How to write the theoretical background?

What is a theoretical background?

The theoretical background is the documentation of a comprehensive review of the published work from secondary data sources in the areas of specific interest to the researcher.

In other words, it refers to the existing knowledge and theories that inform and support the research being conducted. It includes the research that has already been done on the topic, the key concepts and ideas related to the topic, and the theoretical framework that guides the study. The theoretical background provides context and understanding for the research being conducted and helps explain the study's significance and relevance.

The purpose of a theoretical background

The purpose is to document the significant findings from earlier research. One does not run the risk of “reinventing the wheel,” that is, wasting efforts trying to rediscover something already known.

It serves as the foundation on which the subsequent theoretical framework for the current investigation can be based, and the hypothesis developed.

We write a theoretical background to increase the precision and clarity of a problem statement. Still, we also write it to make the investigated problem relevant and significant to the scientific community. Indeed, we want to ensure that important concepts likely to influence the problem are not left out of the research.

Note that a theoretical background and framework are two different things.

Theoretical background: A three-step process

The process of writing a theoretical background consists of three steps.

  1. Identifying the relevant sources (by using Google Scholar, for instance)
  2. Extracting the relevant information from previous research
  3. Writing up the theoretical background

You can extract relevant information, such as authors, sources of publication, year of publication, concepts used, definitions, theories used, sample size and description, research context, main results, theoretical contributions, and any other relevant information to you.

The theoretical background is a written section of your research

A theoretical background is a documentation of the relevant studies citing the author and the year of the study. It is a clear and logical presentation of the research work previously conducted in the investigation area.

In other words, the theoretical background refers to everything the literature (previous research) has shown. If you are studying co-branding, the theoretical background is all the research about the effect of co-branding. For example, co-branding promotes brand recall, co-branding increases purchase intent, or co-branding positively impacts brand attachment, etc.

Add a Table with a summary of the existing research

The theoretical background is written and developed in the research, but it is possible to include a summary table. A table of research background is a summary of the key studies and literature related to a specific research topic, presented in tabular format. The table typically includes information such as the study's authors, publication date, research methods, key findings, and conclusions. It can also include additional information such as the sample size, study design, and any limitations of the research. A table of research background is typically included as part of a larger research paper or proposal, and is used to provide an overview of the existing knowledge in the field and to demonstrate the relevance and significance of the proposed study.

A table of theoretical background typically includes the following columns:

  • Authors: The names of the study authors
  • Publication date: The date the study was published
  • Research methods: A summary of the research methods used in the study
  • Sample size: The number of participants involved in the study
  • Key findings: A summary of the main findings of the study
  • Conclusion: A summary of the study's conclusions
  • Limitations: A list of any limitations of the study
  • Relevance: A brief explanation of how the study is relevant to the proposed research.

Here is an example of a table of theoretical background.

Table 1: Existing literature on brand heritage (example of a theoretical background)

