How To Make Conceptual Framework (With Examples and Templates)

How To Make Conceptual Framework (With Examples and Templates)

We all know that a research paper has plenty of concepts involved. However, a great deal of concepts makes your study confusing.

A conceptual framework ensures that the concepts of your study are organized and presented comprehensively. Let this article guide you on how to make the conceptual framework of your study.

Related: How to Write a Concept Paper for Academic Research

Table of Contents

At a glance: free conceptual framework templates.

Too busy to create a conceptual framework from scratch? No problem. We’ve created templates for each conceptual framework so you can start on the right foot. All you need to do is enter the details of the variables. Feel free to modify the design according to your needs. Please read the main article below to learn more about the conceptual framework.

Conceptual Framework Template #1: Independent-Dependent Variable Model

Conceptual framework template #2: input-process-output (ipo) model, conceptual framework template #3: concept map, what is a conceptual framework.

A conceptual framework shows the relationship between the variables of your study.  It includes a visual diagram or a model that summarizes the concepts of your study and a narrative explanation of the model presented.

Why Should Research Be Given a Conceptual Framework?

Imagine your study as a long journey with the research result as the destination. You don’t want to get lost in your journey because of the complicated concepts. This is why you need to have a guide. The conceptual framework keeps you on track by presenting and simplifying the relationship between the variables. This is usually done through the use of illustrations that are supported by a written interpretation.

Also, people who will read your research must have a clear guide to the variables in your study and where the research is heading. By looking at the conceptual framework, the readers can get the gist of the research concepts without reading the entire study. 

Related: How to Write Significance of the Study (with Examples)

What Is the Difference Between Conceptual Framework and Theoretical Framework?

Both of them show concepts and ideas of your study. The theoretical framework presents the theories, rules, and principles that serve as the basis of the research. Thus, the theoretical framework presents broad concepts related to your study. On the other hand, the conceptual framework shows a specific approach derived from the theoretical framework. It provides particular variables and shows how these variables are related.

Let’s say your research is about the Effects of Social Media on the Political Literacy of College Students. You may include some theories related to political literacy, such as this paper, in your theoretical framework. Based on this paper, political participation and awareness determine political literacy.

For the conceptual framework, you may state that the specific form of political participation and awareness you will use for the study is the engagement of college students on political issues on social media. Then, through a diagram and narrative explanation, you can show that using social media affects the political literacy of college students.

What Are the Different Types of Conceptual Frameworks?

The conceptual framework has different types based on how the research concepts are organized 1 .

1. Taxonomy

In this type of conceptual framework, the phenomena of your study are grouped into categories without presenting the relationship among them. The point of this conceptual framework is to distinguish the categories from one another.

2. Visual Presentation

In this conceptual framework, the relationship between the phenomena and variables of your study is presented. Using this conceptual framework implies that your research provides empirical evidence to prove the relationship between variables. This is the type of conceptual framework that is usually used in research studies.

3. Mathematical Description

In this conceptual framework, the relationship between phenomena and variables of your study is described using mathematical formulas. Also, the extent of the relationship between these variables is presented with specific quantities.

How To Make Conceptual Framework: 4 Steps

1. identify the important variables of your study.

There are two essential variables that you must identify in your study: the independent and the dependent variables.

An independent variable is a variable that you can manipulate. It can affect the dependent variable. Meanwhile, the dependent variable is the resulting variable that you are measuring.

You may refer to your research question to determine your research’s independent and dependent variables.

Suppose your research question is: “Is There a Significant Relationship Between the Quantity of Organic Fertilizer Used and the Plant’s Growth Rate?” The independent variable of this study is the quantity of organic fertilizer used, while the dependent variable is the plant’s growth rate.

2. Think About How the Variables Are Related

Usually, the variables of a study have a direct relationship. If a change in one of your variables leads to a corresponding change in another, they might have this kind of relationship.

However, note that having a direct relationship between variables does not mean they already have a cause-and-effect relationship 2 . It takes statistical analysis to prove causation between variables.

Using our example earlier, the quantity of organic fertilizer may directly relate to the plant’s growth rate. However, we are not sure that the quantity of organic fertilizer is the sole reason for the plant’s growth rate changes.

3. Analyze and Determine Other Influencing Variables

Consider analyzing if other variables can affect the relationship between your independent and dependent variables 3 .

4. Create a Visual Diagram or a Model

Now that you’ve identified the variables and their relationship, you may create a visual diagram summarizing them.

Usually, shapes such as rectangles, circles, and arrows are used for the model. You may create a visual diagram or model for your conceptual framework in different ways. The three most common models are the independent-dependent variable model, the input-process-output (IPO) model, and concept maps.

a. Using the Independent-Dependent Variable Model

You may create this model by writing the independent and dependent variables inside rectangles. Then, insert a line segment between them, connecting the rectangles. This line segment indicates the direct relationship between these variables. 

Below is a visual diagram based on our example about the relationship between organic fertilizer and a plant’s growth rate. 

conceptual framework 1

b. Using the Input-Process-Output (IPO) Model

If you want to emphasize your research process, the input-process-output model is the appropriate visual diagram for your conceptual framework.

To create your visual diagram using the IPO model, follow these steps:

  • Determine the inputs of your study . Inputs are the variables you will use to arrive at your research result. Usually, your independent variables are also the inputs of your research. Let’s say your research is about the Level of Satisfaction of College Students Using Google Classroom as an Online Learning Platform. You may include in your inputs the profile of your respondents and the curriculum used in the online learning platform.
  • Outline your research process. Using our example above, the research process should be like this: Data collection of student profiles → Administering questionnaires → Tabulation of students’ responses → Statistical data analysis.
  • State the research output . Indicate what you are expecting after you conduct the research. In our example above, the research output is the assessed level of satisfaction of college students with the use of Google Classroom as an online learning platform.
  • Create the model using the research’s determined input, process, and output.

Presented below is the IPO model for our example above.

conceptual framework 2

c. Using Concept Maps

If you think the two models presented previously are insufficient to summarize your study’s concepts, you may use a concept map for your visual diagram.

A concept map is a helpful visual diagram if multiple variables affect one another. Let’s say your research is about Coping with the Remote Learning System: Anxiety Levels of College Students. Presented below is the concept map for the research’s conceptual framework:

conceptual framework 3

5. Explain Your Conceptual Framework in Narrative Form

Provide a brief explanation of your conceptual framework. State the essential variables, their relationship, and the research outcome.

Using the same example about the relationship between organic fertilizer and the growth rate of the plant, we can come up with the following explanation to accompany the conceptual framework:

Figure 1 shows the Conceptual Framework of the study. The quantity of the organic fertilizer used is the independent variable, while the plant’s growth is the research’s dependent variable. These two variables are directly related based on the research’s empirical evidence.

Conceptual Framework in Quantitative Research

You can create your conceptual framework by following the steps discussed in the previous section. Note, however, that quantitative research has statistical analysis. Thus, you may use arrows to indicate a cause-and-effect relationship in your model. An arrow implies that your independent variable caused the changes in your dependent variable.

Usually, for quantitative research, the Input-Process-Output model is used as a visual diagram. Here is an example of a conceptual framework in quantitative research:

Research Topic : Level of Effectiveness of Corn (Zea mays) Silk Ethanol Extract as an Antioxidant

conceptual framework 4

Conceptual Framework in Qualitative Research

Again, you can follow the same step-by-step guide discussed previously to create a conceptual framework for qualitative research. However, note that you should avoid using one-way arrows as they may indicate causation . Qualitative research cannot prove causation since it uses only descriptive and narrative analysis to relate variables.

Here is an example of a conceptual framework in qualitative research:

Research Topic : Lived Experiences of Medical Health Workers During Community Quarantine

conceptual framework 5

Conceptual Framework Examples

Presented below are some examples of conceptual frameworks.

Research Topic : Hypoglycemic Ability of Gabi (Colocasia esculenta) Leaf Extract in the Blood Glucose Level of Swiss Mice (Mus musculus)

conceptual framework 6

Figure 1 presents the Conceptual Framework of the study. The quantity of gabi leaf extract is the independent variable, while the Swiss mice’s blood glucose level is the study’s dependent variable. This study establishes a direct relationship between these variables through empirical evidence and statistical analysis . 

Research Topic : Level of Effectiveness of Using Social Media in the Political Literacy of College Students

conceptual framework 7

Figure 1 shows the Conceptual Framework of the study. The input is the profile of the college students according to sex, year level, and the social media platform being used. The research process includes administering the questionnaires, tabulating students’ responses, and statistical data analysis and interpretation. The output is the effectiveness of using social media in the political literacy of college students.

