Many students, both in the undergraduate and graduate levels, have difficulty discriminating the theoretical from the conceptual framework. This requires a good understanding of both frameworks in order to conduct a good investigation. This article explains the two concepts in easily understandable language.

Many graduating college students and even graduate students have difficulty coming up with the conceptual framework and the theoretical framework of their thesis, a required section in thesis writing that serves as the students’ map on their first venture into research. The conceptual framework is almost always confused with the theoretical framework of the study.

What is the difference between the conceptual and the theoretical framework?

A conceptual framework is the researcher’s idea on how the research problem will have to be explored. This is founded on the theoretical framework, which lies on a much broader scale of resolution. The theoretical framework dwells on time tested theories that embody the findings of numerous investigations on how phenomena occur.

The theoretical framework provides a general representation of relationships between things in a given phenomenon. The conceptual framework, on the other hand, embodies the specific direction by which the research will have to be undertaken. Statistically speaking, the conceptual framework describes the relationship between specific variables identified in the study. It also outlines the input, process and output of the whole investigation. The conceptual framework is also called the research paradigm.

Examples of the Theoretical and the Conceptual Framework

The difference between theoretical framework and conceptual framework can be further clarified by the following examples on both concepts:

Theoretical Framework: Stimulus elicits response.

Conceptual Framework: New teaching method improves students’ academic performance.
Notice in the illustrative example that the theoretical framework basically differs from the conceptual framework in terms of scope. The theoretical framework describes a broader relationship between things. When stimulus is applied, response is expected. The conceptual framework is much more specific in defining this relationship. The conceptual framework specifies the variables that will have to be explored in the investigation. In this example, the variable “teaching method” represents stimulus while the “students’ academic performance” represents the response. The variables make clear the kind of statistical treatment that will have to be used to analyze the relationship.

How can students come up with their theoretical and conceptual framework?

In order to come up with their own set of theoretical and conceptual framework that will guide the conduct of the research, students have to review literature pertaining to their chosen research topic. Students need to read a lot and find out what has been studied so far in their respective fields and come up with their own synthesis of the literature. They should look for gaps in knowledge and identify what questions need to be answered or what problems need to be given solutions. Thus, they will be able to formulate their own conceptual framework to serve as guide in their research venture.

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