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Theoretical Framework vs. Conceptual Framework: What's the Difference and How to Use Them
Theoretical and conceptual frameworks are important concepts in academic research. They provide the foundation for a research project and guide the researcher in developing research questions and hypotheses. In this video, the difference between the two frameworks is explained, as well as their connection to one another.
Photo by Filipe Sabino
Theoretical frameworks are sets of concepts, definitions, and propositions that form a structured view of a specific phenomenon. They are a carefully curated collection of existing theories, models, and frameworks that provide a foundation of core knowledge. Theoretical frameworks are presented early on in the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper. For example, if a research project aims to understand what factors contribute to people trusting investment brokers, a theoretical framework would be needed to define the concept of trust and identify existing theories related to the research aim.
In other words, a theoretical framework provides a comprehensive overview of existing theories that establish a path for building arguments in your work. Researchers develop theories to comprehend phenomena, establish correlations, and make forecasts. A theoretical framework presents the established theories that endorse your research, highlighting the relevance of your paper or dissertation topic and establishing a firm foundation in established concepts.
Related: How Literature Review Helps in Research
Essentially, your theoretical framework validates and contextualizes your subsequent research, serving as a critical initial step for your research paper, thesis, or dissertation. A well-structured theoretical framework prepares you for success in the later stages of your research and writing process.
On the other hand, conceptual frameworks are visual representations of the expected relationships and connections between various constructs or variables. They provide an opportunity for researchers to make explicit their understanding of how key constructs and variables are connected. A conceptual framework is often used to develop research questions and hypotheses based on the researcher's understanding of both theoretical literature and empirical research.
In other words, a conceptual framework outlines the anticipated association between different variables, sets the objectives for the research process, and demonstrates how they converge to establish logical conclusions.
The two frameworks are not mutually exclusive, and it is possible to include both in a dissertation or thesis. The theoretical framework provides a foundation of theory on which the study is built, while the conceptual framework visualizes the anticipated relationships between constructs and variables based on the researcher's understanding of the existing literature and the specific context and focus of the research.
It is important for researchers to understand the difference between theoretical and conceptual frameworks to develop a strong research project. The theoretical framework lays the foundation for the study and ensures that the research is grounded in existing theories and models. The conceptual framework provides a visual representation of the relationships between constructs and variables and guides the development of research questions and hypotheses.
In summary, the theoretical framework and the conceptual framework are closely related but serve different functions. The theoretical framework provides a foundation for the theory on which the study is built, while the conceptual framework visualizes the anticipated relationships between constructs and variables. It is important for researchers to understand the difference between the two frameworks to develop a strong research project.