Research Topic: Factors Affecting the Satisfaction Level of Community Inhabitants

conceptual framework 8

Figure 1 presents a visual illustration of the factors that affect the satisfaction level of community inhabitants. As presented, environmental, societal, and economic factors influence the satisfaction level of community inhabitants. Each factor has its indicators which are considered in this study.

Tips and Warnings

  • Please keep it simple. Avoid using fancy illustrations or designs when creating your conceptual framework. 
  • Allot a lot of space for feedback. This is to show that your research variables or methodology might be revised based on the input from the research panel. Below is an example of a conceptual framework with a spot allotted for feedback.

conceptual framework 9

Frequently Asked Questions

1. how can i create a conceptual framework in microsoft word.

First, click the Insert tab and select Shapes . You’ll see a wide range of shapes to choose from. Usually, rectangles, circles, and arrows are the shapes used for the conceptual framework. 

conceptual framework 10

Next, draw your selected shape in the document.

conceptual framework 11

Insert the name of the variable inside the shape. You can do this by pointing your cursor to the shape, right-clicking your mouse, selecting Add Text , and typing in the text.

conceptual framework 12

Repeat the same process for the remaining variables of your study. If you need arrows to connect the different variables, you can insert one by going to the Insert tab, then Shape, and finally, Lines or Block Arrows, depending on your preferred arrow style.

2. How to explain my conceptual framework in defense?

If you have used the Independent-Dependent Variable Model in creating your conceptual framework, start by telling your research’s variables. Afterward, explain the relationship between these variables. Example: “Using statistical/descriptive analysis of the data we have collected, we are going to show how the <state your independent variable> exhibits a significant relationship to <state your dependent variable>.”

On the other hand, if you have used an Input-Process-Output Model, start by explaining the inputs of your research. Then, tell them about your research process. You may refer to the Research Methodology in Chapter 3 to accurately present your research process. Lastly, explain what your research outcome is.

Meanwhile, if you have used a concept map, ensure you understand the idea behind the illustration. Discuss how the concepts are related and highlight the research outcome.

3. In what stage of research is the conceptual framework written?

The research study’s conceptual framework is in Chapter 2, following the Review of Related Literature.

4. What is the difference between a Conceptual Framework and Literature Review?

The Conceptual Framework is a summary of the concepts of your study where the relationship of the variables is presented. On the other hand, Literature Review is a collection of published studies and literature related to your study. 

Suppose your research concerns the Hypoglycemic Ability of Gabi (Colocasia esculenta) Leaf Extract on Swiss Mice (Mus musculus). In your conceptual framework, you will create a visual diagram and a narrative explanation presenting the quantity of gabi leaf extract and the mice’s blood glucose level as your research variables. On the other hand, for the literature review, you may include this study and explain how this is related to your research topic.

5. When do I use a two-way arrow for my conceptual framework?

You will use a two-way arrow in your conceptual framework if the variables of your study are interdependent. If variable A affects variable B and variable B also affects variable A, you may use a two-way arrow to show that A and B affect each other.

Suppose your research concerns the Relationship Between Students’ Satisfaction Levels and Online Learning Platforms. Since students’ satisfaction level determines the online learning platform the school uses and vice versa, these variables have a direct relationship. Thus, you may use two-way arrows to indicate that the variables directly affect each other.

  • Conceptual Framework – Meaning, Importance and How to Write it. (2020). Retrieved 27 April 2021, from
  • Correlation vs Causation. Retrieved 27 April 2021, from
  • Swaen, B., & George, T. (2022, August 22). What is a conceptual framework? Tips & Examples. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from

Written by Jewel Kyle Fabula

in Career and Education , Juander How

conceptual framework in a research study

Jewel Kyle Fabula

Jewel Kyle Fabula is a Bachelor of Science in Economics student at the University of the Philippines Diliman. His passion for learning mathematics developed as he competed in some mathematics competitions during his Junior High School years. He loves cats, playing video games, and listening to music.

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Theoretical vs Conceptual Framework

What they are & how they’re different (with examples)

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Reviewed By: Eunice Rautenbach (DTech) | March 2023

If you’re new to academic research, sooner or later you’re bound to run into the terms theoretical framework and conceptual framework . These are closely related but distinctly different things (despite some people using them interchangeably) and it’s important to understand what each means. In this post, we’ll unpack both theoretical and conceptual frameworks in plain language along with practical examples , so that you can approach your research with confidence.

Overview: Theoretical vs Conceptual

What is a theoretical framework, example of a theoretical framework, what is a conceptual framework, example of a conceptual framework.

  • Theoretical vs conceptual: which one should I use?

A theoretical framework (also sometimes referred to as a foundation of theory) is essentially a set of concepts, definitions, and propositions that together form a structured, comprehensive view of a specific phenomenon.

In other words, a theoretical framework is a collection of existing theories, models and frameworks that provides a foundation of core knowledge – a “lay of the land”, so to speak, from which you can build a research study. For this reason, it’s usually presented fairly early within the literature review section of a dissertation, thesis or research paper .

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Let’s look at an example to make the theoretical framework a little more tangible.

If your research aims involve understanding what factors contributed toward people trusting investment brokers, you’d need to first lay down some theory so that it’s crystal clear what exactly you mean by this. For example, you would need to define what you mean by “trust”, as there are many potential definitions of this concept. The same would be true for any other constructs or variables of interest.

You’d also need to identify what existing theories have to say in relation to your research aim. In this case, you could discuss some of the key literature in relation to organisational trust. A quick search on Google Scholar using some well-considered keywords generally provides a good starting point.

foundation of theory

Typically, you’ll present your theoretical framework in written form , although sometimes it will make sense to utilise some visuals to show how different theories relate to each other. Your theoretical framework may revolve around just one major theory , or it could comprise a collection of different interrelated theories and models. In some cases, there will be a lot to cover and in some cases, not. Regardless of size, the theoretical framework is a critical ingredient in any study.

Simply put, the theoretical framework is the core foundation of theory that you’ll build your research upon. As we’ve mentioned many times on the blog, good research is developed by standing on the shoulders of giants . It’s extremely unlikely that your research topic will be completely novel and that there’ll be absolutely no existing theory that relates to it. If that’s the case, the most likely explanation is that you just haven’t reviewed enough literature yet! So, make sure that you take the time to review and digest the seminal sources.

Need a helping hand?

conceptual framework in a research study

A conceptual framework is typically a visual representation (although it can also be written out) of the expected relationships and connections between various concepts, constructs or variables. In other words, a conceptual framework visualises how the researcher views and organises the various concepts and variables within their study. This is typically based on aspects drawn from the theoretical framework, so there is a relationship between the two.

Quite commonly, conceptual frameworks are used to visualise the potential causal relationships and pathways that the researcher expects to find, based on their understanding of both the theoretical literature and the existing empirical research . Therefore, the conceptual framework is often used to develop research questions and hypotheses .

Let’s look at an example of a conceptual framework to make it a little more tangible. You’ll notice that in this specific conceptual framework, the hypotheses are integrated into the visual, helping to connect the rest of the document to the framework.

example of a conceptual framework

As you can see, conceptual frameworks often make use of different shapes , lines and arrows to visualise the connections and relationships between different components and/or variables. Ultimately, the conceptual framework provides an opportunity for you to make explicit your understanding of how everything is connected . So, be sure to make use of all the visual aids you can – clean design, well-considered colours and concise text are your friends.

Theoretical framework vs conceptual framework

As you can see, the theoretical framework and the conceptual framework are closely related concepts, but they differ in terms of focus and purpose. The theoretical framework is used to lay down a foundation of theory on which your study will be built, whereas the conceptual framework visualises what you anticipate the relationships between concepts, constructs and variables may be, based on your understanding of the existing literature and the specific context and focus of your research. In other words, they’re different tools for different jobs , but they’re neighbours in the toolbox.

Naturally, the theoretical framework and the conceptual framework are not mutually exclusive . In fact, it’s quite likely that you’ll include both in your dissertation or thesis, especially if your research aims involve investigating relationships between variables. Of course, every research project is different and universities differ in terms of their expectations for dissertations and theses, so it’s always a good idea to have a look at past projects to get a feel for what the norms and expectations are at your specific institution.

Want to learn more about research terminology, methods and techniques? Be sure to check out the rest of the Grad Coach blog . Alternatively, if you’re looking for hands-on help, have a look at our private coaching service , where we hold your hand through the research process, step by step.

conceptual framework in a research study

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Thank you for giving a valuable lesson

Muhammed Ebrahim Feto

good thanks!

