Question
Asked 4th Apr, 2014

What is the difference between literature review, theoretical analysis and conceptual analysis?

As a law researcher, I always have the feeling that these three are the same. Therefore, I want to learn from your experiences in this area of research. The concise answers and comments here will be of immense help to novice and up coming scholars.

Popular Answers (1)

5th May, 2014
J.H. Martin Willison
Dalhousie University
A "literature review" should cover all of the scientific literature in a field that is defined by the author. Much of this is usually achieved by reference to previous reviews. By doing this, it is not necessary to review all of the past literature, but all studies that have been published since the most recent thorough review should be included. The amount and quality of analysis in a review may vary from little (i.e. a mostly descriptive review) to a lot (i.e. an analytical review).
A theoretical analysis would only include reference to those works that are necessary for the analysis (although subjectively omitting works that may run counter to the analysis is not acceptable in a scientific work). The analysis should be rigorous.
A conceptual analysis may be the same as a theoretical analysis, but this category allows for more flexibility and less rigour. In essence, it's the first step in analyzing an idea and may be floated for the purpose of stimulating feedback.
These publication categories overlap (they are not mutually exclusive) and journal editors may define them in their own distinctive ways.
45 Recommendations

All Answers (31)

4th Apr, 2014
Andrew Messing
Harvard University
One key difference is that literature reviews can be broadly divided into a few categories:
1) those that are part of the research process (i.e., after deciding on a research question one looks at previous related research to see not only what the current state of research is but also what methods, experimental designs, etc., were used)
2) those that assess a question in some field (a meta-analysis)
3) the part of a research paper that reviews the literature in an empirical study
I've seen papers contain both "theoretical analysis" and "conceptual analysis" in the title, as in they can be fairly indistinguishable. However, 'theoretical analysis' can refer to an actual analysis of empirical data obtained through experiments but with a focus on theory rather than application (see e.g., A Theoretical Analysis of Feature Pooling in Visual Recognition http://machinelearning.wustl.edu/mlpapers/paper_files/icml2010_BoureauPL10.pdf). While "literature review" is in everything from research methods dictionaries/encyclopedias & textbooks to scholarship in the philosophy of science, "theoretical analysis" is not (at least not to refer to some specific type of academic output or methodological approach). Within certain meta-theoretical frameworks (grounded theory) and certain methodological approaches within particular fields (e.g., qualitative research in which thematic and/or content analysis is a necessary part of analyzing open-response data, interview data, and other non-quantitative data), one finds conceptual analysis used more regularly in a specific sense, but for the most part these terms can refer to any non-quantitative analysis. They do not, in general, have the kind of specific senses that "literature review" has.
14 Recommendations
5th May, 2014
J.H. Martin Willison
Dalhousie University
A "literature review" should cover all of the scientific literature in a field that is defined by the author. Much of this is usually achieved by reference to previous reviews. By doing this, it is not necessary to review all of the past literature, but all studies that have been published since the most recent thorough review should be included. The amount and quality of analysis in a review may vary from little (i.e. a mostly descriptive review) to a lot (i.e. an analytical review).
A theoretical analysis would only include reference to those works that are necessary for the analysis (although subjectively omitting works that may run counter to the analysis is not acceptable in a scientific work). The analysis should be rigorous.
A conceptual analysis may be the same as a theoretical analysis, but this category allows for more flexibility and less rigour. In essence, it's the first step in analyzing an idea and may be floated for the purpose of stimulating feedback.
These publication categories overlap (they are not mutually exclusive) and journal editors may define them in their own distinctive ways.
45 Recommendations
7th Jul, 2014
Patricia M. Shields
Texas State University
The expectations for a literature review, theoretical analysis and conceptual analysis will vary by field and scholarly outlet. A dissertation would generally require a much more comprehensive literature review than a journal article. A literature review for a political theory dissertation would require a much different approach than one for a psychology dissertation that uses experimental design with human subjects. The political theory literature would most likely include a lengthy discussion and critique of theories that go back to the ancient greeks and move forward in time. While the psychology experimental design literature review would focus more attention on previous studies that tackled the same or a related question. It would include an analysis of the theories, data, findings and methodology.  
It is a good idea to get examples of literature reviews in your field and analyze what made one of them stronger and one weaker.  If  you are working on a dissertation, find dissertations supervised by your advisor and get a sense of his or her expectations. Again, analyze them for strengths and weeknesses. 
Dr. Willison and Dr. Messing both gave good advise. 
Philosophers of science like Carl Hemple would suggest that theories are made up of concepts. So theoretical analysis would be on a grander scale whereas conceptual analysis would delve more deeply into the definitilons and ideas that are used to build theory. Carl Hemple is a positivist so for scholars with a different orientation, this insight may not apply. Again, getting back to the point that the meaning of literature review, conceptual analysis and theoretical analysis would vary by field.
 
