By Dani Babb, PhD
One of the more frequently asked questions for our qualitative and quantitative methods experts is on the difference in theoretical and conceptual frameworks. The issue causes confusion for students, and sometimes mentors alike!
Both theoretical and conceptual frameworks are commonly used in dissertations to guide the research process and help structure the study, yet the elements are often confusing for students.
A theoretical framework is generally part of the introduction or literature review section of a dissertation. It provides an overview of the existing research on the topic and identifies the key concepts, theories, and models that will be used to analyze the data. The theoretical framework will explain the relationships between the variables and constructs that are relevant to the research question, and provide a basis for the hypotheses that will be tested in quantitative studies. Theoretical frameworks are often used in quantitative research to guide data collection, analysis, and interpretation. They can help researchers identify research gaps and formulate hypotheses.
A theoretical framework is approached as a broad set of principles, concepts, and assumptions that provide a systematic way of understanding and analyzing phenomena in a particular field of study.
Students may find that the theoretical framework consists of a set of interconnected concepts and theories that explain the relationships between variables or constructs.
On the other hand, a conceptual framework is usually included in the methodology or results section of a dissertation and is more specific - servicing ad a foundation for the study. It defines the key concepts and variables that will be used in the study, and outlines the relationships between them. The conceptual framework should explain how the study will be structured and how the data will be analyzed, and provide a basis for the conclusions and recommendations that will be drawn from the results.
Conceptual frameworks are often used in qualitative research to guide data collection, analysis, and interpretation. They help researchers develop a deeper understanding of the phenomena they are studying and generate new insights and perspectives.
In both cases, the framework serves as a roadmap for the research, helping to structure the study, guide the data collection and analysis, and provide a coherent and integrated account of the findings.
A theoretical framework provides a broader perspective and helps to guide research in a particular field, while a conceptual framework provides a more focused perspective and helps to guide a specific research study. If you need further assistance, we are glad to help you!