Benson Wandago


olawale rasaq

thanks for given very interested understand about both theoritical and conceptual framework


I am researching teacher beliefs about inclusive education but not using a theoretical framework just conceptual frame using teacher beliefs, inclusive education and inclusive practices as my concepts


good, fantastic

Melese Takele

great! thanks for the clarification. I am planning to use both for my implementation evaluation of EmONC service at primary health care facility level. its theoretical foundation rooted from the principles of implementation science.


This is a good one…now have a better understanding of Theoretical and Conceptual frameworks. Highly grateful

Ahmed Adumani

Very educating and fantastic,good to be part of you guys,I appreciate your enlightened concern.


Thanks for shedding light on these two t opics. Much clearer in my head now.


Simple and clear!

Alemayehu Wolde Oljira

The differences between the two topics was well explained, thank you very much!


Thank you great insight

Maria Glenda O. De Lara

Superb. Thank you so much.


Hello Gradcoach! I’m excited with your fantastic educational videos which mainly focused on all over research process. I’m a student, I kindly ask and need your support. So, if it’s possible please send me the PDF format of all topic provided here, I put my email below, thank you!


I am really grateful I found this website. This is very helpful for an MPA student like myself.

Adams Yusif

I’m clear with these two terminologies now. Useful information. I appreciate it. Thank you

Ushenese Roger Egin

I’m well inform about these two concepts in research. Thanks


I found this really helpful. It is well explained. Thank you.

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What is a Conceptual Framework?

A conceptual framework sets forth the standards to define a research question and find appropriate, meaningful answers for the same. It connects the theories, assumptions, beliefs, and concepts behind your research and presents them in a pictorial, graphical, or narrative format.

Updated on August 28, 2023

a researcher putting together their conceptual framework for a manuscript

What are frameworks in research?

Both theoretical and conceptual frameworks have a significant role in research.  Frameworks are essential to bridge the gaps in research. They aid in clearly setting the goals, priorities, relationship between variables. Frameworks in research particularly help in chalking clear process details.

Theoretical frameworks largely work at the time when a theoretical roadmap has been laid about a certain topic and the research being undertaken by the researcher, carefully analyzes it, and works on similar lines to attain successful results. 

It varies from a conceptual framework in terms of the preliminary work required to construct it. Though a conceptual framework is part of the theoretical framework in a larger sense, yet there are variations between them.

The following sections delve deeper into the characteristics of conceptual frameworks. This article will provide insight into constructing a concise, complete, and research-friendly conceptual framework for your project.

Definition of a conceptual framework

True research begins with setting empirical goals. Goals aid in presenting successful answers to the research questions at hand. It delineates a process wherein different aspects of the research are reflected upon, and coherence is established among them. 

A conceptual framework is an underrated methodological approach that should be paid attention to before embarking on a research journey in any field, be it science, finance, history, psychology, etc. 

A conceptual framework sets forth the standards to define a research question and find appropriate, meaningful answers for the same. It connects the theories, assumptions, beliefs, and concepts behind your research and presents them in a pictorial, graphical, or narrative format. Your conceptual framework establishes a link between the dependent and independent variables, factors, and other ideologies affecting the structure of your research.

A critical facet a conceptual framework unveils is the relationship the researchers have with their research. It closely highlights the factors that play an instrumental role in decision-making, variable selection, data collection, assessment of results, and formulation of new theories.

Consequently, if you, the researcher, are at the forefront of your research battlefield, your conceptual framework is the most powerful arsenal in your pocket.

What should be included in a conceptual framework?

A conceptual framework includes the key process parameters, defining variables, and cause-and-effect relationships. To add to this, the primary focus while developing a conceptual framework should remain on the quality of questions being raised and addressed through the framework. This will not only ease the process of initiation, but also enable you to draw meaningful conclusions from the same. 

A practical and advantageous approach involves selecting models and analyzing literature that is unconventional and not directly related to the topic. This helps the researcher design an illustrative framework that is multidisciplinary and simultaneously looks at a diverse range of phenomena. It also emboldens the roots of exploratory research. 

the components of a conceptual framework

Fig. 1: Components of a conceptual framework

How to make a conceptual framework

The successful design of a conceptual framework includes:

  • Selecting the appropriate research questions
  • Defining the process variables (dependent, independent, and others)
  • Determining the cause-and-effect relationships

This analytical tool begins with defining the most suitable set of questions that the research wishes to answer upon its conclusion. Following this, the different variety of variables is categorized. Lastly, the collected data is subjected to rigorous data analysis. Final results are compiled to establish links between the variables. 

The variables drawn inside frames impact the overall quality of the research. If the framework involves arrows, it suggests correlational linkages among the variables. Lines, on the other hand, suggest that no significant correlation exists among them. Henceforth, the utilization of lines and arrows should be done taking into cognizance the meaning they both imply.

Example of a conceptual framework

To provide an idea about a conceptual framework, let’s examine the example of drug development research. 

Say a new drug moiety A has to be launched in the market. For that, the baseline research begins with selecting the appropriate drug molecule. This is important because it:

  • Provides the data for molecular docking studies to identify suitable target proteins
  • Performs in vitro (a process taking place outside a living organism) and in vivo (a process taking place inside a living organism) analyzes

This assists in the screening of the molecules and a final selection leading to the most suitable target molecule. In this case, the choice of the drug molecule is an independent variable whereas, all the others, targets from molecular docking studies, and results from in vitro and in vivo analyses are dependent variables.

The outcomes revealed by the studies might be coherent or incoherent with the literature. In any case, an accurately designed conceptual framework will efficiently establish the cause-and-effect relationship and explain both perspectives satisfactorily.

If A has been chosen to be launched in the market, the conceptual framework will point towards the factors that have led to its selection. If A does not make it to the market, the key elements which did not work in its favor can be pinpointed by an accurate analysis of the conceptual framework.

an example of a conceptual framework

Fig. 2: Concise example of a conceptual framework

Important takeaways

While conceptual frameworks are a great way of designing the research protocol, they might consist of some unforeseen loopholes. A review of the literature can sometimes provide a false impression of the collection of work done worldwide while in actuality, there might be research that is being undertaken on the same topic but is still under publication or review. Strong conceptual frameworks, therefore, are designed when all these aspects are taken into consideration and the researchers indulge in discussions with others working on similar grounds of research.

Conceptual frameworks may also sometimes lead to collecting and reviewing data that is not so relevant to the current research topic. The researchers must always be on the lookout for studies that are highly relevant to their topic of work and will be of impact if taken into consideration. 

Another common practice associated with conceptual frameworks is their classification as merely descriptive qualitative tools and not actually a concrete build-up of ideas and critically analyzed literature and data which it is, in reality. Ideal conceptual frameworks always bring out their own set of new ideas after analysis of literature rather than simply depending on facts being already reported by other research groups.

So, the next time you set out to construct your conceptual framework or improvise on your previous one, be wary that concepts for your research are ideas that need to be worked upon. They are not simply a collection of literature from the previous research.

Final thoughts

Research is witnessing a boom in the methodical approaches being applied to it nowadays. In contrast to conventional research, researchers today are always looking for better techniques and methods to improve the quality of their research. 

We strongly believe in the ideals of research that are not merely academic, but all-inclusive. We strongly encourage all our readers and researchers to do work that impacts society. Designing strong conceptual frameworks is an integral part of the process. It gives headway for systematic, empirical, and fruitful research.

Vridhi Sachdeva, MPharm Bachelor of PharmacyGuru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar

Vridhi Sachdeva, MPharm

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conceptual framework in a research study

The Ultimate Guide to Qualitative Research - Part 1: The Basics

conceptual framework in a research study

  • Introduction and overview
  • What is qualitative research?
  • What is qualitative data?
  • Examples of qualitative data
  • Qualitative vs. quantitative research
  • Mixed methods
  • Qualitative research preparation
  • Theoretical perspective
  • Theoretical framework
  • Literature reviews
  • Research question
  • Introduction

Understanding conceptual frameworks

Selecting and developing your framework, variables in a conceptual framework.

