Difference between Theoretical Framework and Conceptual Framework

Before describing what makes a ‘Theoretical Framework’ and a ‘Conceptual Framework’ so different when it comes to research, one needs to gain clarity as to what we exactly mean when we talk about a ‘Research Framework’.

A research framework is the particular perspective or point of view, in accordance to which a researcher conducts his research analysis. A researcher makes use of a research framework to guide him in exploring and interpreting his data and in finally arriving at desired results. Once a researcher’s data is in order, a framework of a research is used to reflect back and check whether the derived results agree with the chosen framework or if there are any discrepancies or gaps.

Theoretical Framework and Conceptual Framework;

While the two terms, Theoretical Framework and Conceptual Framework are used interchangeably at times, they vastly differ.

Let me explain with the help of an example:

Statement 1: A stimulus to any living organism causes a response.

Statement 2: The smell of freshly cooked and tasty food makes us hungry.

Statement 1 is analogous to what we call a ‘Theoretical framework’. A theoretical framework is a much broader and less specific term that explains how the research is guided and what it is loosely based on. This kind of a framework highlights what wide assumptions a researcher is carrying out his study on. It mostly provides a starting point for critical analysis that makes readers aware, as to what all previous knowledge the impending research draws from.

Just like a theory is much wider in scope, a theoretical framework is also a broader term.

Another important feature of a theoretical framework is the fact that it is less technical in nature and mostly a structure of ideas that study will be based on. Theories are made up of various concepts and the relationships between them that help in explaining or predicting other events phenomenon and behaviors. For example, the theory of evolution, set theory etc. In a similar manner, a theoretical framework consists of the theories a particular report derives from that will further help in explaining results.

Statement 2 however, is much more specific in nature and talks exclusively about a particular relationship between certain defined things. This statement derives its meaning from the first statement, but it vastly differs in terms of scope. Statement 2 is hence analogous to a ‘Conceptual Framework’. A conceptual framework of a study is the set of various specific concepts and their relationships that guide the analysis. However, a conceptual framework can derive its meaning from various theories at once.

One can say that a conceptual framework describes the relationships between specific variables identified in the study and traces the entire input-process-output for the same. A conceptual framework forms the research paradigm or the entire model for a research.

To summarize:

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