “organized anarchy” when first used as a perspective for studying organizations); but the burden of the argument here is that to the extent possible the framework should be explicated for several reasons: 1.
Since the problem is a function of its framework, the problem can be better articulated and understood if its basic system is well understood and articulated. Additional facets of the problem may be generated as a result, and the known facets will take on greater clarity and form. 2. When the framework is well articulated, it is possible to conceive and consider alternative frameworks. The explication of behaviorist theory in early psychology made it possible to see what its strengths and weaknesses were and to develop alternative theories that ultimately had high payoff (e. . , the advent of cognitive psychology and one of its offspring, Rational Emotive Therapy). Given several possible frameworks, the researcher chooses from among them on the basis of criteria such as heuristic value, inclusiveness, efficiency, and the like. The power of a proposed solution to the problem may thus be considerably enhanced. 3. The explication of a theoretical framework or logical structure provides focus to all the subsequent steps in planning and carrying out the proposed inquiry, e. g. charting variables and their relationships. It makes it possible to generate a relatively complex set of objectives and questions; it provides a basis for including and excluding literature and research that is actually related to the inquiry by identifying the variables of greatest interest and concern; and it provides focus to the inquirer’s procedural planning and choices from initial design selection, through instrument development or adoption, to the organization, analysis and interpretation of data, e. . , research design, statistical tests, making sense of empirical findings. 4. Perhaps most important is the impact of the explicit theoretical structure on subsequent inquiry in the same area. The investigation no longer hangs loose but becomes part of a line or tradition of inquiry which other researchers can check, replicate or build upon. Knowledge growth in a field becomes an additive phenomenon of increasingly useful structures or concepts with which inquirers can work. 5.
Without a clear explication of the problem and a workable perspective with which to view it, it is likely that the research project will be flawed by uncontrolled extraneous variables, overlooked variables, faulty instruments, haphazard procedures and the like. “You can’t get there from here” without taking this step. A failure in this regard is why so many graduate students end up with a procedural plan that runs them in circles. Defining a Logical Structure or Theoretical Framework A logical structure or theoretical framework is the set of terms and relationships within which the problem is formulated and solved.
Such frameworks may vary greatly in format and sophistication. In its simplest form a conceptual framework may be no more than a set of descriptive categories. For example, one may decide to investigate teacher behavior by noting whether a teacher’s verbal statements are questions, informational comments, supportive comments, or disciplinary comments. Such a set of terms would be quite useful in categorizing behavior even though there is no pretense that all behavior could be categorized this way, or that the terms were preselected to conform to some particular point of view.
Maslow’s(5) Hierarchy of Need is another example of a conceptual framework that has been heavily used in social science research, including efforts to refute its utility as a classification scheme for human behavior. When such a set of categories meets the additional criteria that all categories are independent of each other and are (together) necessary and sufficient to encompass all relevant phenomenon, they may be said to comprise a taxonomy, as for example, the biological taxonomy of life forms. A theory interconnects the categories (whether or not they form a taxonomy) through a set of relationships.
Both the categories and/or relationships may be derived from a basic set of postulates. Hypotheses may be derived by deduction from the theory for testing. In short, a conceptual framework is a concise description (often accompanied by a graphic or visual depiction) of the major variables operating within the arena of the problem to be pursued together with the researcher’s overarching view of how the variables interact (or could be made to interact under manipulable conditions) to produce a more powerful or comprehensive model” of relevant phenomena than has heretofore been available for shedding light on the problem. Think of it as a MAP with conceptual directions. The framework, in fact, either anticipates or directly presents the basic design of the study (more about that below). The figures at the end of this section attempt to depict example structures for two hypothetical studies. Figure 2 is a “lick the world” structure examining the effectiveness of an inservice training program for teachers that would take a well funded staff of researchers to complete if left as it is.
Figure 3 is a model for investigating the factors that shed light on the problem of antisocial behavior among youth, and is considerably less complicated than Figure 2, although it poses some formidable measurement challenges. I have put a little narrative with those figures to aid comprehension. It might be helpful to examine these figures and then re-read this section a few times. Rudestam & Newton (1992), by the way, have good visual models in chapter two. Examples of logical structures from student proposals can be found here. Functions of a Logical Structure or Theoretical Framework . Expounding – To expound the structure or framework within which the situation will be investigated, that is: (1) in the case of the logical structure, to provide a rationale for the perspective from which the investigator will examine the problem; or (2) in the case of the theoretical framework, to conceptualize or state the theory in which terms the investigator will examine the problem. 2. Validating – to validate the application of the particular logical structure or theoretical framework in the investigation of the problem in terms of its anticipated advantages and consequences.
The process of structure building is the researcher’s creative step in research design that minimizes irrelevancies, tightens focus on constructs that comprise the relevant substance of the inquiry, and maximizes the “real world” utility of the inquiry; that is, it is the means by which validity in its various forms is achieved. The structure or framework, therefore, embodies the ontological and epistemological character of the study and anchors the methodological phases of inquiry (sampling procedures, choice of research questions, statistical design for each question or hypothesis, ect. . Common Deficiencies in Proposal Structures or Frameworks — Failure to offer any framework – raw empiricism — The inappropriate framework — The overly complex framework — The framework unrelated to other competing structures — The imprecise framework Generating a Framework or Structure Many researchers, most neophytes, find themselves perplexed by the notion that they are responsible for positing a theoretical structure on which their inquiry is to be based, or they are just perplexed.