  • Conceptual vs. theoretical framework
  • Data collection
  • Qualitative research methods
  • Focus groups
  • Observational research
  • Case studies
  • Ethnographical research
  • Ethical considerations
  • Confidentiality and privacy
  • Power dynamics
  • Reflexivity

Conceptual framework: Definition and theory

Theoretical and conceptual frameworks ultimately go hand in hand, but while there is significant overlap with theoretical perspectives and theoretical frameworks, understanding the essential differences is important when designing your research project.

conceptual framework in a research study

Let's explore the idea of a conceptual framework, provide a few common examples, and discuss how to choose a framework for your study. Keep in mind that a conceptual framework will differ from a theoretical framework and that we will explore these differences in the next section.

In this section, we'll delve into the intricacies of conceptual frameworks and their role in qualitative research . They are essentially the scaffolding on which you hang your research questions and analysis . They define the concepts that you'll study and articulate the relationships among them.

Developing conceptual frameworks in research

At the most basic level, a conceptual framework is a visual or written product that explains, either graphically or in narrative form, the main things to be studied, the key factors, variables, or constructs, and any presumed relationships among them. It acts as a road map guiding the course of your research, directing what will be studied, and helping to organize and analyze the data.

The purpose of a conceptual framework

A conceptual framework serves multiple functions in a research project. It helps in clarifying the research problem and purpose, assists in refining the research questions, and guides the data collection and analysis process. It's the tool that ties all aspects of the study together, offering a coherent perspective for the researcher and readers to understand the research more holistically.

Relation between theoretical perspectives and conceptual frameworks

Theoretical perspectives offer overarching philosophies and assumptions that guide the research process, while conceptual frameworks are the specific devices that are derived from these perspectives to operationalize the study. If a theoretical perspective is the broad philosophical underpinning, a conceptual framework is a pragmatic approach that puts that philosophy into practice in the context of the study.

For instance, if you're working from a feminist theoretical perspective, your conceptual framework might involve specific constructs like gender roles, power dynamics , and societal norms, as well as the relationships between these constructs. The conceptual framework would be the lens through which you examine and interpret your data, guided by your theoretical perspective.

conceptual framework in a research study

Critical theory

Critical theory is a theoretical perspective that seeks to confront social, historical, and ideological forces and structures that produce and constrain social problems. The corresponding conceptual framework might focus on constructs like power relations, historical context, and societal structures. For instance, a study on income inequality might have a conceptual framework involving constructs of socioeconomic status, institutional policies, and the distribution of resources.

Feminist theory

Feminist theory emphasizes the societal roles of gender and power relationships. A conceptual framework derived from this theory might involve constructs like gender roles, power dynamics, and societal norms. In a study about gender representation in media, a feminist conceptual framework could involve constructs such as stereotyping, representation, and societal expectations of gender.

conceptual framework in a research study

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Choosing and developing your conceptual framework is a pivotal process in your research design. This framework will help guide your study, inform your methodology , and shape your analysis .

Factors to consider when choosing a framework

Your conceptual framework should be derived from and align with your chosen theoretical perspective , but there are other considerations as well. It should resonate with your research question , problem, or purpose and be applicable to the specific context or population you are studying. You should also consider the feasibility of operationalizing the constructs in your framework.

When selecting a conceptual framework, consider the following questions:

1. How does this framework relate to my research topic? 2. Can I use this framework to effectively address my research question(s)? 3. Does this framework resonate with the population and context I'm studying? 4. Can the constructs in this framework be feasibly operationalized in my study?

Steps in developing a conceptual framework

Developing your conceptual framework involves a few key steps:

1. Identify key constructs: Based on your theoretical perspective and research question(s) , what are the main constructs or variables that you need to explore in your study? 2. Clarify relationships among constructs: How do these constructs relate to each other? Are there presumed causal relationships, correlations, or other types of associations? 3. Define each construct: Clearly define what each construct means in the context of your study. This might also involve operationalizing each construct or defining the indicators you will use to measure or identify each construct. 4. Create a visual representation : It is often extremely helpful to create a visual representation of your conceptual framework to illustrate the constructs and their relationships. Map out the relationships among constructs to develop a holistic understanding of what you want to study.

conceptual framework in a research study

Remember, your conceptual framework is not set in stone. You can start creating your conceptual framework based on your literature review and your own critical reflections. As you proceed with your study, you might need to refine or adapt your conceptual framework based on what you're learning from your data. Developing a robust framework is an iterative process that requires critical thinking, creativity, and flexibility.

A strong conceptual framework includes variables that refer to the constructs or characteristics that are being studied. They are the building blocks of your research study. It might be helpful to think about how the variables in your conceptual framework could be categorized as independent and dependent variables, which respectively influence and are influenced within the research study.

Independent variables and dependent variables

An independent variable is the characteristic or condition that is manipulated or selected by the researcher to determine its effect on the dependent variable. For example, in a study exploring the impact of classroom size on student engagement, classroom size would be the independent variable.

The dependent variable is the main outcome that the researcher is interested in studying or explaining. In the example given above, student engagement would be the dependent variable, as it's the outcome being observed for any changes in response to the independent variable (classroom size). In essence, defining these variables can help you identify the cause-and-effect relationships in your study. While it might be difficult to know beforehand exactly which variables will be important and how they relate to one another, this is a helpful thought exercise to flesh out potential relationships among variables you may want to study.

Relationships among variables

Within a conceptual framework, the dependent and independent variables are listed in addition to their proposed relationships to each other. The ways in which these variables influence one another form the crux of the propositions or assumptions that guide your research.

In a conceptual framework based on the theoretical perspective of constructivism, for instance, the independent variable might be a teaching method (as constructivists would argue that methods of instruction can shape learning), and the dependent variable could be the depth of student understanding. The proposed relationship between these variables might be that student-centered teaching methods lead to a deeper understanding, which would guide the data collection and analysis such that this proposition could be explored.

However, it is important to note that the terminology of independent and dependent variables is more typical of quantitative research , in which independent and dependent variables are operationalized in hypotheses that will be tested based on pre-established theory. In qualitative research , the relationships between variables are more fluid and open-ended because the focus is often more on understanding the phenomenon as a whole and building a contextualized understanding of the research problem. This can involve including new or unexpected variables and interrelationships that emerge during the study, thus extending previous theory or understanding that didn’t initially predict these relationships.

Thus, in your conceptual framework, rather than solely focusing on identifying independent and dependent variables, consider how various factors interact and influence one another within the context of your study. Your conceptual framework should provide a holistic picture of the complexity of the phenomenon you are studying.

conceptual framework in a research study

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Theories and Frameworks: Introduction

Theoretical & conceptual frameworks.

The terms theoretical framework and conceptual framework are often used interchangeably to mean the same thing. Although they are both used to understand a research problem and guide the development, collection, and analysis of research, it's important to understand the difference between the two. When working on coursework or dissertation research, make sure to clarify what is being asked and any specific course or program requirements. 

Theoretical framework 

A theoretical framework is a single formal theory. When a study is designed around a theoretical framework, the theory is the primary means in which the research problem is understood and investigated. Although theoretical frameworks tend to be used in quantitative studies, you will also see this approach in qualitative research.  

Conceptual framework

A conceptual framework includes one or more formal theories (in part or whole) as well as other concepts and empirical findings from the literature. It is used to show relationships among these ideas and how they relate to the research study. Conceptual frameworks are commonly seen in qualitative research in the social and behavioral sciences, for example, because often one theory cannot fully address the phenomena being studied.

Investigate theory

Identifying and learning about theories requires a different search strategy than other types of research. Even though the steps are different, you will still use many of the same skills and tools you’ve used for other library research.

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  • business:  leadership, management
  • health:  patient care, well-being, environment
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Theory in doctoral research

Identifying a theory that aligns with your dissertation or doctoral study takes time. It’s never too early to start exploratory research. The process of identifying an appropriate theory can seem daunting, so try breaking down the process into smaller steps.

  • your theory courses
  • completed dissertations and doctoral studies
  • the scholarly literature on your topic
  • Keep a list of theories and take notes on how and why they were used.
  • Identify and learn more about relevant theories.
  • Locate influential and seminal works  related to those theories.
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  • What Is a Conceptual Framework? | Tips & Examples

What Is a Conceptual Framework? | Tips & Examples

Published on 4 May 2022 by Bas Swaen and Tegan George. Revised on 18 March 2024.


A conceptual framework illustrates the expected relationship between your variables. It defines the relevant objectives for your research process and maps out how they come together to draw coherent conclusions.

Keep reading for a step-by-step guide to help you construct your own conceptual framework.

Table of contents

Developing a conceptual framework in research, step 1: choose your research question, step 2: select your independent and dependent variables, step 3: visualise your cause-and-effect relationship, step 4: identify other influencing variables, frequently asked questions about conceptual models.