Wiedmann et al. (2011a)NoneBrand image, Satisfaction, Brand trust / NoneBrand loyalty, Price premium, Buying intentionGerman consumers (n=458) evaluating Automobile manufacturers Brand heritage positively impacts brand image, satisfaction and brand trust, which in turn positively impact brand loyalty, price premium and buying intentionNot mentioned / Cross-sectional, online survey, PLS-SEM
Wiedmann et al. (2011b)NoneNone / NoneBrand strength: cognitive, affective, intentionalGerman consumers (n=458) evaluating Automobile manufacturers Brand heritage positively impacts cognitive, affective and intentional brand strengthNot mentioned / Cross-sectional, online survey,
Blombäck and Scandelius (2013)NoneNone / CSR communicationResponsible brand imageSwedish consumers (n=8,015) evaluating brands The interplay between Corporate heritage identity and CSR communication positively impacts responsible imageNot mentioned / Cross-sectional, Online survey, Content analysis, Regression
Merchant and Rose (2013)Nostalgia proneness, Fantasies about past eras, EmotionsNone / NoneBrand attachmentAmerican consumers (n=256) evaluating Wells Fargo and Jack Daniel’s Nostalgia proneness positively affects brand heritage. There is a positive link between emotions and brand heritage. The effect of fantasies about past eras on brand heritage is completely mediated by emotions. Brand heritage leads to higher levels of brand attachmentNot mentioned / Cross-sectional, Online survey, CB-SEM
Wiedmann et al. (2013)NoneCorporate reputation, Perceived value, Brand image / NoneBuying intentionGerman cyclists (n=303) evaluating High-premium two-wheel tire Brand heritage positively impacts corporate reputation, customer perceived value, brand image and buying intentionCustomer value framework (Smith & Colgate, 2007) / Cross-Sectional, online survey, PLS-SEM
Merchant et al. (2015)NoneReputation, Attitudes / NationalityIntentions to recommend and to pay premiumAmerican students (n=208) evaluating universities University heritage positively impacts university reputation. University heritage positively impacts student attitudes. These effects are stronger for Asian students. The positive effect of university heritage on student attitudes is mediated by university reputationNot mentioned / Experimental, Online survey, CB-SEM
Balmer and Chen (2016)NoneCorporate and Product Role Identity / NoneAttractivenessDomestic Chinese tourists (n=115) evaluating cities National, familial, multi-temporal and imperial role identity positively impact corporate and product role identity (dimensions of corporate heritage), which in turn positively impacts attractivenessNot mentioned / Cross-sectional, Face-to-face survey, PLS-SEM
Rose et al. (2016)NonePositive emotions, Trust, Brand attachment, Commitment / Promotion focusPurchase intentionS1–American consumers (n1=326) evaluating cutting tools; S2–German consumers (n2a=268) & American respondents (n2b=161) Brand heritage positively impacts purchase intention (especially for consumers with a low promotion). Brand heritage positively impacts emotions, trust, brand attachment and commitment.Not mentioned / S1–Experimental, Online survey, Hierarchical regression, S2–Cross-sectional, Online Survey, CB-SEM
Ford et al. (2018)NonePositive and negative brand nostalgia, Brand oldness / NoneBrand attachment and trust, Self-brand connection, Self-congruence, Intention to recommend and purchaseAmerican (n1a=415) and Belgium (n1b=245) consumers evaluating cookies, cars, apparel, beer Brand heritage positively impacts (positive and negative) brand nostalgia and brand oldness. Not mentioned / Cross-sectional, Online survey, CB-SEM
Pecot et al. (2018)NoneBrand consistency, Brand clarity, Brand credibility / Firm familiarityBrand quality, WTP a PremiumS1–French participants (n1=314) evaluating automobiles; S2–French participants (n2=205) evaluating chocolates Brand heritage positively impacts brand consistency, brand credibility, brand clarity, perceived brand quality and WTP. Brand clarity mediates the effect of brand heritage on perceived brand quality but not credibility. Perceived brand quality completely mediates the effect of brand heritage on WTP. The effect of brand heritage on brand consistency is stronger for familiar firms.Signaling theory (Erdem & Swait, 1998) / S1–Quasi-experimental, Online survey, PLS-SEM, S2–Experimental, Online survey, PLS-SEM
Iglesias et al. (2019)NoneBrand image, Recognition benefits / Customer perceived ethicalityBrand equitySpanish consumers (n=2179) evaluating hotel chains, utility companies, gas stations, hypermarket, internet and telephone service providersThe interplay between customer perceived ethicality and brand heritage negatively impact brand imageNot mentioned / Cross-sectional, Online survey, PLS-SEM
Orth et al. (2019)Design continuity, Confusion, Controls, Brand usage, Brand attachmentNone / NoneBehavioral response, Purchase intention, Brand attitudeS1–German consumers evaluating Palmin vegetable shortening (n1a=170; n1b=238; n1c=242); S2–German consumers (n2=307)Lower continuity designs create confusion, which in turn damages a brand’s heritage identity. Not mentioned / S1a,b,c–Experimental, Online survey, ANOVA
Pecot et al. (2019)NoneNone / NoneBrand credibility, Personal nostalgiaFrench consumers (n=989) evaluating FMCG brands (Nestlé, Lindt, Heinz, Hunts)Brand heritage positively impacts both brand credibility and personal nostalgiaSignaling theory (Erdem & Swait, 2004) / Cross-sectional, Online survey, CB-SEM
Pizzi and Scarpi (2019)Year of establishmentNone / Brand familiarityBrand attitudeS1–Italian consumers (n1=250) evaluating universities, S2–Italian consumers (n2=200) evaluating beer brandsReporting the year of establishment on the brand logo invokes heritage that in turn increases attitudes.Not mentioned / Experimental, Face-to-face survey, ANOVA, Regression
Foroudi et al. (2020)NonePlace Image / NoneReputation, Brand competitiveness, Retailer competitivenessEnglish tourists (n=294) evaluating retail storesPlace heritage positively impacts place imageSocial Identity Theory (Ashforth & Mael, 1989) / Cross-sectional, Face-to-face survey, CB-SEM
Magnoni et al. (2021)NonePlace brand equity, Place brand attachment / NoneBehavioral intentions (WOM, Ambassador behavior, Leaving intention)French students (n=571) evaluating Aix-en-ProvencePlace brand heritage positively impacts place attachment, and is mediated by place behavioral response. The positive effect of place brand heritage on place brand equity is mediate by place behavioral responseSocial Identity Theory (Tajfel, 1974) / Cross-sectional, Online survey, CB-SEM
Paek et al. (2021)Longevity, Continuity, AuthenticityNone / Firm ageFirm valueAmerican participants (n=434) evaluating brandsLongevity increases heritage-based value, particularly for brands with higher continuity.Resource-based theory (Barney, 1991) / Cross-sectional, Online survey, Regression
Rose et al. (2021)NoneNone / NoneAttitudeSports fans (n=104) evaluating hall of fame coaches and athletes, symbols and rituals Sport team heritage generates positive attitudes toward the sports team, the sponsorship, and the sponsoring brand.Not mentioned / Cross-sectional, Face-to-face survey, CB-SEM
Song and Kim (2021)NoneBrand authenticity, Nostalgic experience / NonePurchase intentionChinese tourists (n=362) evaluating time-honored restaurant brands (B2C setting)Brand heritage positively and directly impacts brand authenticity, nostalgic experience and purchase intention. The positive effect of brand heritage on purchase intention is doubly and sequentially mediated by brand authenticity and nostalgic experience.Signaling theory (Erdem & Swait, 2004) / Cross-sectional, Online survey, CB-SEM
Zeren and Kara (2021)NoneBrand trust / NoneBrand loyalty, Purchase intentionsTurkish travelers (n=567) evaluating local airlines Brand heritage positively and directly impacts brand trust. The positive effect of brand heritage on intention to buy is doubly and sequentially mediated by brand trust and brand loyalty.Commitment-Trust Theory (Morgan & Hunt, 1994) / Cross-sectional, Face-to-face survey, CB-SEM

It is important to note that the table of theoretical background should be brief, clear and concise, also it should be written in a way that is accessible to a broad audience.

By writing the theoretical background, you can have a global overview of all that has been empirically demonstrated on a research topic. Therefore, it allows you to identify your research gaps and formulate your research questions.