Question
Asked 7th Jan, 2015

What are the differences between conceptual framework and theoretical framework?

I am a PhD student of medical sociology. I have to use both the frameworks in my research project. Your valuable and easy to understand answers will help me a lot in my research design. 
regards.

Most recent answer

3rd Sep, 2018
Terngu S. Nomishan
Federal University Lokoja
The difference between theoretical and conceptual frameworks is scale -- referring to the Big Ideas and the smaller ones. The conceptual framework is a set of specific ideas that can be used within the larger theoretical framework. A theoretical framework may contain many ideas that are not explored within the paper or experiment it structures. However, by definition, all aspects of the conceptual framework are used in the process of research.
Note that a theoretical framework often informs the conceptual framework. For instance, a Freudian psychologist is likely to place a great deal of importance on early childhood data from their subjects. On the other hand, the theoretical framework may also determine what ideas are not considered by a conceptual framework: A behaviorist is unlikely to consider a subject's dreams.
1 Recommendation

Popular answers (1)

19th Jan, 2015
Larisa Nikitina
University of Malaya
I also have to have both theoretical and conceptual frameworks in my study. From my reading of literature on research methods in the social sciences and behavioural sciences, the two terms are not research design-specific. In other words, it is not so that one belongs to the qualitative paradigm while the other to the quantitative one. Though the terms might have been used interchangeably, in fact, they refer to different  things.
Theoretical framework in a study is based on an existing theory or theories (e.g., a theory of motivation). The conceptual framework, on the other hand, is something you can develop yourself based on this theory. You inevitably would use some --if not all-- concept that this particular theory operates with. In addition, in your conceptual framework you can add your own concept / constructs / variables that you think are relevant and then proceed to explore or test the relationship between them.  
Hope this helps and good luck!
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All Answers (349)

7th Jan, 2015
Aled Jones
Cardiff University
These are very similar terms and as such there is hardly any difference between them. Overall researchers tend to adopt one of the terms and then stick to that term throughout their work. Therefore you would not use these terms interchangeably, neither would you have both a conceptual AND theoretical framework within your study. I find Maxwell's research design book provides an useful overview for PhD students,  chapter 1 and 3 are freely available via the publishers (please see attached). Chapter 3 in particular is useful as it covers the topic of conceptual framework, chapter 1 provides an useful overview. Best of luck.
210 Recommendations
8th Jan, 2015
Patricia Ryser-Welch
Newscastle University
In machine learning "framework" is often employed to group techniques together. These frameworks often solves problems using stochastic methodologies. Some of them optimises algorithms too.  
8th Jan, 2015
Muhammad Kamran Nawaz
Liverpool John Moores University
While some scholars use both terms conceptual framework and model interchangeably, Jabareen (2009) disagrees and thinks that they are different. He explains that the term conceptual framework is better used when employing concepts alone, whereas the term model is better used when employing factors or variables.
3 Recommendations
9th Jan, 2015
Prashant Kulkarni
Centre for Infectious Diseases in India
Conceptual framework is developed by the researcher to solve a particular problem that he wants to find solution whereas theoretical framework is based on theories or general representation of relationship between various things. Conceptual framework assist in finding way to solve the problem and theoretical framework helps in relating your identified/ specific problem in general. 
20 Recommendations
11th Jan, 2015
Muhammad Usman Amin Siddiqi
Oregon State University
The two terms are most of the time used without specifically knowing which one is to be  used when. Theoretical framework represents context of studies which are based on particular theories - testing them or explaining them - or models based studies in psychology. Whereas conceptual framework is comparatively broad term representing context of the concept that the study is based on - explaining how and in what sense these terms have been used in this particular study. 
11 Recommendations
12th Jan, 2015
Pasand Ali Khoso
University of Sindh
thank you all for your valuable answers. 
12th Jan, 2015
Joseph Santonio
Walden University
In a nutshell and considering the conttibutions above a conceptual framework is used more often with qualitative research whilst  theoretical framework is often used with quantitative research.
2 Recommendations
13th Jan, 2015
Stephanie Howard Wilsher
University of East Anglia
Yes, Joseph, it is probably correct that conceptual frameworks are used more in qualitative research because of the often explanatory nature of this research. However, researchers also use theories in qualitative work. Conceptual frameworks allow ideas to be tried. For example I synthesized the theory of planned behaviour and risk theory to create a conceptual framework for my study.
5 Recommendations
16th Jan, 2015
Pasand Ali Khoso
University of Sindh
thanks all, special thanks to  Kathy for your valuable answer. it seems to be working and helpful. 
2 Recommendations
19th Jan, 2015
Larisa Nikitina
University of Malaya
I also have to have both theoretical and conceptual frameworks in my study. From my reading of literature on research methods in the social sciences and behavioural sciences, the two terms are not research design-specific. In other words, it is not so that one belongs to the qualitative paradigm while the other to the quantitative one. Though the terms might have been used interchangeably, in fact, they refer to different  things.