A conceptual framework is a representation of the relationship you expect to see between your variables, or the characteristics or properties that you want to study.

Conceptual frameworks can be written or visual and are generally developed based on a literature review of existing studies about your topic.

Your research question guides your work by determining exactly what you want to find out, giving your research process a clear focus.

However, before you start collecting your data, consider constructing a conceptual framework. This will help you map out which variables you will measure and how you expect them to relate to one another.

In order to move forward with your research question and test a cause-and-effect relationship, you must first identify at least two key variables: your independent and dependent variables .

  • The expected cause, ‘hours of study’, is the independent variable (the predictor, or explanatory variable)
  • The expected effect, ‘exam score’, is the dependent variable (the response, or outcome variable).

Note that causal relationships often involve several independent variables that affect the dependent variable. For the purpose of this example, we’ll work with just one independent variable (‘hours of study’).

Now that you’ve figured out your research question and variables, the first step in designing your conceptual framework is visualising your expected cause-and-effect relationship.


It’s crucial to identify other variables that can influence the relationship between your independent and dependent variables early in your research process.

Some common variables to include are moderating, mediating, and control variables.

Moderating variables

Moderating variable (or moderators) alter the effect that an independent variable has on a dependent variable. In other words, moderators change the ‘effect’ component of the cause-and-effect relationship.

Let’s add the moderator ‘IQ’. Here, a student’s IQ level can change the effect that the variable ‘hours of study’ has on the exam score. The higher the IQ, the fewer hours of study are needed to do well on the exam.


Let’s take a look at how this might work. The graph below shows how the number of hours spent studying affects exam score. As expected, the more hours you study, the better your results. Here, a student who studies for 20 hours will get a perfect score.


But the graph looks different when we add our ‘IQ’ moderator of 120. A student with this IQ will achieve a perfect score after just 15 hours of study.


Below, the value of the ‘IQ’ moderator has been increased to 150. A student with this IQ will only need to invest five hours of study in order to get a perfect score.


Here, we see that a moderating variable does indeed change the cause-and-effect relationship between two variables.

Mediating variables

Now we’ll expand the framework by adding a mediating variable . Mediating variables link the independent and dependent variables, allowing the relationship between them to be better explained.

Here’s how the conceptual framework might look if a mediator variable were involved:


In this case, the mediator helps explain why studying more hours leads to a higher exam score. The more hours a student studies, the more practice problems they will complete; the more practice problems completed, the higher the student’s exam score will be.

Moderator vs mediator

It’s important not to confuse moderating and mediating variables. To remember the difference, you can think of them in relation to the independent variable:

  • A moderating variable is not affected by the independent variable, even though it affects the dependent variable. For example, no matter how many hours you study (the independent variable), your IQ will not get higher.
  • A mediating variable is affected by the independent variable. In turn, it also affects the dependent variable. Therefore, it links the two variables and helps explain the relationship between them.

Control variables

Lastly,  control variables must also be taken into account. These are variables that are held constant so that they don’t interfere with the results. Even though you aren’t interested in measuring them for your study, it’s crucial to be aware of as many of them as you can be.


A mediator variable explains the process through which two variables are related, while a moderator variable affects the strength and direction of that relationship.

No. The value of a dependent variable depends on an independent variable, so a variable cannot be both independent and dependent at the same time. It must be either the cause or the effect, not both.

Yes, but including more than one of either type requires multiple research questions .

For example, if you are interested in the effect of a diet on health, you can use multiple measures of health: blood sugar, blood pressure, weight, pulse, and many more. Each of these is its own dependent variable with its own research question.

You could also choose to look at the effect of exercise levels as well as diet, or even the additional effect of the two combined. Each of these is a separate independent variable .

To ensure the internal validity of an experiment , you should only change one independent variable at a time.

A control variable is any variable that’s held constant in a research study. It’s not a variable of interest in the study, but it’s controlled because it could influence the outcomes.

A confounding variable , also called a confounder or confounding factor, is a third variable in a study examining a potential cause-and-effect relationship.

A confounding variable is related to both the supposed cause and the supposed effect of the study. It can be difficult to separate the true effect of the independent variable from the effect of the confounding variable.

In your research design , it’s important to identify potential confounding variables and plan how you will reduce their impact.

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  • The importance of a conceptual framework

The main purpose of a conceptual framework is to improve the quality of a research study. A conceptual framework achieves this by identifying important information about the topic and providing a clear roadmap for researchers to study it.

Through the process of developing this information, researchers will be able to improve the quality of their studies in a few key ways.

Clarify research goals and objectives

A conceptual framework helps researchers create a clear research goal. Research projects often become vague and lose their focus, which makes them less useful. However, a well-designed conceptual framework helps researchers maintain focus. It reinforces the project’s scope, ensuring it stays on track and produces meaningful results.

Provide a theoretical basis for the study

Forming a hypothesis requires knowledge of the key variables and their relationship to each other. Researchers need to identify these variables early on to create a conceptual framework. This ensures researchers have developed a strong understanding of the topic before finalizing the study design. It also helps them select the most appropriate research and analysis methods.

Guide the research design

As they develop their conceptual framework, researchers often uncover information that can help them further refine their work.

Here are some examples:

Confounding variables they hadn’t previously considered

Sources of bias they will have to take into account when designing the project

Whether or not the information they were going to study has already been covered—this allows them to pivot to a more meaningful goal that brings new and relevant information to their field

  • Steps to develop a conceptual framework

There are four major steps researchers will follow to develop a conceptual framework. Each step will be described in detail in the sections that follow. You’ll also find examples of how each might be applied in a range of fields.

Step 1: Choose the research question

The first step in creating a conceptual framework is choosing a research question . The goal of this step is to create a question that’s specific and focused.

By developing a clear question, researchers can more easily identify the variables they will need to account for and keep their research focused. Without it, the next steps will be more difficult and less effective.

Here are some examples of good research questions in a few common fields:

Natural sciences: How does exposure to ultraviolet radiation affect the growth rate of a particular type of algae?

Health sciences: What is the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy for treating depression in adolescents?

Business: What factors contribute to the success of small businesses in a particular industry?

Education: How does implementing technology in the classroom impact student learning outcomes?

Step 2: Select the independent and dependent variables

Once the research question has been chosen, it’s time to identify the dependent and independent variables .

The independent variable is the variable researchers think will affect the dependent variable . Without this information, researchers cannot develop a meaningful hypothesis or design a way to test it.

The dependent and independent variables for our example questions above are:

Natural sciences

Independent variable: exposure to ultraviolet radiation

Dependent variable: the growth rate of a particular type of algae

Health sciences

Independent variable: cognitive-behavioral therapy

Dependent variable: depression in adolescents

Independent variables: factors contributing to the business’s success

Dependent variable: sales, return on investment (ROI), or another concrete metric

Independent variable: implementation of technology in the classroom

Dependent variable: student learning outcomes, such as test scores, GPAs, or exam results

Step 3: Visualize the cause-and-effect relationship

This step is where researchers actually develop their hypothesis. They will predict how the independent variable will impact the dependent variable based on their knowledge of the field and their intuition.

With a hypothesis formed, researchers can more accurately determine what data to collect and how to analyze it. They will then visualize their hypothesis by creating a diagram. This visualization will serve as a framework to help guide their research.

The diagrams for our examples might be used as follows:

Natural sciences : how exposure to radiation affects the biological processes in the algae that contribute to its growth rate

Health sciences : how different aspects of cognitive behavioral therapy can affect how patients experience symptoms of depression

Business : how factors such as market demand, managerial expertise, and financial resources influence a business’s success

Education : how different types of technology interact with different aspects of the learning process and alter student learning outcomes

Step 4: Identify other influencing variables

The independent and dependent variables are only part of the equation. Moderating, mediating, and control variables are also important parts of a well-designed study. These variables can impact the relationship between the two main variables and must be accounted for.

A moderating variable is one that can change how the independent variable affects the dependent variable. A mediating variable explains the relationship between the two. Control variables are kept the same to eliminate their impact on the results. Examples of each are given below:

Moderating variable: water temperature (might impact how algae respond to radiation exposure)

Mediating variable: chlorophyll production (might explain how radiation exposure affects algae growth rate)

Control variable: nutrient levels in the water

Moderating variable: the severity of depression symptoms at baseline might impact how effective the therapy is for different adolescents

Mediating variable: social support might explain how cognitive-behavioral therapy leads to improvements in depression

Control variable: other forms of treatment received before or during the study

Moderating variable: the size of the business (might impact how different factors contribute to market share, sales, ROI, and other key success metrics)

Mediating variable: customer satisfaction (might explain how different factors impact business success)

Control variable: industry competition

Moderating variable: student age (might impact how effective technology is for different students)

Mediating variable: teacher training (might explain how technology leads to improvements in learning outcomes)

Control variable: student learning style

  • Conceptual versus theoretical frameworks

Although they sound similar, conceptual and theoretical frameworks have different goals and are used in different contexts. Understanding which to use will help researchers craft better studies.

