What is a conceptual framework? How do you prepare one? This article defines the meaning of conceptual framework and lists the steps on how to prepare it. A simplified example is added to strengthen the reader’s understanding.
In the course of preparing your research paper as one of the requirements for your course as an undergraduate or graduate student, you will need to write the conceptual framework of your study. The conceptual framework steers the whole research activity. The conceptual framework serves as a “map” or “rudder” that will guide you towards realizing the objectives or intent of your study.
What then is a conceptual framework in the context of empirical research? The next section defines and explains the term.
Definition of Conceptual Framework
A conceptual framework represents the researcher’s synthesis of literature on how to explain a phenomenon. It maps out the actions required in the course of the study given his previous knowledge of other researchers’ point of view and his observations on the subject of research.
In other words, the conceptual framework is the researcher’s understanding of how the particular variables in his study connect with each other. Thus, it identifies the variables required in the research investigation. It is the researcher’s “map” in pursuing the investigation.
As McGaghie et al. (2001) put it: The conceptual framework “sets the stage” for the presentation of the particular research question that drives the investigation being reported based on the problem statement. The problem statement of a thesis presents the context and the issues that caused the researcher to conduct the study.
The conceptual framework lies within a much broader framework called theoretical framework. The latter draws support from time-tested theories that embody the findings of many researchers on why and how a particular phenomenon occurs.
Step by Step Guide on How to Make the Conceptual Framework
Before you prepare your conceptual framework, you need to do the following things:
- Choose your topic. Decide on what will be your research topic. The topic should be within your field of specialization.
- Do a literature review. Review relevant and updated research on the theme that you decide to work on after scrutiny of the issue at hand. Preferably use peer-reviewed and well-known scientific journals as these are reliable sources of information.
- Isolate the important variables. Identify the specific variables described in the literature and figure out how these are related. Some abstracts contain the variables and the salient findings thus may serve the purpose. If these are not available, find the research paper’s summary. If the variables are not explicit in the summary, get back to the methodology or the results and discussion section and quickly identify the variables of the study and the significant findings. Read the TSPU Technique on how to skim efficiently articles and get to the important points without much fuss.
- Generate the conceptual framework. Build your conceptual framework using your mix of the variables from the scientific articles you have read. Your problem statement serves as a reference in constructing the conceptual framework. In effect, your study will attempt to answer a question that other researchers have not explained yet. Your research should address a knowledge gap.
Example of a Conceptual Framework
Statement number 5 introduced in an earlier post titled How to Write a Thesis Statement will serve as the basis of the illustrated conceptual framework in the following examples.
Thesis statement: Chronic exposure to blue light from LED screens (of computer monitors and television) deplete melatonin levels thus reduce the number of sleeping hours among middle-aged adults.
The study claims that blue light from the light emitting diodes (LED) inhibit the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep and wake cycles. Those affected experience insomnia; they sleep less than required (usually less than six hours), and this happens when they spend too much time working on their laptops or viewing the television at night.
Notice that the variables of the study are explicit in the paradigm presented in Figure 1. In the illustration, the two variables are 1) number of hours devoted in front of the computer, and 2) number of hours slept at night. The former is the independent variable while the latter is the dependent variable. Both of these variables are easy to measure. It is just counting the number of hours spent in front of the computer and the number of hours slept by the subjects of the study.
Assuming that other things are constant during the performance of the study, it will be possible to relate these two variables and confirm that indeed, blue light emanated from computer screens can affect one’s sleeping patterns. (Please read the article titled “Do you know that the computer can disturb your sleeping patterns?” to find out more about this phenomenon) A correlation analysis will show whether the relationship is significant or not.
e-Book on Conceptual Framework Development
Due to the popularity of this article, I wrote an e-Book designed to suit the needs of beginning researchers. This e-Book answers the many questions and comments regarding the preparation of the conceptual framework. I provide five practical examples based on existing literature to demonstrate the procedure.
So, do you want a more detailed explanation with five practical, real-life examples? Get the 52-page e-Book NOW!
McGaghie, W. C.; Bordage, G.; and J. A. Shea (2001). Problem Statement, Conceptual Framework, and Research Question. Retrieved on January 5, 2015 from http://goo.gl/qLIUFg
©2015 January 5 P. A. Regoniel
Cite this article as: Regoniel, Patrick A. (January 5, 2015). Conceptual Framework: A Step by Step Guide on How to Make One. In SimplyEducate.Me. Retrieved from http://simplyeducate.me/2015/01/05/conceptual-framework-guide/
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The theoretical framework is one of the more infamous components of a dissertation. A good theoretical framework gives you a strong scientific research base and provides support for the rest of your dissertation. But what exactly is a theoretical framework? And how do you write one?