Theoretical framework in a study is based on an existing theory or theories (e.g., a theory of motivation). The conceptual framework, on the other hand, is something you can develop yourself based on this theory. You inevitably would use some --if not all-- concept that this particular theory operates with. In addition, in your conceptual framework you can add your own concept / constructs / variables that you think are relevant and then proceed to explore or test the relationship between them.  
Hope this helps and good luck!
251 Recommendations
28th Jan, 2015
Annalyn Diaz
University of Makati
Conceptual framework is basically based on how the variables are used in your study.  The theoretical framework is based on an existing theory.  Hope this helps.  This is the simplest I can give.
5 Recommendations
28th Jan, 2015
Barnabas Mbogo
University of Liverpool
looking from data analysis point of view, I would briefly add what Larisa Nikitina and Katherine Bischoping has indicated that:-
Theory driven analysis will be guided by theoretical framework where as Data driven analysis will be guided by Conceptual framework. 
4 Recommendations
19th Feb, 2015
Han Ping Fung
HP Inc.
Hi Pasand,
Albeit conceptual & theoretical frameworks are quite similar, however there some differences between the 2:
Conceptual framework is the framework that you are developing after rigorous literature review & wanted to test the hypotheses associated with the framework. Sometimes, conceptual framework also called research model or research framework by different researchers / scholars or after some refinements / fine-tuning.
Theoretical framework refers to previous theories, frameworks, models that you were reviewing during literature review. Normally, a researcher will develop his or her conceptual framework underpinned on some theoretical frameworks that s/he has reviewed. Usually, without theoretical frameworks to support your conceptual framework, you might expose to questioning during article review / thesis viva examination. Theoretical frameworks are important as they serve as life-saver / base / float in which without them a conceptual framework might sink miserably.
If you want to explore the differences among conceptual framework, theoretical framework, structural model and measurement model, you might want to take a look on the following post in RG:
Regards,
Fung
20 Recommendations
26th Nov, 2015
Upinder Dhar
Shri Vaishnav Vidyapeeth Vishwavidyalaya
Conceptual Framework refers to presenting conceptual background of the variables in terms of definitions available in the literature and the operational definitions adopted by the researcher.
Theoretical Framework refers to presenting the theories available in the literature. It facilitates the researcher in building a base for the proposed work.
4 Recommendations
27th Nov, 2015
Pasand Ali Khoso
University of Sindh
Dear Upinder Dhar thank u for your answer. Would you please write some more in the context of Qualitative Approach ?
Deleted profile
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.
Source: 
3 Recommendations
17th Feb, 2016
Enock Ruto
Kabarak University
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.
2 Recommendations
18th Feb, 2016
Pasand Ali Khoso
University of Sindh
Thank you for answering the question. Bu t I am still waiting for the specific answer with respect to qualitative research. I am very much clear on the question from quantitative research perspective but have confusions while using the same concepts in qualitative research approaches. 
23rd Feb, 2016
Abdulwahd Abushalla
Cranfield University
Hi, you may need to look at this article which suggest there is a Conceptual Difference between both items. It is a new article that was published in 2014.
12 Recommendations
9th Mar, 2016
Oscar Rubio
Autonomous University of Baja California
Great I had the same doubt. Now I understand. Thank you
1 Recommendation
4th Apr, 2016
Lilian Smart
Durham University
HELLO, PLEASE I NEED SOME SUGGESTIONS, AM WORKING ON THE CAUSES OF URBANISATION IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES AND WILL WANT TO KNOW THE BEST FRAMEWORK TO USE IN UNDERSTANDING URBANISATION IN DEVELOPING COUNTRY.
28th Jun, 2016
Hubert Amu
University of Health and Allied Sciences
Theoretical framework basically deals with the various theoretical underpinnings of your study. Thus, under this section, you can review all/a number of theories which are considered relevant to your study. This should constitute their assumptions, strengths, limitations/criticisms, application in previous studies and applicability to your study.
When you are done doing this, you can either "adopt" or "adapt" one of them to serve as your conceptual framework. You can also draw from more than one of them to create your own conceptual framework.
The conceptual framework then becomes what actually guides/underpins your study. In your analysis, you would have to incorporate the conceptual framework into your discussions. 
2 Recommendations
1st Jul, 2016
Kasili Mutambo
EUCLID
Often used interchangeably, but they are different. The conceptual framework is derived from related (conceptual)concepts or related theories (theoretical). Theoretical Framework used: test theories, make research findings meaningful and generalizable, to establish the orderly connection between observations and facts, predict and control situations, and stimulate research.The Conceptual Model Construct is used: make research findings meaningful and generalizable: and to form basic ideas,designs,plans, or strategies based on facts, situations and examples.
Prof Pasand Ali Khoso,
1) I think, if you used existing theory without any modification this called Theoretical framework.
2) If you developed new theory based on theories this called conceptual framework.