Conceptual frameworks describe a broad overview of the subject and outline key concepts, variables, and the relationships between them. They provide structure to studies that are more exploratory in nature, where the relationships between the variables are still being established. They are particularly helpful in studies that are complex or interdisciplinary because they help researchers better organize the factors involved in the study.

Theoretical frameworks, on the other hand, are used when the research question is more clearly defined and there’s an existing body of work to draw upon. They define the relationships between the variables and help researchers predict outcomes. They are particularly helpful when researchers want to refine the existing body of knowledge rather than establish it.

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How to Make a Conceptual Framework

How to Make a Conceptual Framework

  • 6-minute read
  • 2nd January 2022

What is a conceptual framework? And why is it important?

A conceptual framework illustrates the relationship between the variables of a research question. It’s an outline of what you’d expect to find in a research project.

Conceptual frameworks should be constructed before data collection and are vital because they map out the actions needed in the study. This should be the first step of an undergraduate or graduate research project.

What Is In a Conceptual Framework?

In a conceptual framework, you’ll find a visual representation of the key concepts and relationships that are central to a research study or project . This can be in form of a diagram, flow chart, or any other visual representation. Overall, a conceptual framework serves as a guide for understanding the problem being studied and the methods being used to investigate it.

Steps to Developing the Perfect Conceptual Framework

  • Pick a question
  • Conduct a literature review
  • Identify your variables
  • Create your conceptual framework

1. Pick a Question

You should already have some idea of the broad area of your research project. Try to narrow down your research field to a manageable topic in terms of time and resources. From there, you need to formulate your research question. A research question answers the researcher’s query: “What do I want to know about my topic?” Research questions should be focused, concise, arguable and, ideally, should address a topic of importance within your field of research.

An example of a simple research question is: “What is the relationship between sunny days and ice cream sales?”

2. Conduct a Literature Review

A literature review is an analysis of the scholarly publications on a chosen topic. To undertake a literature review, search for articles with the same theme as your research question. Choose updated and relevant articles to analyze and use peer-reviewed and well-respected journals whenever possible.

For the above example, the literature review would investigate publications that discuss how ice cream sales are affected by the weather. The literature review should reveal the variables involved and any current hypotheses about this relationship.

3. Identify Your Variables

There are two key variables in every experiment: independent and dependent variables.

Independent Variables

The independent variable (otherwise known as the predictor or explanatory variable) is the expected cause of the experiment: what the scientist changes or changes on its own. In our example, the independent variable would be “the number of sunny days.”

Dependent Variables

The dependent variable (otherwise known as the response or outcome variable) is the expected effect of the experiment: what is being studied or measured. In our example, the dependent variable would be “the quantity of ice cream sold.”

Next, there are control variables.

Control Variables

A control variable is a variable that may impact the dependent variable but whose effects are not going to be measured in the research project. In our example, a control variable could be “the socioeconomic status of participants.” Control variables should be kept constant to isolate the effects of the other variables in the experiment.

Finally, there are intervening and extraneous variables.

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Intervening Variables

Intervening variables link the independent and dependent variables and clarify their connection. In our example, an intervening variable could be “temperature.”

Extraneous Variables

Extraneous variables are any variables that are not being investigated but could impact the outcomes of the study. Some instances of extraneous variables for our example would be “the average price of ice cream” or “the number of varieties of ice cream available.” If you control an extraneous variable, it becomes a control variable.

4. Create Your Conceptual Framework

Having picked your research question, undertaken a literature review, and identified the relevant variables, it’s now time to construct your conceptual framework. Conceptual frameworks are clear and often visual representations of the relationships between variables.

We’ll start with the basics: the independent and dependent variables.

Our hypothesis is that the quantity of ice cream sold directly depends on the number of sunny days; hence, there is a cause-and-effect relationship between the independent variable (the number of sunny days) and the dependent and independent variable (the quantity of ice cream sold).

Next, introduce a control variable. Remember, this is anything that might directly affect the dependent variable but is not being measured in the experiment:

Finally, introduce the intervening and extraneous variables. 

The intervening variable (temperature) clarifies the relationship between the independent variable (the number of sunny days) and the dependent variable (the quantity of ice cream sold). Extraneous variables, such as the average price of ice cream, are variables that are not controlled and can potentially impact the dependent variable.

Are Conceptual Frameworks and Research Paradigms the Same?

In simple terms, the research paradigm is what informs your conceptual framework. In defining our research paradigm we ask the big questions—Is there an objective truth and how can we understand it? If we decide the answer is yes, we may be working with a positivist research paradigm and will choose to build a conceptual framework that displays the relationship between fixed variables. If not, we may be working with a constructivist research paradigm, and thus our conceptual framework will be more of a loose amalgamation of ideas, theories, and themes (a qualitative study). If this is confusing–don’t worry! We have an excellent blog post explaining research paradigms in more detail.

Where is the Conceptual Framework Located in a Thesis?

This will depend on your discipline, research type, and school’s guidelines, but most papers will include a section presenting the conceptual framework in the introduction, literature review, or opening chapter. It’s best to present your conceptual framework after presenting your research question, but before outlining your methodology.

Can a Conceptual Framework be Used in a Qualitative Study?

Yes. Despite being less clear-cut than a quantitative study, all studies should present some form of a conceptual framework. Let’s say you were doing a study on care home practices and happiness, and you came across a “happiness model” constructed by a relevant theorist in your literature review. Your conceptual framework could be an outline or a visual depiction of how you will use this model to collect and interpret qualitative data for your own study (such as interview responses). Check out this useful resource showing other examples of conceptual frameworks for qualitative studies .

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How to Use a Conceptual Framework for Better Research


A conceptual framework in research is not just a tool but a vital roadmap that guides the entire research process. It integrates various theories, assumptions, and beliefs to provide a structured approach to research. By defining a conceptual framework, researchers can focus their inquiries and clarify their hypotheses, leading to more effective and meaningful research outcomes.

What is a Conceptual Framework?

A conceptual framework is essentially an analytical tool that combines concepts and sets them within an appropriate theoretical structure. It serves as a lens through which researchers view the complexities of the real world. The importance of a conceptual framework lies in its ability to serve as a guide, helping researchers to not only visualize but also systematically approach their study.

Key Components and to be Analyzed During Research

  • Theories: These are the underlying principles that guide the hypotheses and assumptions of the research.
  • Assumptions: These are the accepted truths that are not tested within the scope of the research but are essential for framing the study.
  • Beliefs: These often reflect the subjective viewpoints that may influence the interpretation of data.
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Together, these components help to define the conceptual framework that directs the research towards its ultimate goal. This structured approach not only improves clarity but also enhances the validity and reliability of the research outcomes. By using a conceptual framework, researchers can avoid common pitfalls and focus on essential variables and relationships.

For practical examples and to see how different frameworks can be applied in various research scenarios, you can Explore Conceptual Framework Examples .

Different Types of Conceptual Frameworks Used in Research

Understanding the various types of conceptual frameworks is crucial for researchers aiming to align their studies with the most effective structure. Conceptual frameworks in research vary primarily between theoretical and operational frameworks, each serving distinct purposes and suiting different research methodologies.

Theoretical vs Operational Frameworks

Theoretical frameworks are built upon existing theories and literature, providing a broad and abstract understanding of the research topic. They help in forming the basis of the study by linking the research to already established scholarly works. On the other hand, operational frameworks are more practical, focusing on how the study’s theories will be tested through specific procedures and variables.

  • Theoretical frameworks are ideal for exploratory studies and can help in understanding complex phenomena.
  • Operational frameworks suit studies requiring precise measurement and data analysis.

Choosing the Right Framework

Selecting the appropriate conceptual framework is pivotal for the success of a research project. It involves matching the research questions with the framework that best addresses the methodological needs of the study. For instance, a theoretical framework might be chosen for studies that aim to generate new theories, while an operational framework would be better suited for testing specific hypotheses.