The goal of a theoretical framework
After you have identified your problem statement and research question(s), it is important to determine what theories and ideas exist in relation to your chosen subject.
By presenting this information, you ‘frame’ your research and show that you are knowledgeable about the key concepts, theories, and models that relate to your topic.
The definitions and models you select also give your research direction, as you will continue to build on these choices in different stages of your project.
The theoretical framework also provides scientific justification for your investigation: it shows that your research is not just coming “out of the blue,” but that it is both grounded in and based on scientific theory.
How to determine the contents of a theoretical framework
As noted above, it is important that you cite existing theories and ideas that are relevant to your chosen topic within the theoretical framework. This includes defining key terms from your problem statement and research questions/hypotheses. An important first step is therefore to identify these concepts.
1. Select key concepts
Sample problem statement and research questions: Company X is struggling with the problem that many online customers do not return to make subsequent purchases. Management wants to increase customer loyalty and believes that improved customer satisfaction will play a major role in achieving this goal. To investigate this problem, you have identified and plan to focus on the following problem statement, objective, and research questions:
Problem: Many online customers do not return to make subsequent purchases.
Objective: To increase customer loyalty and thereby generate more revenue.
Research question: ‘How can the satisfaction of company X’s online customers be improved in order to increase customer loyalty?’
- ‘What is the relationship between customer loyalty and costumer satisfaction?’
- ‘How satisfied and loyal are company X’s online costumers currently?’
- ‘What factors affect the satisfaction and loyalty of company X’s online costumers?’
The concepts of “customer loyalty” and “customer satisfaction” are critical to this study and will be measured as part of the research. As such they are key concepts to define within the theoretical framework.
2. Define and evaluate relevant concepts, theories, and models
A literature review is first used to determine how other researchers have defined these key concepts. You should then critically compare the definitions that different authors have proposed. The last step is to choose the definition that best fits your research and justify why this is the case.
It is also important to indicate if there are any notable links between these concepts.
Apart from that, you should describe any relevant theories and models that relate to your key concepts and argue why you are or are not applying them to your own research.
3. Consider adding other elements to your theoretical framework
Depending on your topic or discipline, a comprehensive review of the state of affairs in relation to your research topic may also be helpful to include in your theoretical framework.
Here it’s important to understand the expectations of your supervisor or program in advance. Theoretical problems are more likely to require a “state of affairs” overview than more practical problems.
Analyzing the research field will give you an idea of what similar studies have looked at and found regarding the problem. This will clarify the position of your research in relation to existing knowledge in the field.
Following these steps will help to ensure that you are presenting a solid overview:
- Describe what discussions on the subject exist within the literature.
- Explain what methods, theories, and models other authors have applied. In doing so, always argue why a particular theory or model is or is not appropriate for your own research.
- Analyze the similarities and differences between your own research and earlier studies.
- Explain how your study adds to knowledge that already exists on the subject.
What kinds of research questions can you answer within a theoretical framework?
The theoretical framework can be used to answer descriptive research questions that only require literature (or desk) research. For example, theory alone is sufficient to answer the research question: ‘What is the relationship between customer loyalty and customer satisfaction?’.
In contrast, sub-questions such as ‘How satisfied are company X’s online customers currently?’ cannot be answered in the theoretical framework, given that field research is needed.
The theoretical framework (and the literature review that serves as its backbone) can also be used to further analyze existing findings and hypotheses. It may also be used to formulate and evaluate hypotheses of your own, which you can later test during the qualitative or quantitative research of your study.
The structure of the theoretical framework
There are no fixed rules for structuring a theoretical framework. The important thing is to create a structure that is logical. One way to do this is to draw on your research questions/hypotheses and some of your key terms.
For example, you could create a section or paragraph that looks at each question, hypothesis, or key concept. Within that text, you could then explore the theories and models that are relevant to that particular item.
How long should the theoretical framework be?
The rules about length are not clear either, but a theoretical framework is on average three to five pages long.
To makes things clearer, you might find it useful to include models or other graphics within the theoretical framework. However, if you are concerned about space, you can place these illustrations in an appendix (which you can then refer to in the main text).
Sample theoretical framework
We have prepared a sample theoretical framework that will give you a sense of what this important part of a dissertation may look like.
Sample theoretical framework