9 Recommendations
15th Jul, 2016
Ali Dehbozorgi
Chicago School of Professional Psychology
No wonder the world in "our mind" is so screwed-up....we cannot make up the meanings of these two elusive terms clear enough as to render them apprehend-able. I see them both as the properties of "knowledge" that we have plenty of, it is understanding we often lack.  In a way, that is goal of meaning-making that is made impossible by the way knowledge (philo-sophy) is fragmented into submissive imbecility by the academia, unable to get its act together. The point, ardently articulated by the brilliant Will Durant in preface to "The Story of Philosophy" . May his soul rest in heaven, and hopefully, if he hears my plea, send back his wisdom!!!         
22nd Aug, 2016
Charles Namisi
Makerere University, School of Public Health
Theoretical framework and conceptual framework; Leshem & Trafford 2007, Sinclair, 2007) uses them as synonyms while Maxwell, 2005, Miles & Huberman, 1994 takes them as the same, as they serve the same purpose. A theoretical framework (TF) was define as "empirical or quasi-empirical theories of social/psychological processes which exist at a variety of different levels an apply to the understanding of phenomena" -Anfara & Mertz, 2006, p.xvii. The TF is derived from theory  and is critical in deductive theory-testing studies. A conceptual framework (CF) "explains either graphically, or in narrative form, the main things to be studied-the key factors, concepts or variables -and the presumed relationship among them"-Miles & Huberman, 1994, p18. The CF is is derived from concepts Critical in inductive theory building exploratory studies. If at conceptualize you need more than one theory/concept, then that research will have to integrate theories/concepts using both theoretical and empirical findings leading to a model/conceptual framework (Imelda, 2014). We need the two; constructs are conceptualized at the theoretical framework and variables are operationalized and measured at the conceptual framework.
2 Recommendations
3rd Oct, 2016
Desalegn Siraj Shirko
Haramaya University
Thank you all of you for your all best answer. it was also a question for me along time.
17th Oct, 2016
Asmah Mahadi
Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia
Thank you so much.It's really help me!
1 Recommendation
17th Oct, 2016
Anil Kaushik
Massey University
Yes, it is true that the two terms refer to two different concepts. I have used both of them in my research. Larisa Nikitina's comments make sense to me but I don't agree with Aled Jones's comments.
In addition to these two terms, I designed and proposed my own framework/model based on the two. Some people also refer to the proposed framework as conceptual framework, but I preferred to call it simply a framework or model, just to differentiate the three.
1 Recommendation
20th Oct, 2016
Kasili Mutambo
EUCLID
theoretical and conceptual framework are often used interchangeably though they are different. Conceptual framework is used in new area of research while theoretical is based on theories developed over an area that has long history. Conceptual framework may include model constructs used to analyse and explain a phenomenon.
3 Recommendations
22nd Oct, 2016
Kasili Mutambo
EUCLID
Kindly do not the two in one research? Use only one that you are sure will help you analyse the phenomenon better?
1 Recommendation
5th Nov, 2016
Graziella Masindrazana
University of Antananarivo
Thank U all, very helpful!
7th Nov, 2016
Juliet Okwuchi
University of Nigeria
  • These answers have really helped me in my own doctoral research. Thanks all for your answers.
1 Recommendation
7th Nov, 2016
Patricia Barnes
University of Toledo
I have been researching the relationships between paradigms, theory, and conceptual models. I think-like most definitions/labels- depending on your overall worldview (which I believe is synonymous with paradigm) these can all be seen as more or less similar.
To me, paradigm is one's worldview (lens). This, I see, as related to one's epistemological stance. Is the world purely objective, purely subjective, or is it subjective but can be socially constructed into an agreed upon "objectives" to be used as such to accomplish empirically-based tasks (a commitment within relativism).  One's worldview/paradigm affects which theories of "x" are seen as most valid to oneself.
Thus worldview/paradigm is based upon one's epistemic beliefs and influences what theories of "x" (pick the subject in which you're interested) seem most valid. If one is a believer in logic as a method to test arguments (and not everyone is-you'd be surprised), then one can test theories using logic.
The term "concept" "conceptual", in my understanding, is best related to model, making it the conceptual model, which is the operationalized model (based on the theory in which a person is invested). It is the description of the variables operating in said theory. This is where I find most people have problems. Everyone seems to have a description of the "good" (high, best, most valued, sophisticated or complex) and of the "bad" (low,worst, least valued, immature or simplistic) yet have no description of any variations. I am from the social sciences and in our field it has seemed okay to use an agreement scale on surveys (only asking high/low items) to somehow illustrate the supposed graduations/ differentiation. I won't go into the statistical reasons why that is not logical, but only state that one cannot find something one has not described in a conceptual model. A dualistic high/low is not a measurement (ruler) and will not distinguish something the developer of the conceptual model has not described (and thus has not developed items to represent).
