Theoretical framework and conceptual framework

When writing an article or conducting an experiment, teachers and students should define the ideas that inform their work in a general and very specific way. Theoretical and conceptual frameworks designate two different sets of ideas that are used in academic writing and research. Read on to learn about the differences between these concepts.

Theoretical framework
Conceptual framework
What it providesThe theoretical framework provides the model for the investigation and serves as a guide on which to build and support the entire study. It provides the structure to define how the scholars will approach the thesis as a whole.The conceptual framework provides a model that explains what the researcher intends to study.
What are they based onThe theoretical framework used to be based on existing theory duly tested and validated by other researchers (for example, motivation theory, general systems theory, practical theory, etc.)The conceptual framework used to be based on the concepts provided by the main variables in an investigation. This is something that researchers develop themselves based on theories
Types of ideasThe theoretical framework provides broader guidelines or a general set of ideas within which a research study can be fitted.The conceptual framework relates to specific ideas that academics use in their research study.
How it is presentedThe theoretical framework is usually presented in the form of a model that supports a research study.The conceptual framework is presented as the model built by the researchers themselves that they use to show the relationship between the variables in the research work. It takes the form of an adaptation of a model in existing theory.
AcceptanceThe theoretical framework must be well developed, designed and widely acceptedThe conceptual framework does not need to be widely accepted, as it is the researchers’ own response to the research problem they defined.
What it providesThe theoretical framework provides a direction to address unfamiliar research in a specific discipline.The conceptual framework provides a model that demonstrates how research inquiry should be done logically.
What does it compriseThe theoretical framework includes the theories that seemed to be interrelated with the propositions of the study.The conceptual framework comprises the interrelated key concepts, elaborating the relationship between the variable and how the researchers claim to respond to the research problem.

Definition of the theoretical framework

The “theoretical framework” of an experiment or article refers to the broader assumptions that the researcher is working on . For example, a psychologist writing an article may be working within a Freudian, Jungian, or behaviorist framework. A theoretical framework provides a great general structure of ideas that the researcher can take advantage of when beginning to analyze a phenomenon or a text.

Scholars refer to their theoretical frameworks when publishing articles or experiments to explicitly identify the assumptions that inform their work . This allows readers in the field to immediately become familiar with the ideas on which a study is based and a starting point for critical analysis.

Definition of conceptual framework

While a theoretical framework provides the general set of ideas in which a study occurs, the conceptual framework refers to the specific ideas that a researcher uses in the study . Examples of conceptual frameworks include the methods of a chemistry experiment, the definitions a sociologist uses to describe a culture, and the types of data an economist considers when evaluating a country’s industry. Therefore, the conceptual framework consists of the ideas that are used to define the research and evaluate the data . Conceptual frameworks are often established at the beginning of an article or in the description of an experiment so that the reader understands the methods used.

Differences between theoretical and conceptual framework

The difference between the theoretical and conceptual frameworks is scale , referring to the big ideas and the smallest ones. The conceptual framework is a set of specific ideas that can be used within the broader theoretical framework. It may contain many ideas that are not explored in the document or experiment that it structures. However, by definition, all aspects of the conceptual framework are used in the research process .

Note that a theoretical framework often informs the conceptual framework. For example, a Freudian psychologist is likely to attach great importance to the early childhood data of his subjects. On the other hand, the theoretical framework can also determine which ideas are not considered by a conceptual framework: a behaviorist is unlikely to consider the dreams of a subject.

Interchangeable use of concepts

When used as a separate term, “theoretical framework” always refers to the broader ideas that govern research and study. However, the terms “theoretical” and “conceptual” are often confused or used interchangeably to designate all the ideas that are used to define and shape an intellectual study. When in doubt, consult your professor or a source within your field of research to determine which term to use.

How to develop a conceptual framework

A conceptual framework is a written or visual representation of an expected relationship between variables . These are simply the characteristics or properties that you want to study. The conceptual framework is generally developed based on a literature review of existing studies and theories on the subject.

Research example

You want to know if students who study longer hours score higher on tests. To investigate this question, you can use methods such as an experiment or a survey to test the relationship between the variables. Before you start collecting data, build a conceptual framework to show exactly which variables you will measure and how you expect them to relate to each other .

A conceptual framework can be designed in many different ways. The form yours takes will depend on the kind of relationships you hope to find.

Independent and dependent variables

If we want to test a cause and effect relationship , we need to identify at least two key variables: the independent variable and the dependent variable . In our example:

  • The expected cause, “study hours”, is the independent variable (also known as a predictive or explanatory variable).
  • The expected effect, “test score,” is the dependent variable (also known as the response or the outcome variable).

In other words, the “exam score” depends on the “study hours.” Our hypothesis is that the more hours a student studies, the better they will do on the exam. Causal relationships often involve several independent variables that affect the dependent variable . However, to keep things simple, we will work with a single independent variable, namely “study hours.”