Consequently, no framework is offered at all, or they end up as overly complex, sophisticated structures and statements which the researcher finds dysfunctional to the conduct of the inquiry; the framework, in effect, becomes an independent step in the inquiry process carried to a successful conclusion as an academic exercise. But it misses the central point of the activity. The theoretical or conceptual grounding of a study is designed to help the inquirer — not boggle his/her mind. It is undertaken not simply for the advantage of the reader of a proposal, but for the researcher as a conceptual map to the investigation.
As was noted, a conceptual framework is the necessary concomitant of any problem, for the problem could not be stated except within at least an implicit framework. Thus the task is simply to make explicit what is already there at the implicit level in the statement of the problem. The researcher may begin by simply noting key terms and basic assumptions underlying the inquiry (variables and their interactions). Several structures, classification systems, taxonomies, and theories may already have been explicated precisely in the field in which the researcher is working; or, in other cases, in fields that could be applied, e. . , the use of the social psychological structure of interaction analysis in observation of classroom teacher behavior (i. e. , Flanders’ interaction analysis); or the notion of political cultures(6) borrowed from political science, applied to a study of state level social service policy development (i. e. , the legislative or regulatory decision process). The sources to support the inquirer in theory development are no different from those that will be turned to for support in other areas of planning the research, i. e. — Extant structures of varying levels of sophistication in the literature of the field. — Structures from related fields that could be adopted for, or adapted to, the inquiry. — Previous research studies that have employed either implicit or explicit structures pertinent to the inquiry. — De Novo explication of structures — these usually occur at simple rather than complex levels of structure building or the research itself must be geared first to a theory development project. Investigations frequently employ not one but several structures to clarify dimensions of the inquiry.
For example, a “futures” study may posit one structure to support the substance of the inquiry, a second to organize the futures view, and perhaps a third to clarify a methodological orientation toward data gathering (probably detailed in the procedures section). The critical point is that multiple structures should be truly complementary and exclusive in their orientation. If they overlap, an effort should be made to synthesize the structures and postulate a new, more comprehensive structure.
It is virtually always beneficial to create a drawing or figure at early stages of conceptualization that depicts the major variables and categories, connected by lines and arrows to show relationships and interactions, in much the same way that an architect or designer might make preliminary sketches of a building or landscape. This activity is similar to a “semantic web” exercise I use with my students in organization theory called, “How can I know what I think until I see what I say? ” The narrative for the conceptual framework describes and justifies the elements of the figure. The figure serves two important purposes.
First, it helps the researcher think about his/her own thinking but also aides in the preparation of the narrative for the conceptual framework. Second, when included in the proposal, it can be helpful, even essential, to the reader who seeks to understand what the researcher is trying to do. Although I have said that structures sometimes get needlessly complicated or overly sophisticated (thus obligating the researcher to an unrealistic project), an essential step in structure building is to PURPOSELY complicate and make more comprehensive the initial structure so that the scope of the inquiry can be examined for issing categories or inappropriate causal constructs; that is, to make sure the bases are covered with regard to issues of validity and utility. The researcher is then in a better position to make appropriate limiting and delimiting choices that shrink the endeavor back down to manageable perameters and at the same time ensure his/her efforts will be fruitful. Once a framework has been prepared, it is important to ask what advantages and disadvantages may accrue as a result of using it.
In the event that there seems to be available only a single alternative framework, its use is mandated even though it may have some obvious drawbacks. In other cases where multiple frameworks may be available, as for example in learning research (behaviorism vs constructivism), the choice of the particular framework should certainly be made to maximize those advantages that are most salient for the investigation or development project and to minimize those disadvantages that are most inimical to it.
In general, when the proposer is able to demonstrate that (1) the proposed framework does have relevance to the study, and (2) the particular framework has more advantages and/or fewer disadvantages than some other framework that might have been used, then the validating function of this section of the proposal has been met. Supplementary Readings Brody, H. S. , Ennis, R. H. & Krimerman, L. I. (1973). Philosophy of Educational Research. New York: John Wiley & Sons. Chap. 5, pp. 271-79; Ch. 8. Kaplan, A. (1964). The Conduct of Inquiry. San Francisco: Chandler.
Chs. 7-8. Kerlinger, Fred (1986). Foundations of Behavioral Research (3rd. ed. ). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. Chs. 2-3. Rudestam. K. & Newton, R. (1992). Surviving Your Dissertation: A Comprehensive Guide to Content and Process. Newberryi Park, CA: Sage. Ch 2. 1. In the case of qualitative studies, a theoretical framework may not be explicitly articulated since qualitative inquiry typically is often oriented toward grounded theory development in the first place; the exception is a study that tests or makes more comprehensive an existing theory.
If the study is about theory development, the researcher is still not off the hook; some kind of overarching conceptual framework is still necessary and will test the writer’s creative use of existing, related theory, intuition and tacit knowledge. 2. Weber, Max (1947 tr. ). The Theory of Social and Economic Organizations. Eds. A. H. Henderson & T. Parsons. Glencoe, IL: Free Press (first published, 1924). 3. Cohen, M. & March, J. (1974). Leadership in an organized anarchy. In J. V. Baldridge & T. E. Deal (1983).
The Dynamics of Organizational Change in Education, Berkely, CA: McCutchin. 4. Weick, K. E. (1976). Educational organizations as loosely coupled systems. Administrative Science Quarterly, 21, pp. 1018. 5. Maslow, Abraham (1954). Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper & Row. 6. Elazar, D. (1984). American federalism: A view from the states. (3rd ed. ). New York: Harper & Row. ________________________________________ Figure 2. The effectiveness of inservice training for teachers ________________________________________ Figure 3. A model of antisocial behavior oppapers. com