What is a conceptual framework? How do you prepare one? This article defines the meaning of conceptual framework and lists the steps on how to prepare it. A simplified example is added to strengthen the reader’s understanding.
In the course of preparing your research paper as one of the requirements for your course as an undergraduate or graduate student, you will need to write the conceptual framework of your study. The conceptual framework steers the whole research activity. The conceptual framework serves as a “map” or “rudder” that will guide you towards realizing the objectives or intent of your study.
What then is a conceptual framework in the context of empirical research? The next section defines and explains the term.
Definition of Conceptual Framework
A conceptual framework represents the researcher’s synthesis of literature on how to explain a phenomenon. It maps out the actions required in the course of the study given his previous knowledge of other researchers’ point of view and his observations on the subject of research.
In other words, the conceptual framework is the researcher’s understanding of how the particular variables in his study connect with each other. Thus, it identifies the variables required in the research investigation. It is the researcher’s “map” in pursuing the investigation.
As McGaghie et al. (2001) put it: The conceptual framework “sets the stage” for the presentation of the particular research question that drives the investigation being reported based on the problem statement. The problem statement of a thesis presents the context and the issues that caused the researcher to conduct the study.
The conceptual framework lies within a much broader framework called theoretical framework. The latter draws support from time-tested theories that embody the findings of many researchers on why and how a particular phenomenon occurs.
Step by Step Guide on How to Make the Conceptual Framework
Before you prepare your conceptual framework, you need to do the following things:
- Choose your topic. Decide on what will be your research topic. The topic should be within your field of specialization.
- Do a literature review. Review relevant and updated research on the theme that you decide to work on after scrutiny of the issue at hand. Preferably use peer-reviewed and well-known scientific journals as these are reliable sources of information.
- Isolate the important variables. Identify the specific variables described in the literature and figure out how these are related. Some abstracts contain the variables and the salient findings thus may serve the purpose. If these are not available, find the research paper’s summary. If the variables are not explicit in the summary, get back to the methodology or the results and discussion section and quickly identify the variables of the study and the significant findings. Read the TSPU Technique on how to skim efficiently articles and get to the important points without much fuss.
- Generate the conceptual framework. Build your conceptual framework using your mix of the variables from the scientific articles you have read. Your problem statement serves as a reference in constructing the conceptual framework. In effect, your study will attempt to answer a question that other researchers have not explained yet. Your research should address a knowledge gap.
Example of a Conceptual Framework
Statement number 5 introduced in an earlier post titled How to Write a Thesis Statement will serve as the basis of the illustrated conceptual framework in the following examples.
Thesis statement: Chronic exposure to blue light from LED screens (of computer monitors and television) deplete melatonin levels thus reduce the number of sleeping hours among middle-aged adults.
The study claims that blue light from the light emitting diodes (LED) inhibit the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep and wake cycles. Those affected experience insomnia; they sleep less than required (usually less than six hours), and this happens when they spend too much time working on their laptops or viewing the television at night.
Notice that the variables of the study are explicit in the paradigm presented in Figure 1. In the illustration, the two variables are 1) number of hours devoted in front of the computer, and 2) number of hours slept at night. The former is the independent variable while the latter is the dependent variable. Both of these variables are easy to measure. It is just counting the number of hours spent in front of the computer and the number of hours slept by the subjects of the study.
Assuming that other things are constant during the performance of the study, it will be possible to relate these two variables and confirm that indeed, blue light emanated from computer screens can affect one’s sleeping patterns. (Please read the article titled “Do you know that the computer can disturb your sleeping patterns?” to find out more about this phenomenon) A correlation analysis will show whether the relationship is significant or not.
e-Book on Conceptual Framework Development
Due to the popularity of this article, I wrote an e-Book designed to suit the needs of beginning researchers. This e-Book answers the many questions and comments regarding the preparation of the conceptual framework. I provide five practical examples based on existing literature to demonstrate the procedure.
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McGaghie, W. C.; Bordage, G.; and J. A. Shea (2001). Problem Statement, Conceptual Framework, and Research Question. Retrieved on January 5, 2015 from http://goo.gl/qLIUFg
©2015 January 5 P. A. Regoniel
Cite this article as: Regoniel, Patrick A. (January 5, 2015). Conceptual Framework: A Step by Step Guide on How to Make One. In SimplyEducate.Me. Retrieved from http://simplyeducate.me/2015/01/05/conceptual-framework-guide/
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Before studying the application of conceptual framework, we need to first define it. It can be defined as a ‘visual’ presentation of key variables, factors or concepts and their relationship among each other which have been or have to be studied in the research either graphically or in some other narrative form (Miles and Huberman, 1994).
How to define conceptual framework
Conceptual Framework is like pre-planning wherein we define what the research will include. However, the position of conceptual framework within Qualitative and Quantitative Research varies. The table below explains the difference in position.
In case of quantitative research, the researcher defines the research problem and key variables which will be used to resolve the problem. However, in case of qualitative research inductive position is applicable wherein the researcher seeks to build up theory. In such a situation, existing theories can be misleading and therefore the conceptual framework emerges after the research is complete.
However, here I should point out that researchers generally have an idea of what will feature in the study which could be treated as a tentative framework which would give an idea, however can be changed over the period of time.
How to develop conceptual framework?
There are several inputs which are essential when working on a conceptual framework. The two main elements are;
- Experiential Knowledge: technical knowledge, research background and personal experience.
- Literature Review: related theory, related research and other theories and research related to the topic.
The key steps for development of conceptual framework are:
- Identify the key variables used in the subject area of your study.
- Draw out key variables within something you have already written about the subject area i.e. literature review.
- Take one key variable and then brainstorm all the possible things related to the key variable.
- After all the variables have been defined, focus on number of relationships they can form with each other to determine the inter-relationships between all.
It can be presented in the form of; flow diagrams, tree diagrams, mind maps or even shape based diagrams. Below are some examples for better understanding:
Conceptual framework is essential to bring focus within the content and also acts as a link between literature, methodology and results.
- Miles, M. B., & Huberman, M. A. (1994): “Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expanded Sourcebook” (2nd edition). Beverley Hills, Sage.
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