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How to write a theoretical paper

How to write a theoretical paper

The world of academia has diverse avenues that generate knowledge. Within this landscape, theoretical papers serve as the backbone of intellectual exploration and advancement across various disciplines. They are a cornerstone of academic discourse and intellectual exploration. Serving a unique purpose in the world of scholarly research, they play a crucial role in advancing theoretical frameworks, proposing new concepts, stimulating intellectual discourse, and driving intellectual exploration in various disciplines.

What are Theoretical Papers

Theoretical papers, often referred to as 'fundamental' papers, are a category of scholarly works that deal with abstract concepts, models, and frameworks. Their primary purpose is to lay the groundwork for further research by advancing theoretical frameworks, proposing new concepts, and promoting critical thinking within the academic community. Unlike empirical research, theoretical papers do not rely on data collection or experimentation. 

Characteristics of Theoretical Papers

Theoretical papers drive exploration and advancements across various disciplines. Here are some characteristics of theoretical papers.

1. Explore Abstract Concepts, Models, and Frameworks

• Theoretical papers explore abstract concepts, models, and frameworks. 

• They establish new paradigms and expand the boundaries of knowledge by presenting fresh conceptual models. 

• These concepts may not always have a direct application but are essential for the development of a field.

2. Lack of Empirical Data

• Unlike empirical research, theoretical papers do not rely on data collection or experimentation.

• Instead, they derive their content from a profound understanding of existing literature and construct hypothetical scenarios, develop models, and engage in thought experiments. 

• These imaginative exercises help researchers and readers grasp the intricacies of the ideas presented. 

3. Scrutinise Existing Theory

• Theoretical papers either contribute to the development of new theories or critically scrutinise existing ones. 

• They encourage the scholars to rethink established paradigms and test the boundaries of their disciplines. 

• They aim to clarify concepts, fill gaps in knowledge, or challenge established paradigms.

4. Possess Multidisciplinary Approach

• Theoretical papers frequently have a multidisciplinary appeal, as their abstract nature often transcends the boundaries of specific fields. 

• They promote cross-disciplinary dialogue and collaboration, which leads to novel perspectives and innovative insights.

5. Engage Further Exploration

• Theoretical papers often have intriguing questions and areas for further research, serving as a stimulus for future inquiry.

Theoretical papers follow an argumentative pattern through which they address questions such as the topic's relevance, prior research in the field, identified problems in existing literature, and potential solutions. 

Outline of a Theoretical Paper

Theoretical papers are structured around solving a problem. A well-crafted theoretical paper drive intellectual growth and innovation and empowers the researchers to challenge the existing body of knowledge. They generally adhere to the following structure:

1. Preliminary Pages

Includes the Certificate of Research, a title page, and a table of contents listing the chapters and appendices.

2. Abstract

A concise summary of the paper's main idea, objectives, methods, and key findings. 

3. Introduction

Introduces the topic, explains the gap in the literature, and the purpose of the paper. Provides an overview of the research problem, the significance of the paper, and its objectives. It provides an overview of the analytical approach and an outline of the thesis.

4. Literature Review

Explores the existing theories and concepts relevant to the topic. This section critically evaluates existing literature and presents arguments both in favour and against the author's position. The literature review is organised into a logical framework created by the writer.

5. Methodology

Discusses the methods used to construct the theoretical framework. 

6. Development of Theory or Conceptual Framework

Presents the author's theoretical contributions or develops a new framework or expands an existing one. The solution should be built on previous research but should offer an original perspective. Each argument made by the author must be supported by evidence, such as examples, figures, facts, or the views of other researchers. The section concludes with an evaluation of the proposed solution, demonstrating its strength compared to opposing views.

7. Hypothetical Scenarios or Thought Experiments

Theoretical papers often include hypothetical scenarios or thought experiments to illustrate and test the new concepts.

8. Discussion

Analyses the proposed theory, its implications, and its potential impact on the field. It offers insights and engages in intellectual discourse.

9. Conclusion

Summarises the key findings and their significance for future research. It restates the problem and gives the proposed solutions. 

10. References

A list of sources and citations used in the paper.

All well-written theoretical paper is a cornerstone of academic research and intellectual discourse. It offers multiple advantages like expansion of the theoretical foundations, clarification of abstract ideas, proposal of solutions to complex problems, etc.

Are you stuck in the process of writing a strong theoretical framework? Watch this FREE webinar to know the importance of writing a strong review and the components of it to ensure a smooth writing journey.  

Impact of Theoretical Papers

Theoretical papers are essential for driving intellectual exploration and advancement across various disciplines. They provoke critical thinking, inspire new research questions, and stimulate debate among scholars. They serve as the foundation upon which applied research is built, guiding the direction of empirical studies and providing the theoretical underpinnings necessary for practical applications

Difference Between Theoretical and Applied Papers

Theoretical and applied papers are two distinct types of research papers, each serving a unique purpose and approach within the academic and scientific community. Here's a breakdown of the key differences between these two types of papers:




Focus Area

Application of theories in real-world settings.

Application and utility of knowledge in practical contexts.


Advance theoretical frameworks, propose new concepts, or stimulate intellectual discourse.

Address practical issues and real-world problems.


Data and Evidence

Do not rely on empirical data collection or experimentation. They are based on existing knowledge and the synthesis of ideas.

Involve data collection, experimentation, and the analysis of real-world observations. These papers rely on empirical evidence to support their claims and conclusions.


Abstract and conceptual nature of content.

Concrete solutions or insights for real-world issues and often follow a structured and systematic approach.


Includes the introduction of novel concepts or models, literature reviews to provide theoretical background, and in-depth discussions of theoretical frameworks.

Include sections on problem statements, methodology, data analysis, results, and practical implications.


Primary audience includes academics, researchers, and scholars within a specific field.

Target a broader audience, including practitioners, policymakers, and professionals.

Contribution to Knowledge

Contribute to knowledge by expanding the theoretical foundations of a field. They provide a basis upon which further research can be built, generating new concepts and frameworks that shape the direction of future research.

Applied papers contribute to knowledge by offering practical solutions and insights for addressing real-world problems. They often lead to immediate applications and can have a direct impact on decision-making and problem-solving.



While theoretical and applied papers both play vital roles in academic research, they differ in their purpose, focus, use of empirical evidence, content structure, target audience, and the nature of their contributions to knowledge. The choice of paper type depends on the research objectives and the specific needs of a given field or research project. Both types of papers play vital roles in the academic landscape, contributing to knowledge in different ways.

Theoretical papers power intellectual exploration and advancement across a wide array of academic disciplines. They provoke critical thinking, inspire new research questions, and stimulate debate among scholars. Their role in shaping the academic landscape is profound, as they challenge existing norms and pave the way for innovative concepts and frameworks.


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