Benefits of choosing the right framework include enhanced clarity, better alignment with research goals, and improved validity of research outcomes. Tools like Table Chart Maker can be instrumental in visually comparing the strengths and weaknesses of different frameworks, aiding in this crucial decision-making process.

Real-World Examples of Conceptual Frameworks in Research

Understanding the practical application of conceptual frameworks in research can significantly enhance the clarity and effectiveness of your studies. Here, we explore several real-world case studies that demonstrate the pivotal role of conceptual frameworks in achieving robust research conclusions.

  • Healthcare Research: In a study examining the impact of lifestyle choices on chronic diseases, researchers used a conceptual framework to link dietary habits, exercise, and genetic predispositions. This framework helped in identifying key variables and their interrelations, leading to more targeted interventions.
  • Educational Development: Educational theorists often employ conceptual frameworks to explore the dynamics between teaching methods and student learning outcomes. One notable study mapped out the influences of digital tools on learning engagement, providing insights that shaped educational policies.
  • Environmental Policy: Conceptual frameworks have been crucial in environmental research, particularly in studies on climate change adaptation. By framing the relationships between human activity, ecological changes, and policy responses, researchers have been able to propose more effective sustainability strategies.

Adapting conceptual frameworks based on evolving research data is also critical. As new information becomes available, it’s essential to revisit and adjust the framework to maintain its relevance and accuracy, ensuring that the research remains aligned with real-world conditions.

For those looking to visualize and better comprehend their research frameworks, Graphic Organizers for Conceptual Frameworks can be an invaluable tool. These organizers help in structuring and presenting research findings clearly, enhancing both the process and the presentation of your research.

Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Your Own Conceptual Framework

Creating a conceptual framework is a critical step in structuring your research to ensure clarity and focus. This guide will walk you through the process of building a robust framework, from identifying key concepts to refining your approach as your research evolves.

Building Blocks of a Conceptual Framework

  • Identify and Define Main Concepts and Variables: Start by clearly identifying the main concepts, variables, and their relationships that will form the basis of your research. This could include defining key terms and establishing the scope of your study.
  • Develop a Hypothesis or Primary Research Question: Formulate a central hypothesis or question that guides the direction of your research. This will serve as the foundation upon which your conceptual framework is built.
  • Link Theories and Concepts Logically: Connect your identified concepts and variables with existing theories to create a coherent structure. This logical linking helps in forming a strong theoretical base for your research.

Visualizing and Refining Your Framework

Using visual tools can significantly enhance the clarity and effectiveness of your conceptual framework. Decision Tree Templates for Conceptual Frameworks can be particularly useful in mapping out the relationships between variables and hypotheses.

Map Your Framework: Utilize tools like Creately’s visual canvas to diagram your framework. This visual representation helps in identifying gaps or overlaps in your framework and provides a clear overview of your research structure.

A mind map is a useful graphic organizer for writing - Graphic Organizers for Writing

Analyze and Refine: As your research progresses, continuously evaluate and refine your framework. Adjustments may be necessary as new data comes to light or as initial assumptions are challenged.

By following these steps, you can ensure that your conceptual framework is not only well-defined but also adaptable to the changing dynamics of your research.

Practical Tips for Utilizing Conceptual Frameworks in Research

Effectively utilizing a conceptual framework in research not only streamlines the process but also enhances the clarity and coherence of your findings. Here are some practical tips to maximize the use of conceptual frameworks in your research endeavors.

  • Setting Clear Research Goals: Begin by defining precise objectives that are aligned with your research questions. This clarity will guide your entire research process, ensuring that every step you take is purposeful and directly contributes to your overall study aims. \
  • Maintaining Focus and Coherence: Throughout the research, consistently refer back to your conceptual framework to maintain focus. This will help in keeping your research aligned with the initial goals and prevent deviations that could dilute the effectiveness of your findings.
  • Data Analysis and Interpretation: Use your conceptual framework as a lens through which to view and interpret data. This approach ensures that the data analysis is not only systematic but also meaningful in the context of your research objectives. For more insights, explore Research Data Analysis Methods .
  • Presenting Research Findings: When it comes time to present your findings, structure your presentation around the conceptual framework . This will help your audience understand the logical flow of your research and how each part contributes to the whole.
  • Avoiding Common Pitfalls: Be vigilant about common errors such as overcomplicating the framework or misaligning the research methods with the framework’s structure. Keeping it simple and aligned ensures that the framework effectively supports your research.

By adhering to these tips and utilizing tools like 7 Essential Visual Tools for Social Work Assessment , researchers can ensure that their conceptual frameworks are not only robust but also practically applicable in their studies.

How Creately Enhances the Creation and Use of Conceptual Frameworks

Creating a robust conceptual framework is pivotal for effective research, and Creately’s suite of visual tools offers unparalleled support in this endeavor. By leveraging Creately’s features, researchers can visualize, organize, and analyze their research frameworks more efficiently.

  • Visual Mapping of Research Plans: Creately’s infinite visual canvas allows researchers to map out their entire research plan visually. This helps in understanding the complex relationships between different research variables and theories, enhancing the clarity and effectiveness of the research process.
  • Brainstorming with Mind Maps: Using Mind Mapping Software , researchers can generate and organize ideas dynamically. Creately’s intelligent formatting helps in brainstorming sessions, making it easier to explore multiple topics or delve deeply into specific concepts.
  • Centralized Data Management: Creately enables the importation of data from multiple sources, which can be integrated into the visual research framework. This centralization aids in maintaining a cohesive and comprehensive overview of all research elements, ensuring that no critical information is overlooked.
  • Communication and Collaboration: The platform supports real-time collaboration, allowing teams to work together seamlessly, regardless of their physical location. This feature is crucial for research teams spread across different geographies, facilitating effective communication and iterative feedback throughout the research process.

Moreover, the ability t Explore Conceptual Framework Examples directly within Creately inspires researchers by providing practical templates and examples that can be customized to suit specific research needs. This not only saves time but also enhances the quality of the conceptual framework developed.

In conclusion, Creately’s tools for creating and managing conceptual frameworks are indispensable for researchers aiming to achieve clear, structured, and impactful research outcomes.

Join over thousands of organizations that use Creately to brainstorm, plan, analyze, and execute their projects successfully.

More Related Articles

What is a Thematic Analysis and How to Conduct One

Chiraag George is a communication specialist here at Creately. He is a marketing junkie that is fascinated by how brands occupy consumer mind space. A lover of all things tech, he writes a lot about the intersection of technology, branding and culture at large.

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Research Writing and Analysis

  • NVivo Group and Study Sessions
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  • Defense Schedule - Commons Calendar This link opens in a new window
  • Research Process Flow Chart
  • Research Alignment Chapter 1 This link opens in a new window
  • Step 1: Seek Out Evidence
  • Step 2: Explain
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  • Step 4: Own It
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  • Problem Statement
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Designing the Theoretical Framework

What is it.

  • A foundational review of existing theories. 
  • Serves as a roadmap or blueprint for developing arguments and supporting research.
  • Overview of the theory that the research is based on.
  • Can be made up of theories, principles, and concepts.

What does it do?

  • Explains the why and how of a particular phenomenon within a particular body of literature.
  • Connects the research subject with the theory.
  • Specifies the study’s scope; makes it more valuable and generalizable.
  • Guides further actions like framing the research questions, developing the literature review, and data collection and analyses.

What should be in it?

  • Theory or theories that the researcher considers relevant for their research, principles, and concepts.

Theoretical Framework Guide

  • Theoretical Framework Guide Use this guide to determine the guiding framework for your theoretical dissertation research.

Making a Theoretical Framework

How to make a theoretical framework.

  • Specify research objectives.
  • Note the prominent variables under the study.
  • Explore and review the literature through keywords identified as prominent variables.
  • Note the theories that contain these variables or the keywords.
  • Review all selected theories again in the light of the study’s objectives, and the key variables identified.
  • Search for alternative theoretical propositions in the literature that may challenge the ones already selected.
  • Ensure that the framework aligns with the study’s objectives, problem statement, the main research question, methodology, data analysis, and the expected conclusion.
  • Decide on the final framework and begin developing.

Example Framework

  • Theoretical Framework Example for a Thesis or Dissertation This link offers an example theoretical framework.

Additional Framework Resources

Some additional helpful resources in constructing a theoretical framework for study:.


Theoretical Framework Research

The term conceptual framework and theoretical framework are often and erroneously used interchangeably (Grant & Osanloo, 2014). A theoretical framework provides the theoretical assumptions for the larger context of a study, and is the foundation or ‘lens’ by which a study is developed. This framework helps to ground the research focus understudy within theoretical underpinnings and to frame the inquiry for data analysis and interpretation.  The application of theory in traditional theoretical research is to understand, explain, and predict phenomena (Swanson, 2013).