Using the terms "conceptual theory" instead of "theory" and "conceptual model", leaves out the most important (and least attended to aspect) that of operationalizing your variable(s) of interest in all it's supposed graduations (that the theory should account for/support). Albeit, detailed operationalization of variables to describe a scale of said variable is highly dependent on having a rich, extensive qualitative research base (from which one derives said descriptions). The building of a scale (with items build to represent such a conceptual model of any construct) moves to a mixed method design. Pure quantitative (quasi-experimental/experimental)  research cannot be accurately accomplished until one has a working (reliable) scale to use for accurate measurement of said variables. It is a commitment to agree to specific objective representations- an operationalized conceptual model (among potentially innumerable other representations) to bring the acknowledged subjective into a socially constructed objective role. 
I mention all the above as I am reading a lot of representations created by others that dualistically place all objective research paradigms as "concrete", "absolutist" and "empirical" and all subjective research paradigms as "abstract", "nuanced", and "humanistic". This continues to reinforce an unnatural/artificial distinction between all types of research. Research of any kind has always started with descriptions of shared phenomenon (physical or humanistic). To solve problems, we need shared understanding which includes measurement. Mixed methods are those used to create scales and bridge professions to enable more empirical, quantitative research methods.    
I think we need some more distinction between "theory" and "conceptual models" as the former is necessary to describe the "why" and the operationalization of the latter describes the "what (graduations) and how (they look in action)". 
While there is no one "Truth", we can commit to an agreed upon "truth" (as far as we know right now) so that we can move toward confirmation of our hypotheses. Clear agreed upon language (terms and definitions) is a large part of that social agreement to commit in relativism. 
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Deleted profile
3 Recommendations
13th Dec, 2016
Simona Zollet
Hiroshima University
thank you everyone for the discussion and for providing reading material!
13th Dec, 2016
Lilian Smart
Durham University
How can one write a good theoritical framework chapter in a phd thesis using existing theory? Your simplified answers will be helpful.
Deleted profile
  • The theoretical framework is how you conceptualize the nature of your research problem, its basis and the analysis you will choose to investigate that problem.
  • This framework determines how you perceive, make sense of, and interpret your data.
  • Explanation of the theoretical framework helps the reader understand your perspective and context.
  • The theoretical framework is a summary of your theory regarding a particular problem that is developed through a review of previous research on the variables involved.
  • It identifies a plan for investigation and interpretation of the findings.
  • The theoretical framework involves a well-supported rationale and is organized in a manner that helps the reader understand and assess your perspective.
  • The purpose is to demonstrate that the relationships you propose are not based on your personal instincts or guesses, but rather formed from facts obtained from authors of previous research.
  • http://www.statisticssolutions.com/theoretical-framework/
3 Recommendations
25th Jan, 2017
Jose Medina
Northcentral University
Explanation of Theoretical and Conceptual Frameworks
The theoretical framework (TF) is the “scaffolding” or structure that helps build knowledge within and across disciplines over time. Just like scaffolding does with buildings, a TF expands, shapes, and projects knowledge into different directions. As a researcher, you may claim to have discovered a better theoretical framework (TF) and challenge the existing one(s).  Similarly, as a researcher, you may tweak with the established TF to improve it. Additionally, as a researcher, you may embrace the established TF and confirm it by using: a different methodology, a different population of interest, or a different measurement technique.  Finally, as a researcher, you may accept an established theory and use it to support your own conceptual framework, or develop your own conceptual framework.
Let me illustrate the difference between the conceptual and theoretical frameworks using a widely-known theory, Maslow’s motivation theory:
Theoretical Framework
Maslow’s “human motivation theory” has been widely supported across many disciplines. It is most widely known as the “Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid” (Maslow, 1943). At its most basic level, the theory explains how humans respond to five “need levels”—1) physiological, 2) safety, 3) social belonging, 4) self-esteem and 5) self-actualization—from bottom to top, respectively. These need levels vary on their degree of influence to human motivation. The greatest motivation to satisfy a need is at the bottom of the pyramid—physiological--where needs are primal; and the least motivation to satisfy a need is at the top of the pyramid—self-actualization--where needs are not vital to our survival. The theory stipulates that humans will NOT move into a “higher level” of need-fulfillment until they have satisfied the immediate, lower-level need (Maslow, 1943).
Conceptual Framework in Organizational Behavior
The conceptual framework is how you apply the theoretical framework (i.e., human motivation theory) and its principles to your own study. Let us say for the sake of argument that you believe (based on your experience), or there is a reason to believe (based on credible research), that cultural affiliation—ability to associate with peers of the same cultural background-- is a critical factor for successful communication in the workplace. Based on Maslow’s human motivation theory, you (or anyone) may propose the following conceptual framework: “Giving the human need to seek socialization (third level in Maslow’s model) with peers of the same cultural background; effective communication among employees can be improved by leadership’s recognition of the importance of diversity.”
Reference
Bloomberg, L. D. & Volpe, M. (2008). Completing Your Qualitative Dissertation: A Roadmap from Beginning to End. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: http://dx.doi.org.proxy1.ncu.edu/10.4135/9781452226613
Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-396. doi:10.1037/h0054346
10 Recommendations
6th Mar, 2017
Diana Patricia Villavicencio
Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos
Thank you very much for your information, Aled!
