What is the Difference Between the Theoretical and the Conceptual Framework?
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What is the Difference Between the Theoretical and the Conceptual Framework?

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. Read on to find out.

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.


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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.

For more information on examples of variables, visit simplyeducate.me, a free website devoted to research and statistics topics.

©Patrick Regoniel 29 August 2010 The Theoretical Framework | The Conceptual Framework

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Comments (24)

A good discussion, Patrick. Tweeted.

Nice article.

Cheryl McElligott

Excellent article - easy to understand

Thank you


Really. really helped me. Much thanks!!


This article has really helped me. Am writing my exams tomorrow. Thank you.


This article has helped me..thnx alot

I did not understand my text book until I read this

Thank you very much. i feel much better after reading your easily understandable article.

Welcome Mohamed for the feedback. I\'m glad this article served its purpose.

Bless you! Thanks!

The simplest understanding one could ever get on this issue. Thanks

I am using an Integrated Behavoiur Model as my theoritical framework and developed my own conceptual framework from there. I hope I am doing the right way in my research. 

Give credit where it is due. This is the simplest explanation In have come across in relation to framework. It will be great also if you could explain what they call analytical framework or framework of analysis. Thank you
Lovely. Could understand better.
Thank you for better and understandable approach of explanation about differences between theoretical framework and conceptual framework. I have a great concern on another name given to conceptual framework which is "research paradigm". My understanding of research paradigm is the philosophical foundation of research like interpretive, positivism. I hope referring the conceptual framework as research paradigm will create confusion.
This is very informative for a graduate students like me coz most often, these two concepts are not being clearly differentiated in the school, they are simply taught but without further application. Thank you so much Mr. Patrick R.
can i use both conceptual framework and theoretical framework in me research work?
can i use both conceptual and theoretical framework together?
Thanks - this makes it so much easier after all the different explanations I have read. This makes sense
Thanks for the article, felt much better after reading it.
This is good Patrick.
Very informative article. Thank you!
Thank you so much. That was very helpful!!! I needed some clarifications and I think got it here. God Bless you.
Hi Patrick, If in the course of writing my conceptual framework, I introduce some references, does it still serve as a conceptual framework and not a theoretical framework?