Casanave, C.P.,& Li,Y.(2015). Novices’ struggles with conceptual and theoretical framing in writing  dissertations and papers for publication. Publications,3 (2),104-119.doi:10.3390/publications3020104

Grant, C., & Osanloo, A. (2014). Understanding, Selecting, and Integrating a Theoretical Framework in Dissertation Research: Creating the Blueprint for Your “House. ” Administrative Issues Journal: Connecting Education, Practice, and Research, 4(2), 12–26

Swanson, R. (2013). Theory building in applied disciplines . San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

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  1. Conceptual Framework 101: An Easy Guide

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  4. Developing a Conceptual Framework for Research

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  1. Theoretical and Conceptual Framework


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  5. Theoretical Framework

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  1. What Is a Conceptual Framework?

    Developing a conceptual framework in research. A conceptual framework is a representation of the relationship you expect to see between your variables, or the characteristics or properties that you want to study. Conceptual frameworks can be written or visual and are generally developed based on a literature review of existing studies about ...

  2. Conceptual Framework

    Conceptual Framework Methodology is a research method that is commonly used in academic and scientific research to develop a theoretical framework for a study. It is a systematic approach that helps researchers to organize their thoughts and ideas, identify the variables that are relevant to their study, and establish the relationships between ...

  3. How To Make Conceptual Framework (With Examples and Templates)

    Figure 1 shows the Conceptual Framework of the study. The quantity of the organic fertilizer used is the independent variable, while the plant's growth is the research's dependent variable. These two variables are directly related based on the research's empirical evidence. Conceptual Framework in Quantitative Research


    the conceptual framework, as well as the process of developing one, since a conceptual framework is a generative source of thinking, planning, conscious action, and reflection throughout the research process. A conceptual framework makes the case for why a study is significant and relevant

  5. (Pdf) Theoretical and Conceptual Frameworks in Research: Conceptual

    conceptual and theoretical frameworks. As conceptual defines the key co ncepts, variables, and. relationships in a research study as a roadmap that outlines the researcher's understanding of how ...

  6. Theoretical vs Conceptual Framework (+ Examples)

    The theoretical framework is used to lay down a foundation of theory on which your study will be built, whereas the conceptual framework visualises what you anticipate the relationships between concepts, constructs and variables may be, based on your understanding of the existing literature and the specific context and focus of your research.

  7. What is a Conceptual Framework?

    A conceptual framework is an underrated methodological approach that should be paid attention to before embarking on a research journey in any field, be it science, finance, history, psychology, etc. A conceptual framework sets forth the standards to define a research question and find appropriate, meaningful answers for the same.

  8. Conceptual Models and Theories: Developing a Research Framew

    Conceptual Framework in Research. Conceptual models and theories serve as the foundation on which a study can be developed or as a map to aid in the design of the study (Fawcett, 1989). ... The definitions of the concepts in the model have to be understood to enable the researcher to formulate her/his study framework which can be integrated ...

  9. What is a Conceptual Framework?

    The purpose of a conceptual framework. A conceptual framework serves multiple functions in a research project. It helps in clarifying the research problem and purpose, assists in refining the research questions, and guides the data collection and analysis process. It's the tool that ties all aspects of the study together, offering a coherent ...

  10. Literature Reviews, Theoretical Frameworks, and Conceptual Frameworks

    For instance, conceptual frameworks can address how the current study will fill gaps in the research, resolve contradictions in existing literature, or suggest a new area of study. While a literature review describes what is known and not known about the phenomenon, the conceptual framework leverages these gaps in describing the current study ...

  11. Conceptual Framework

    Explains or predicts the way key concepts/variables will come together to inform the problem/phenomenon. Gives the study direction/parameters. Helps the researcher organize ideas and clarify concepts. Introduces your research and how it will advance your field of practice. A conceptual framework should include concepts applicable to the field ...

  12. PDF Conceptual Frameworks: A Brief Introduction onWhy and How to Use Them

    What is a Conceptual Framework. Specific approach to thinking about a research problem, usually represented as a diagram to show important concepts and processes. Frameworks are derived from related concepts (conceptual, practical) or existing theories. (theoretical) - benefit is using a. shared language.

  13. Building a Conceptual Framework: Philosophy, Definitions, and Procedure

    Although conceptual framework analysis generates theories or conceptual frameworks from multidisciplinary bodies of knowledge, metasynthesis, a systematic synthesis of findings across qualitative studies, seeks to generate new interpretations for which there is a consensus within a particular field of study (Jensen, & Allen, 1996; Nelson, 2006 ...

  14. PDF Conceptual Framework

    A valuable guide to developing a conceptual framework and using this throughout the research process, with detailed analyses of four actual studies, is Ravitch and Riggan, Reason & Rigor: How Conceptual Frameworks Guide Research (2011). (Full disclosure: Sharon Ravitch is a former student of mine, and I wrote the foreword for the book.)

  15. Academic Guides: Theories and Frameworks: Introduction

    A theoretical framework is a single formal theory. When a study is designed around a theoretical framework, the theory is the primary means in which the research problem is understood and investigated. Although theoretical frameworks tend to be used in quantitative studies, you will also see this approach in qualitative research. Conceptual ...

  16. What Is a Conceptual Framework?

    Developing a conceptual framework in research. A conceptual framework is a representation of the relationship you expect to see between your variables, or the characteristics or properties that you want to study. Conceptual frameworks can be written or visual and are generally developed based on a literature review of existing studies about ...

  17. Conceptual Framework: Definition, Tips, and Examples

    A conceptual framework helps researchers create a clear research goal. Research projects often become vague and lose their focus, which makes them less useful. However, a well-designed conceptual framework helps researchers maintain focus. It reinforces the project's scope, ensuring it stays on track and produces meaningful results.

  18. What is a Conceptual Framework and How to Make It (with Examples)

    A conceptual framework in research is used to understand a research problem and guide the development and analysis of the research. It serves as a roadmap to conceptualize and structure the work by providing an outline that connects different ideas, concepts, and theories within the field of study. A conceptual framework pictorially or verbally ...

  19. How to Make a Conceptual Framework

    Steps to Developing the Perfect Conceptual Framework. Pick a question. Conduct a literature review. Identify your variables. Create your conceptual framework. 1. Pick a Question. You should already have some idea of the broad area of your research project. Try to narrow down your research field to a manageable topic in terms of time and resources.

  20. Defining a Conceptual Framework in Educational Research

    In addition, a conceptual framework provides. coherence to the researcher's thoughts, making. it easy to convey how and why the researcher's. ideas matter relative to existing bodies of ideas ...

  21. Research Methodology: Conceptual Framework

    For this rea son, the conceptual framework of every study, the system of concepts, assumptions, expectations, beliefs, and theories that supports and informs the research is a ke y p art of the

  22. How to Use a Conceptual Framework for Better Research

    Here, we explore several real-world case studies that demonstrate the pivotal role of conceptual frameworks in achieving robust research conclusions. Healthcare Research: In a study examining the impact of lifestyle choices on chronic diseases, researchers used a conceptual framework to link dietary habits, exercise, and genetic predispositions.

  23. Conceptual Framework

    Helps the researcher organize ideas and clarify concepts. Introduces your research and how it will advance your field of practice. A conceptual framework should include concepts applicable to the field of study. These can be in the field or neighboring fields - as long as important details are captured and the framework is relevant to the ...

  24. What is conceptual framework in research?

    Answer: There are two kinds of framework used when writing the background of a study, theoretical and conceptual. A theoretical framework is a broad and established set of rules, truths, or principles on which the study is founded. Examples include Newton's laws of motion in physical sciences and Maslow's hierarchy of needs in social sciences.

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    Response to Ayoub's and Bryant's posts Response to Firas Ayoub's post I agree with your assessment that the study by Karabulut & Batmaz (2024) could strengthen its alignment by more explicitly stating the research questions and conceptual framework. While the purpose and problem statements are clearly focused on understanding remote work experiences during the pandemic, clarifying the guiding ...

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  28. Full article: Linking digital capability to small business performance

    The theoretical framework uses knowledge-based view (KBV) and dynamic capability theories. This study empirically examines the direct relationship between DT and DBT in small business performance (financial, flexibility, and quality performance). This study involved 330 small businesses in East Java, Indonesia, using a convenience sampling ...