1 Recommendation
22nd Mar, 2017
Nirmala S.V.S.G
Narayana Dental College and Hospital
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.
2 Recommendations
26th Mar, 2017
Seid Hussen Muhie
Wollo University
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.
2 Recommendations
9th May, 2017
Sukuna S. Vijayadevar
Victoria University of Wellington
Dear everyone this platform with plethora of information on conceptual and theoretical framework was really a great respite for a confounded mind. I have been struggling so much to understand  these dimensions and to use them in my thesis. The replies and the augmented readings provided has eased my mind. Thanks to the person who opened this Pandora's box. It was a long walk out of the dark tunnel to see light again. Thank you very much once again
3 Recommendations
9th May, 2017
Len Leonid Mizrah
Authernative, Inc., USA
As a PhD student, you may need to know that the theoretical framework is presented in the early section of a dissertation and provides the reason for conducting your chosen problem investigation.
As a researcher, you may came up with one or two cardinal ideas which you transformed into one or several concepts, laying within the theoretical framework, which if being consistently applied to your research data/results through this conceptual framework, allow to explain the entire dissertation material/results/conclusions.
2 Recommendations
26th May, 2017
Wilfred Apiung Akan
Hogeschool Van Hall Larenstein
Hello Everyone, How do you conceptualised social capital in the field of nutrition studies?
10th Jun, 2017
Patricia Barnes
University of Toledo
Not sure I mentioned this before, but after thinking about the relationship, I think, in my differentiation, there is a key difference that involves operationalization of the variables. My construct of these two terms is that theoretical ideas about what is "x" is framed by a researcher's specific theoretical orientation and is hypothetical, whereas, the conceptual model is one which is operationalized (based upon the assumptions of the theoretical). I don't see the two as separate, but as interrelated progressive steps in the research process. I feel that often, especially in fields interested in latent variables, we often "skip" the step of operationalizing those variables- how are they seen manifested in ways we can research them. I think that is the most difficult part of researching these types of variables. It is not enough to have strong theory, one needs to provide evidence to support that theory, necessitating some research design- and it means we need to conceptualize how the theoretical is manifested in a way that can be assessed. Does that make sense? I must admit to a pragmatist ontological philosophy, thus, while recognizing we create our own realities in our mind, I do think we also have interest in shared phenomenon. To solve problems regarding issues within our shared phenomenological world, it is imperative we can agree to descriptions of latent variables detailed enough and described in ways we can then investigate. That is to say, I agree there is no pure "right" way to construct our shared reality, I feel we must agree to some shared construction that best fits our needs. As a social scientist, I personally, have made my peace with "as far as we know right now" type of reality so that I can do scientifically based evidenced research (without getting into arguments about what is real/not real and how do we really KNOW what is reality). Reality, in this pragmatist view, is whatever we can agree upon it is and which can be captured for use in problem-solving. Therefore, to bring things back to center, theory encompasses the hypothetical, while conceptual modeling is the operationalization of how that hypothetical looks in "real life" so as to then capture it to develop some working standardized scale. Using psychopathology as an example, it is not enough to have a theory of what it means to be schizophrenic, there must also be some conceptual modeling that operationalizes it so that people can be "assessed" -which is the DSM operationalization. 
7 Recommendations
28th Jun, 2017
Adegboye James
The Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro
Theoretical Framework basically examines and  establishes those theories that already exist, the relationships between them, how far those theories were critically examined which then help the researcher to develop new hypotheses that is meant to be tested meanwhile it can be in part or full idea. The Conceptual Framework can simply be regarded as the concrete idea or real analysis of the researcher based on the aim and objectives of the study. The concrete idea of the researcher should be organised into something real.
5 Recommendations
17th Jul, 2017
Graziella Masindrazana
University of Antananarivo
Thank U all!
17th Jul, 2017
Fulu Nenungwi
University of KwaZulu-Natal
very helpful, thank you
9th Aug, 2017
Eric Offei Affedzie
University of Ghana
 I have also benefited from the responses. Thank you all
9th Aug, 2017
Kasili Mutambo
EUCLID
Theoritical and conceptual to some people they synonmous. Theoritical framework uses known theory to analysis and explain a phenomenon. Conceptual framework is used study a phenomenon in a new area where there a no known theory or little research has not been conclusive
1 Recommendation
16th Aug, 2017
Manoj Bhatta
Charles Darwin University
Very useful, thank you all for your answers.
24th Aug, 2017
Anna S. CohenMiller
Nazarbayev University
One additional insight to help distinguish these two can be used by considering the "concepts" and "theories" that are a part of each. So you can ask yourself, which  concepts are you considering as a part of your conceptual framework and which theories are you integrating? This usually helps to see the ways they differ. Hope it all went well!
3 Recommendations
14th Oct, 2017
Whyeda Gill-McLure
University of Wolverhampton
I think that for most purposes these can be used interchangably and are synonymous. At a deeper epistemological level, perhaps one can differentiate them. So, one could examine the issue of concept formation as Cassirer did. In sum, itdepends on the level of analysis and the subjet of inquiry.
