7 junio, 2024

Theoretical references: what they are, characteristics, how they are made, examples

What are the theoretical referents?

The theoretical referents They are a compilation of existing scientific knowledge on a subject, which serve as the basis for the initiation, development, and completion of any research project.

Theoretical references are vital for the approach of the research objectives, to establish methodologies and serve as an input to interpret the results obtained.

The theoretical referents in a project are collected under different names. Some examples of these names are «Theoretical framework», «Background» or «Referential framework», among others.

It is common to find large amounts of scientific articles that only focus on the compilation of existing scientific information on a specific topic. These articles usually carry the term «review» or «state of the art» in their title.

Theoretical referents are related to scientific research, not only in the areas of exact and natural sciences, but also in the areas of human sciences.

Characteristics of the theoretical referents

Theoretical referents are made up of different theories, concepts, assumptions and case studies that have been presented in previous research on the topic to be studied.
In an investigation, the theoretical referents must always have the citation that allows locating the original information of said referent.
The chapter called «theoretical framework» of a degree thesis contains the theoretical references. This chapter is the one that always carries the largest number of citations.
Theoretical referents always carry implicit mental objects that can be incorporated into a set of knowledge to reach a conclusion on the research topic.

How theoretical references are built

Passed 1: Create a list of the contents that will be developed in the investigation.
Step 2: make an exhaustive and careful selection of each one of the referents, with the intention of avoiding repeating investigations that have been carried out previously and giving greater support to the hypotheses and the analysis of the results of the research project that is being carried out. In addition, this gives a broad perspective of the existing literature on the subject.
Step 3: consult reliable sources, be they books, scientific articles, theses, etc. It is advisable to go to university or central libraries and choose sources online that are legitimized.
Step 4: order the concepts, logically and hierarchically. And if applicable, chronologically.
step 5: Present all the bibliographical references consulted, duly organized.
step 6: Write a text that explains why these referents were used and not others, and to what extent they work for the current investigation.

It is required that the theoretical aspects in the referents are treated in an orderly and coherent manner, always explaining the importance that the selected referent has in the investigation that is to be carried out.

Inaccuracies in the theoretical knowledge collected should be avoided, since this can lead to poor methodological approaches or even to the loss of validity of the conclusions reached in the investigative work.

Usefulness of the theoretical framework

According to APA standards, the theoretical framework results from combining theoretical references with theoretical considerations and own judgments that lead to the formulation of hypotheses.

The purposes of proposing a theoretical framework in an investigation are:

Serve as a guide to propose research in an innovative way, making a difference with other studies.
Give a context to the research within a set of definitions and knowledge.
Define the concepts that are used during the investigation that is carried out. In this case, it acts as a sort of glossary.
Reinforce the criteria by which the methodology used in the research was chosen.
Give support to the analysis of the results obtained in the investigation, which must be done in light of the theoretical references.

Examples of theoretical referents

Example 1: How covid develops

Taking into account the importance of the recent covid pandemic, the behavior of the virus, its capacity and speed of contagion, the possible origin of the virus and what its most common symptoms are will be studied. Factors such as age, sex and previous health situation will be taken into account in the development of more serious pictures of the disease.

Scientific articles from peer-reviewed journals are consulted on the behavior of viruses, studies carried out on possible vaccines, and treatments that have proven to be more effective in combating it. Theoretical references will include the most recent publications that deal with topics such as discoveries of new drugs or studies of biocellular behavior against the coronavirus.

Example 2: Influence of anime on adolescents

The theoretical referents will be studies on the world of anime and manga in Japan and their impact on the Western world, especially on children and adolescents between 9 and 15 years of age. They will include psychological and social theories of human growth, and how the environment can influence the establishment of certain mental patterns in people still in formation.

Likewise, specialized books and articles on the mass media will be consulted, specifically on television and the internet, on the characteristics of anime, the usual topics it deals with and its way of approaching them, as a sociocultural and artistic expression of Japanese society. .

Example 3: The relationship between the Cuban Revolution and left-wing authoritarian regimes in Latin America

A detailed study on the Cuban Revolution is proposed, resorting to both Cuban and foreign historians, and both leftist and rightist and neutral ideas. Likewise, the contemporary history of countries such as Venezuela and Nicaragua will be consulted, which accounts for the most relevant events that have led to the existence of modern dictatorships, such as those of Nicolás Maduro and Daniel Ortega, respectively.

The direct and indirect influence of the principles that encouraged the Cuban Revolution will be studied and if there are similarities between the proposals of the Bolivarian and Sandinista Revolutions. The theoretical referents will include direct testimonies from important personalities in these three countries, interviews with politically persecuted people, police records of detainees, number of demonstrations, the way in which each country has handled and repressed them, and the level of freedom of expression.


Jabareen, Y. (2009). Building a Conceptual Framework: Philosophy, Definitions, and Procedure. International Journal of qualitative methods.
Theoretical framework: What is it and how to develop it? Recovered from normasapa.net.

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