To visualize our expected cause-and-effect relationship, we must use the basic design components of boxes and arrows . Each variable appears in a box and then, to indicate a causal relationship, each arrow must start from the independent variable (the cause) and point to the dependent variable (the effect). Next, we need to identify other variables that could influence the relationship between our independent and dependent variables. Some common variables to include are moderators, mediators, and control variables.

Moderating variables

Now we will expand the frame by adding a moderator variable (also known as a moderator). This alters the effect that an independent variable has on a dependent variable . Therefore, the moderator changes the effect component of the cause-effect relationship. This is also known as the interaction effect.

In our example, we expect the number of hours a student studies to be related to their test score – the more they prepare, the higher their score. Now we add the moderator “IQ” . A student’s IQ level changes the effect that the “study hours” variable has on the test score: the higher his IQ, the fewer study hours he must spend to perform well on the test.

In other words, the moderator “IQ” moderates the effect that the number of study hours has on the test score.

Mediating variables

Now we will expand the frame by adding a mediating variable. In a cause-and-effect relationship, a mediating variable is a variable that links the independent and dependent variables , which allows the relationship between them to be better explained.

The mediating variable of “number of practice problems completed” is between the independent and dependent variables. Study hours affect the number of practice problems, which in turn affects your exam score.

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

By adding the mediating variable of “number of practice problems completed,” we help explain the cause-and-effect relationship between the two main variables. Note that mediating variables can be difficult to interpret and care must be taken when drawing conclusions from them.

Control variables

To test a cause-and-effect relationship, we must also consider other variables that we are not interested in measuring effects for, but which could affect students’ test scores. These are control variables , variables that are kept constant so that they do not interfere with the results .

For example, if a student is feeling ill, he or she is likely to score lower on the test. Therefore, we will add “health” as a control variable. This means that we must keep the variable “health” constant in our study; We will only include participants who are in good health on the day of the exam.

How to develop a theoretical framework

Contents of the theoretical framework

It is important to cite existing ideas and relevant theories, define key terms and research questions, and identify concepts.

How to identify and evaluate relevant models, theories and concepts? Use a literature review to assess how others have defined your key concepts, and compare their definitions to choose the best one for you. Please indicate any notable links between them. Describe the models related to your findings and explain why you decide to apply them to your writing.

Add other items

Depending on your educational discipline, feel free to include in your theoretical framework a full review of the current state of your research topic . Take into account the expectations of your professors in advance, analyze a specific field to get a clear idea of ​​similar studies, and clarify the position of your qualitative or quantitative research based on existing knowledge. Consider these important factors to present a good overview:

  • Describe relevant discussions in reliable sources of information;
  • Analyze both the differences and the similarities between your project and other studies;
  • Explain the models, methods and theories that others use (argue why a specific one is appropriate for your work);
  • Explain how it can be added to existing knowledge.

What questions should you answer? You can use your theoretical framework to answer descriptive questions or analyze more hypotheses and findings related to your topic. Use it to test and formulate your own hypothesis, which you will test during your research and study a little later.

How to structure your theoretical framework

There are no hard and fast rules you need to follow , the main thing is to create your logical structure based on key terms and assumptions. Feel free to write a paragraph or section that discusses each key hypothesis, question, and concept to end up with the best theoretical framework. Don’t forget to explore relevant models and theories.

How long should your theoretical framework be? There are no exact rules about its length, but many teachers advise their students to write it down to 3-5 pages . To be clear, it helps to include different graphics . Put them in a special appendix if you have space problems.

Conceptual or theoretical framework? One theoretical framework may not be appropriate for all studies based on different reasons, and that is why you may need to do the conceptual one (if you choose other people’s ideas or findings that are not based on theories). This type is based on different beliefs, assumptions, and concepts that students use to guide their efficient research, writing, and work. Use connected concepts instead of established theories .

How to correctly write your theoretical framework

You must follow several steps to make a theoretical framework as it should:

  • Write an introduction to capture the interest of your readers;
  • Explain a basis of the chosen problem;
  • Describe a case for your study;
  • Connect your research, audience, and problem.

Begin by writing your introduction to spark readers’ interest in your topic. Your theoretical framework should mention previous research and areas not studied to identify a purpose for your work and discuss existing knowledge. Describe how your proposed study may lead to useful research or gaps in previous research and explain your rationale in general terms.

Describe a case for your study and present relevant references. This is because a literature review is an important section of your thesis, dissertation or research paper, and your theoretical framework presents it by mentioning the main topics of your proposed study. Connect all the dots between your audience, problem, and project . When closing it, target readers need to understand its context and content, its future effect on the chosen field, and the potential benefits. There are certain things you need to be successful, including:

  • A solid thesis application;
  • Your unique research idea;
  • Samples of relevant information sources.

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