1 Recommendation
14th Nov, 2017
Mario Cunha
Sciences Faculty, Porto University, Portugal
Many thanks for the helpful discussion
15th Nov, 2017
Kasili Mutambo
EUCLID
It is not a practice in research to use both conceptual framework and theoretical framework in a single research but use either singly
10th Dec, 2017
Mohamed Bala
Hamad Medical Corporation
Many thanks for the interesting discussion
14th Dec, 2017
Prince Yeboah Asare
University of Cape Coast
Wonderful discussions. It is good to also note that theories are general that it might not fit a particular context for which a research is being conducted. Hence conceptualising the study by way of developing a conceptual framework put a study in perspective. Thanks
14th Dec, 2017
Jawad Abbas
Friedrich Schiller University Jena
Very informative discussion. Thanks everyone for sharing your views.
1st Jan, 2018
Habibu Sharif Ahmed
Modibbo Adama University of Technology, Adama
Thanks you all for your useful comments. I now understand the differences
1 Recommendation
2nd Jan, 2018
Kasili Mutambo
EUCLID
To some people the conceptual and theoretical framework are synonymous.However, theoretical framework is founded on a proven theory in a widely researched and published area . Theoretical framework is used to investigate an offshoot of a known phenomenon, or confirm the behaviour of a known phenomenon. While conceptual framework is used in a new area not well researched and published. Often conceptual framework is expressed diagrammatically to depict relationship
of factors and outcomes of the phenomenon being investigated.
1 Recommendation
25th Jan, 2018
Tatang Ary Gumanti
Universitas Bhayangkara Jakarta Raya
I found the discussion is very helpful in understanding the difference between conceptual framework and theoretical framework. Thank you..
6th Feb, 2018
George Grandy
Hermann Gmeiner International Collge
On conceptual framework
In the generic form, conceptual frame could mean the integration of assumptions, concepts, beliefs and expectations that underpin a particular piece of research work. This could be a narrative or diagram which brings together key factors or variables and their relationships which the researcher wants to consider. This could be ‘theory driven or from commonsense’ (Miles and Huberman, 1994). Conceptual framework forces the researcher to develop tunnel vision on what specific things the research objective(s) address (es). It helps the researcher to focus on important relationships between the variables, the data to be collected and how to link up the analyses.
1 Recommendation
6th Feb, 2018
Kasili Mutambo
EUCLID
You cannot use both in a study. Use either in a study depending upon previous research or a new phenomenon
1 Recommendation
11th Mar, 2018
Alan White
Cardiff Metropolitan University
This question has attracted a great deal of interest and I am in some trepidation at the thought of adding anything useful to such an interesting discussion, with such a range of thoughtful answers. Perhaps I can offer a small contribution.
Deductive studies use a conceptual lens, through which a problem can be viewed. Sociologists have many options to choose from, such as power, motivation, feminism and Marxism, to name but a few. It is normal to select a single problem and a single objective lens, so as not to overcomplicate a limited study.
Once the objective lens is chosen, a thorough literature review is conducted to bring-to-bear all suitable theoretical perspectives in order to enrich the study. All theories are contested, but it is for the researcher to select the most appropriate theories and models to serve the purpose of their particular study. After balancing all the arguments carefully, the researcher must attempt to conceptualise 'possible' answers to the research problem while constructing open ended questions capable of searching for 'new' answers that are not pre-conceived. Thus the researcher creates a research instrument deemed capable of searching, in-depth, for old and new lines of interest. The research instrument should be 'based' on the researcher's evaluation of all relevant, current theory related to the chosen objective lens.
The summary of the literature review could take the form of a framework comprised of an amalgamation of several competing theories and models or it could be based on just one chosen theory, perhaps with modifications tailored to conduct a rich study of the research problem. The choice must be justified. A conceptual framework that is not a theoretical framework, is presumptuous for one claiming to conduct serious deductive research, as it ignores past contributions to theory.
Thus, a framework is merely a tool for deductive studies. That tool must be both 'conceptual' and 'theoretical' to be of value. Perhaps we should use the full term conceptual theoretical framework, but that seems over-pedantic to me. Yet, a theoretical framework must be, at one and the same time, a conceptual framework and visa versa.
I do hope the above is of some use to you Pasand Ali Khoso...
All good wishes for your research ... Alan
4 Recommendations
12th Mar, 2018
Tatang Ary Gumanti
Universitas Bhayangkara Jakarta Raya
Thank you very much Alan
It helps me to clearly understand more the difference between the two.
19th Mar, 2018
Peter R. Wright
Murdoch University
Great to see this discussion unfold, and many thanks for the differing viewpoints and understandings shared (that it still has 'legs' over this time shows both interest and a desire for clarity).
I think of theory as an explanation, so even though we have micro, meso and meta forms of theory, in a research study you will use theory for helping to think richly about the research and phenomenon of interest.
