Ideally a concept is an abstract idea which forms a basis for learning or argument. In this article, it is a part of the research process where ideas on the subject topic are studied. It is also an analytical tool used for comprehensive understanding of the subject topic for the readers of a research work.

Why do we use conceptual frameworks in research papers?

A conceptual framework is used in a research paper to explain the key concepts or variables and the relationships between them that need to be studied. Simply put, conceptual framework is the way ideas are organised to achieve a research project's purpose and explanation is the most common method employed.

While a conceptual framework means a researcher's perception about the research problem, it is still an arranged and self-explanatory method drafted for the readers.

In this article, we will examine:

  • the process of conceptual framework
  • the types of conceptual framework
  • the components of a good conceptual framework
  • the guidelines to writing a good conceptual framework

Process of Creating a Conceptual Framework.

Firstly, it is worthy to note that a conceptual framework is a structure. The researcher uses that structure to best explain the natural progression of the phenomenon to be studied (Camp, 2001). It is linked with the concepts, empirical research and important theories used in promoting and systemising the knowledge gathered by the researcher in the course of the study. The process of conceptual framework includes;

  1. Choose your topic: You have to decide on what will be your research topic. This should be based on your interest and available resources.
  2. Do a literature review: Visit relevant and updated researches on similar  topics to learn past used conceptual frameworks.
  3. Earmark the important variables (dependent and independent variables) in your study then use it to generate your conceptual framework.
  4. Expand your conceptual framework by identifying other variables (mediator, moderator, control variables) that might influence the relationship between your independent and dependent variables.

NB: 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.

Having gone through the  process of writing a conceptual framework, the types may interest you. There are various types of conceptual framework employed by researchers depending on their choice and the design of study. They are listed below.

The Types of Conceptual Frameworks are:

  1. Taxonomy
  2. Visual representation
  3. Mathematical description

Taxonomy:  This is a verbal description which categorises phenomena into classes. Relationships are evident inasmuch as those items within a class are alike; but the relationships among the classes are either weak or nonexistent. This type of conceptual framework doesn’t show relationships between classes.

The scope of the phenomena described may be narrow, but it is often broad. Evidence for the phenomena may be a result of direct experience, or developed from, logical reasoning, or developed empirically. Thus the source may be described as lacking rigor from a scientific viewpoint. Examples of taxonomies would include Barrett's (1968) Taxonomy of Comprehension, the descriptions of the reading process of. Fries (1962) or Lefevre (1964), and the lists of reading objectives often found in curriculum guides and basal reader guidebooks.

Visual Representation: This type of conceptual framework provides a picture of the phenomena, it shows that relationships between classes exist without showing the extent of the relationship. Relationships are shown between classes, whereas in the taxonomy no such relationships are usually  made. The phenomena presented may be as broad as the total reading situation or as narrow as a single grapheme-phoneme correspondence (GPC). The evidence must be at least logical and may have empirical support. It may come from authority opinion or research. From a scientific viewpoint evidence may or may not be rigorous. Examples of visual representations include the work of Gray (1960) and Robinson (1966) illustrating the major aspects of reading; the Goodman (1970) diagram of the reading process; and the work of Smith and Carrigan (1959).

Mathematical Description: This is a type of conceptual framework in which the phenomena can be expressed in some type of mathematical equation, although verbal description and pictorial representation are also possible. The relationships between phenomena are quantified with specific weights given to each; which clearly differentiates this type of conceptual framework from the visual representation which only shows that a relationship exists, but not the degree; and the taxonomy which may not show any relationship between the classes presented. The phenomena represented can probably be described as narrow in respect to reading; but this may change.

In this type, empirical evidence from research is required; but logical explanation may not be required since such frameworks may only represent what is, rather than why. Mathematical descriptions tend to be narrow in scope because only evidence that can be empirically gathered is included. An example of this type of conceptual framework is the work of Holmes (1960, 1965) and Singer (1965).

Note: There is no specific demarcation among the three types of conceptual frameworks. A mathematical description may be visually represented or verbally described. Likewise, a visual representation may be described verbally; and a picture of a taxonomy may be drawn although the relationship among the various classes would not be clearly evident. A taxonomy or visual representation could eventually become a mathematical description if the appropriate empirical evidence was gathered and analysed. It should not be assumed that one type of conceptual framework is inherently superior to another.

More Advanced Types of Conceptual Framework includes:

  1. Working hypothesis – exploration or exploratory research.
  2. Pillar questions – exploration or exploratory research.
  3. Descriptive categories – description or descriptive research.
  4. Practical ideal type – analysis.
  5. Models of operations research – decision making.
  6. Formal hypothesis – explanation and prediction.

However, in qualitative research, conceptual framework can be developed based on the research problem, objective and questions. The main goal of the conceptual framework is to illustrate your research approach in some pictorial or text form to ease reader's understanding. Generally, the type employed is usually picked in resonance with the research topic itself, a conceptual framework should be constructed before collecting data and this is done in chapter two.

Components of a Conceptual Framework.

  1. Definition of the topic.
  2. Qualitative characteristics and useful information on the topic.
  3. The elements of the topic
  4. Components of the topic.
  5. Presentation and closure.

Guidelines to Writing a Good Conceptual Framework.

  1. Select a topic for your research and carry out a literature review.
  2. Understand what research has already been carried out on the subject matter.
  3. Look for the specific variables explained in the literature and examine the relationship between them.
  4. Fill in the gap in knowledge.
  5. Create your conceptual framework; it can be in the form of a flowchart, mind map or concept map and explain thereafter.

[1] Camp, W. G. (2001). Formulating and Evaluating Theoretical Frameworks for Career and Technical Education Research. Journal of Vocational Educational Research, 26 (1), 27-39.

[2] Robert E (1970) A Schema for the Classification of Conceptual Frameworks Involving Reading. Journal of Reading Behavior, Vol. 3, No. 2, Spring, 16-18