 
3 Recommendations
4th Apr, 2015
Wilbert Mtessigwa
Open University of Tanzania (OUT)
Thanks for good answers!
10th Oct, 2015
Roy Bhikharie
Anton de Kom University of Suriname
Theoretical, conceptual, and empirical analyses employ literature reviews as instruments, whereas literature reviews can just serve the purpose of a review. And as Patricia M. Shields stated, 'the meaning of literature review, conceptual analysis and theoretical analysis would vary by field.' There are no absolute definitions of any term used in alpha and gamma sciences,thus no general agreement either :-)
1 Recommendation
12th Dec, 2015
Elpida Pafiti
National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
what about content analysis review?
12th Dec, 2015
Patricia M. Shields
Texas State University
I am not exactly sure what you mean by a content analysis review. Again, these things have very different meaning depending upon the field. You should try and get examples from your field. I think that this kind of content analysis is sometimes called a meta analysis. 
This is the way I would interpret your question.   Sometimes, the literature itself (perhaps a journal for a period of time) is content analyzed as a way to determine systematically, "what" the journal has been publishing. This would generally occur in two steps. First, some kind of descriptive framework for the possible content would be devised using the literature of the field. The framework could be operationalized into a content analysis coding sheet. Second, a set of articles from the journal would be chosen and then be content analyzed using the coding sheet. This of course is using the methodology of content analysis. Well know research methods books such as Earl Babbie's The Practice of Social Research have sections on how to do content analysis. When the analysis is performed, the scholar will know where the literature falls within the framework developed. 
I edit the journal Armed Forces & Society. One of my masters student's content analyzed articles in my journal using key themes in the literature (Civil-Military Relations, Logic of War, Military Organization, Regional Concentration, Discipline and Method) as a framework.  Each of the terms in the framework were defined using a broader literature. Then, the student looked at what was actually in the journal for the last several years doing a content analysis of the articles. I was able to use his results to better understand exactly what was coming out of the journal and to revise reviewer key words. See the study by Anthony Bowman at the link below.
3 Recommendations
1st Jan, 2016
Kim Woodbridge-Dodd
The University of Northampton
Thank you Patricia and all the other answers, I had been thinking a similar question to Muhammed. I'm completing a literature review for my thesis in an area, constructing social worker identity in mental health, where there is very little systematic or 'scientific' research. So have found myself reading literature reviews that include policy documents aimed at conceptualising the area and the issues I'm researching. I was wondering what a reasonable relationship was between critiquing peer reviewed studies and including arguments from 'expert' reviews of the topic in the literature review.
1st Jan, 2016
Patricia M. Shields
Texas State University
This is a very good question.  Here is a distinction to keep in mind.  Experts have reasoned arguments and often assert normative judgements. Empirical studies often test hypotheses in ways that are as objective as possible.  A sound empirical study is designed to eliminate alternative explanations.  When doing these literature reviews you mostly critique and discuss the findings, methods etc.  You might say author x found.....  On the other hand, when expert judgment is being reported you would say author Y argues (maintains, asserts, suggests....).  Make it clear that you are reporting a position or an opinion of an expert particularly when the expert has a "must" or "should" answer.  That way you are reporting on the normative judgment of an expert and not asserting the normative judgment yourself.  This is a literature review and you are reporting on the literature or the positions of these experts.  You would still be responsible critiquing the value of the argument.   Note that there can be agreement or disagreement across studies and sets of experts. This is the discussion that makes up the heart of a lively literature review.  Good Luck!
5 Recommendations
1st Jan, 2016
Zenonas Turskis
Vilnius Gediminas Technical University
Theoretical analysis means investigation of problem's decision process methods and peculiarities of the problem description and initial data impact on obtained results. Conceptual analysis means investigation of propositions how to solve a problem, braking the problem into discrete parts and seeing how these parts interacts in problem under investigation. Second step of this kind of this analysis is integrating separate parts to one. How it could be done? It is very important part of problem solution process. Literature review is a mean for determining who, when, why and how solved similar problems... what methods and data were applied to the problem solution and what results are after problem was solved
2 Recommendations
4th Apr, 2016
Nnamdi Umenze
Fort Hare University
I quite capture the meaning and essence of "literature review" but seem confused about "theoretical/conceptual framework." Can one please throw more light, for instance in a Legal Research topic, eg, " The Scope of Environmental Protection in the World Trade Organization Trading System" with a view to suggesting inadequate provision in that regard, what could form the theoretical / conceptual analysis?
1 Recommendation
11th Nov, 2016
Oluwatosin Akinmade
University of KwaZulu-Natal
