Understanding Theoretical Framework and Conceptual Framework
February 12 2018, By CharlesBruno Eze
If you have searched these two terms it might mean you find them confusing and sometimes use them interchangeably. They are not. They are two different research terms whose application is very important to the research work. And for your research, you will need to do a theoretical framework and a conceptual franework. This article is an attempt to simplify them and highlight their differences so that you will easily understand these key research terms. Simple examples will be employed to help you understand the differences and meanings clearly.
A theoretical framework shows how your work will be done with any of the existing theories. For instance, a literary reading of a novel to study the mental development of the main character through the course of the text will most likely employ the psychoanalytic theory of criticism. So in the theoretical framework of this research, the researcher will discuss the theory and highlight aspects of it that are apropos to the present research. In fact, in explaining the theory, the researcher can prove why the present research should be done.
However, a researcher can develop a research theory for his/her research work and doesn't necessarily have to use a theory already in literature. The theoretical framework becomes then, the structure upon which the research work is carried out.
A conceptual framework on the other hand is a design to define all the various parts of the research towards the research goals. The section of the conceptual framework synchronizes all the research variables to highlight their relatedness and how they bear upon the present research work. Going still with our example of a literary study of a person's mental development from childhood towards adulthood, the conceptual framework hones such terms as Bildungsroman, shifty consciousness, socialization, etc and shape them towards the present research. It draws from related works done in the past (literature), their findings and shortcomings and in doing so you are to discuss them with a view to tailoring them down to your research.
For the empirical sciences and in some cases, social sciences, the conceptual framework organizes the data of the results in a way that they are readable and lend themselves to be used for the research itself. In fact, for all kinds of research, the conceptual framework should discuss in detail every variable of it.
From the above you can see why some people, academicians included, use the two terms interchangeably. The conceptual framework is incorporated in the theoretical framework as the former broadens out from the latter.