The conceptual framework is then made up of those elements that might be operationalised to form the specific focus/foci of the study itself.
in this way theory is the higher order 'idea', and the concepts you are research are what make the phenomenon of interest visible.
1 Recommendation
28th Mar, 2018
Reinaldo Requeiro
University of Cienfuegos
I agree that there is ambiguity in both terms, the definition depends on the authors.
I prefer those work that connect the concepts and are presented in models , that's what they call a conceptual framework and I do not think it's wrong, since research moves according to the limits imposed by these concepts.
These same researchers build a system of conceptual relationships which they call the theoretical framework, that is, the discourse that explains the relationship between the previously linked concepts.
10th Apr, 2018
Adekemi Sekoni
University of Lagos
Thank you all for the rich discussion
As a PhD student writing the qualitative section of my thesis I have benefited immensely. Thank you
20th Apr, 2018
Ngoako Solomon Marutha
University of South Africa
Both theoretical and conceptual frameworks may be into each other, especially when the focus is on using theory to frame the study since theories always has and use field concepts. It is only Concepts that may exclude theory but theory may not be possible to excludes field concepts.
14th May, 2018
Kasili Mutambo
EUCLID
I would certainly benefit from the ongoing discussions in my pursuit of PhD study
18th Jun, 2018
Abdullah Noori
Kabul University
Please read the article
Literature Reviews, Conceptual Frameworks, and Theoretical Frameworks by TS Rocco!
18th Jun, 2018
Edward Tumi Pitsie
The Da Vinci Institute for Technology Management
Thank you for the valuable discussion.
24th Jun, 2018
Alan White
Cardiff Metropolitan University
A beautifully written clarification Heather Douglas. You have outlined some of the key guiding principles in a way that demonstrates considerable scope and depth of understanding, which I view as very helpful. Yours is a most worthy addition to the discussion, especially in terms of defining purpose and practical application of concepts and theories to research. Thank you... Alan White
1 Recommendation
25th Jun, 2018
Kasili Mutambo
EUCLID
Madam Heather, well answered
25th Jun, 2018
Ogün İlter
Erzincan Binali Yıldırım University/ School of Foreign Languages
Ms Heather Dougles, thank you so much, you clarified the issue for me. :)
25th Jun, 2018
Alan White
Cardiff Metropolitan University
I hope I am not being presumptuous in extending this discussion beyond what Pasand Ali Khoso originally intended. This may be very important for some researchers.
Am I right to say that this conversation is now at the stage where 'modelling' can be introduced naturally to the conversation? A model can be the logical outcome of creating and using a theoretical framework. Modelling is to some degree intrinsic to, or is a natural outcome of, using such a framework.
Let us assume that a researcher has, through diligent examination of competing theories, managed to conceptualise an appropriate theoretical framework. Providing a competent research instrument has been developed and applied in order to generate knowledge (See Heather's point about research design and approach, above), the data collected should be significant enough to produce new lines of thought. If these are organised competently, contextually and robustly, the researcher may be able to propose a model. This may be a simple conceptual development of the original theoretical framework. Alternatively, the model may take on a completely different conceptual form to the theoretical framework.
Personally, I would like to see more models arising from social research, even at undergraduate level. I witnessed some superb examples when I supervised undergraduate dissertations. These dissertations almost invariably did more to convince examiners that students had made significant contributions to theory. Models that are compelling can generate impact and improve marks. PhD and Masters students may benefit significantly from such an approach too as it automatically produces an obvious contribution to theory.
A researcher's competence is largely about being able to explain their contribution simply in a viva voce. A model can facilitate this more easily and naturally, providing it is grounded on a thorough literature review and supported by an effective research approach. Models help examiners to visualise complexity and to perceive the contributions of a thesis more clearly. Helping examiners to do this tends to smooth the examination process and improve outcomes, in my opinion.
6th Jul, 2018
Kristine Lien Skog
Norwegian University of Life Science (NMBU)
I learned a lot by Elinor Ostrom when developing a conceptual framework for my PhD. mainly to separate conceptual vs theoretical and framework vs model. Here is cut and paste from McGinnis, M. D., & Ostrom, E. (2014). Social-ecological system framework: initial changes and continuing challenges. Ecology and Society, 19(2), 30. :
"Many analysts use the terms “framework,” “theory,” and “model” almost interchangeably, but we make a more precise distinction among these terms, as articulated by Ostrom (2005). A framework provides the basic vocabulary of concepts and terms that may be used to construct the kinds of causal explanations expected of a theory. Frameworks organize diagnostic, descriptive, and prescriptive inquiry. A theory posits specific causal relationships among core variables. In contrast, a model constitutes a more detailed manifestation of a general theoretical explanation in terms of the functional relationships among independent and dependent variables important in a particular setting.
