A theoretical orientation, or theoretical framework, refers to the system of ideas and assumptions that an academic begins with when writing a paper. Theoretical orientation provides a professor with a starting point to structure her ideas during research and writing.

Theoretical Orientation Within a Field

Each academic discipline contains a number of established theoretical orientations that have been developed over the history of that discipline. For example, a researcher writing in the field of psychology might use a Freudian, Jungian or behaviorist theoretical orientation. Each of these orientations considers different types of information as important when evaluating psychological data. For example, a Jungian psychologist might find a subject's dreams to be important evidence in analyzing symptoms, while a behaviorist is likely not to consider dreams and focus instead on the subject's daily habits.

By explicitly identifying his theoretical orientation in his writing, a researcher allows readers in the field to become immediately familiar with the ideas underpinning his work. For instance, if an economist identifies her theoretical orientation as Keynesian, other economists would anticipate that her paper might concern government regulation of markets. A researcher can also use an orientation that draws from multiple established frameworks; if this is the case, he will describe his theoretical orientation as being influenced by multiple disciplines.