Just as different models can be used to represent different aspects of a given theory, different theoretical explanations can be built upon the foundation of a common conceptual framework. Frameworks provide a metatheoretical language that can be used to compare theories. They attempt to identify the universal elements that any theory relevant to the same kind of phenomena would need to include. "
2 Recommendations
25th Jul, 2018
Moosa Manik
Villa College
After reading these excerpts, now I have a fair idea of what a TF is and what a CF is. Thanks to all the ocntributers.
17th Aug, 2018
Kasili Mutambo
EUCLID
Well articulated
22nd Aug, 2018
Tilimbe Jiya
The University of Warwick
Very helpful. Thank you all for your contributions.
23rd Aug, 2018
Mariano Ruiz Espejo
Universidad Católica San Antonio de Murcia
When concepts are no subjected to facts, conceptual framework and theoretical framework are sinonimous. If concepts are subjected to facts completely, there is not theoretical framework but practical one.
1 Recommendation
26th Aug, 2018
Masood Nawaz Kalyar
Government College University Faisalabad
Theoretical Framework:
A theoretical framework refers to the theory that a researcher chooses to guide him/her in his/her research. Thus, a theoretical framework is the application of a theory, or a set of concepts drawn from one and the same theory, to offer an explanation of an event, or shed some light on a particular phenomenon or research problem. This could refer to, for instance, the Theory of Planned behavior (TPB), Social Exchange Theory (SET), quantum mechanics, particulate theory of matter, or similar pre-existing generalisation – such as Newton’s laws of motion, gas laws, that could be applied to a given research problem, deductively (Imenda, 2014).
Conceptual Framework:
On the other hand, when a theory is inapplicable and/or insufficient to elucidate a phenomenon and/or relationships among various "concepts", the researcher may have to “synthesize” the existing views in the literature concerning a given situation – both theoretical and from empirical findings. The synthesis is called a model or conceptual framework, which essentially represents an ‘integrated’ way of looking at the problem (Liehr and Smith, 1999). For further details, please read the following article:
3 Recommendations
28th Aug, 2018
Whyeda Gill-McLure
University of Wolverhampton
I would agree that the terms are interchageable and a matter of preference/style. However, one term should be used consistently and throughout a piece of work once a choice has been made. The more difficlt question is: how do you construct conceptual framework? This is what Phd students generally struggle with.
1 Recommendation
28th Aug, 2018
Kasili Mutambo
EUCLID
You have got: Conceptual is derived from concept and visualization. From literature understand a problem and interrelationships of factors. Use power of visualization from literature review and power of thought of experiments from eminent scholars to identify and recognise patterns of the problem by thinking outside the box to simplify into components to develop a conceptual framework. Then conceptual framework drawn informs research methodology as well as empirical data collection and analysis for synthesis to give findings to draw implications informing conclusions with corresponding actionable recommendations as answers to a research problem. Theoretical framework: from literature review and theories of eminent scholars one is able to select a suitable theoretical framework to answer research questions by empirical data collection and analysis for synthesis to yield findings with implications to inform conclusions plus actionable recommendations as solution(s) to a research problem
28th Aug, 2018
Kasili Mutambo
EUCLID
the use of conceptual and theoretical framework is unacceptable but apply either alone in a research
30th Aug, 2018
Kasili Mutambo
EUCLID
very informative debate
1st Sep, 2018
Alan White
Cardiff Metropolitan University
I agree with Whyeda Gill-McLure, above. It is often a struggle for researchers. Even so, a well-conceptualised theoretical framework is still worth the effort, as it more often underpins successful research, in my experience as a supervisor. It makes the thesis flow more clearly for the examiner. It is about marks. So, it is well worth the struggle!
I find that virtually all research students tend to lack confidence in constructing a conceptual framework for their study, and this is particularly true in the case of PhD students. So, Whyeda Gill-McLure makes a very good point! Why is this so difficult? That is the key question.
I would argue that researchers are sometimes not taught to theorise and conceptualise at undergraduate level. So, the post-graduate struggle is inevitable. Is this at least part of the problem? Do you agree that basic undergraduate teaching should help?
Do you also agree that good research supervision ought to inform, advise and guide a researcher to theorise and so to construct a conceptual framework? So, what is the problem?
Experience tells me that some PhD supervisors can struggle with this too, because they have not recognised the value of the key creative process in organising the key elements of the literature review. Am I wrong? More importantly, how can students react positively, and what should students do proactively to address this when supervisors are failing them in this respect?
3rd Sep, 2018
Terngu S. Nomishan
Federal University Lokoja
The difference between theoretical and conceptual frameworks is scale -- referring to the Big Ideas and the smaller ones. The conceptual framework is a set of specific ideas that can be used within the larger theoretical framework. A theoretical framework may contain many ideas that are not explored within the paper or experiment it structures. However, by definition, all aspects of the conceptual framework are used in the process of research.
Note that a theoretical framework often informs the conceptual framework. For instance, a Freudian psychologist is likely to place a great deal of importance on early childhood data from their subjects. On the other hand, the theoretical framework may also determine what ideas are not considered by a conceptual framework: A behaviorist is unlikely to consider a subject's dreams.
1 Recommendation

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