Can someone give me information on how to kick start a theoritical argument.
1 Recommendation
11th Nov, 2016
Caroline Pade-Khene
Rhodes University
Understand your 'problem' to understand the relevant theory to explore and/or develop. Start with problem demarcation.
11th Nov, 2016
Patricia M. Shields
Texas State University
Theory is confusing because it can apply at the macro, micro and intermediate levels. So the arguments need to be attuned to the level of analysis.  
Most theory is about causation. It involves developing, defending and eventually testing hypotheses. Hypotheses are developed by using argument (reasons) and evidence. You can kickstart a theoretical argument by being clear about the level of analysis and by finding reasons the argument makes sense and evidence that the argument is supported by data. It is helpful if the reasons and data are focused at the same level of analysis. Remember data and reasons are intertwined just like inductive and deductive reasoning are intertwined. 
There are also different kinds of theories.  For example, classification is a basic kind of theory.  If you are working on classification than your arguments are about showing how certain things are alike or are different. Why are plants different than animals.  What organizing principles make it possible to determine if an organism is a plant or animal.  The theoretical argument is about articulating the argument.
Note that theoretical arguments seldom begin in a linear manner yet they need to be presented in a linear manner.  One way to jump start things is to use something like cards or post it notes.  Jot down key reasons or evidence that support a hypothesis on separate notes.  
After this is done, arrange the post-it note information in a way that seems logical.  Draft something from the notes and then edit for clarity. 
3 Recommendations
7th Jul, 2017
Abdinasir Mohamed
Asia Pacific University of Technology and Innovation
Thank you all of you; your invaluable information and your experience have shared with junior researchers 
1 Recommendation
10th Oct, 2017
Furaha Abwe
University of Cape Town
Thank you all for these discussions on theoretical and conceptual analysis. Very helpful responses.
11th Nov, 2017
Ibrahim Labaran Ali
University of Strathclyde
Thanks for the fruitful discussions. In my field - Operations Management, theoretical and conceptual framework is sometimes interchanged by some authors. Can anyone explain to me the main difference between conceptual and theoretical frameworks in operations management research?
1 Recommendation
12th Dec, 2017
Seyed Kazem Hoseini
Tarbiat Modares University
its a good article.
1 Recommendation
7th Jul, 2018
Dauglas Juma
Macquarie University
Dear all,
Thanks for above responses, I learned a lot.
Wanted to inquire : must there be a link (like one leading to another) between literature review and theoretical framework. Which one comes after another?
7th Jul, 2018
Professor Angelo Nicolaides
University of South Africa
A literature review is generally conducted to unveil approaches and activities which may be useful in examining the problem under study. The researcher recommends actions and strategies to be explored. He or she thus need to familiarize themselves with previous studies, thus facilitating a discussion which may solve a problem in for example a workplace setting. A conceptual framework is an analytical tool with a range of options and contexts. It is applied in different categories of work where an overall picture is needed and it is used to make conceptual clarifications and aids in organizing thoughts and resultant ideas.
3 Recommendations
8th Aug, 2018
Dauglas Juma
Macquarie University
Thank you Prof Angelo
8th Aug, 2018
Amar Hameed
Karatay Univeristy
There is an important difference between the Literature review research and the Analysis research; the authors in analysis should have there own results for theoretical or conceptual model put by the authors according to the problem statement and the objective of the research. The authors in literature review research should evaluate the results of others when these results are collected together chronically or objectively or .....
1 Recommendation
8th Aug, 2018
Amar Hameed
Karatay Univeristy
For the difference between theoretical and conceptual analysis, the inputs and outputs of the model are numerics or variables and constants in theoretical analysis, but they are concepts in the conceptual analysis.
1 Recommendation
8th Aug, 2018
Bahram Shahedi
Islamic Azad University.
Literature review and theoretical review by itself are not research because there is no empirical data or evidence based on objective reality involved. However, as an exploratory process, they are a vital part of the research that not only substantiates the problem, but linking theories in the area of study.
In response to Ibrahim Ali, Although theoretical framework, conceptual framework, analytical framework and theoretical perspective are often used interchangeably, they are different in the process of research.
The theoretical framework is a frame or model that empirically testable via hypothesis and is generally oriented toward a deductive approach, whereas a conceptual framework is a more abstract way of the idea, guiding the research. The conceptual framework is an inductive oriented approach and can't not be tested empirically.
3 Recommendations
8th Aug, 2018
Mika Moilanen
Kallionseutu
Our "literature review" cover all of the scientific literature in a field that is defined by the author and theory. Some of this is usually achieved by referencies comparing to the previous data. And it is not necessary to make analyse according to the data basis all of the past literature, but all studies that have been published since the most recent thorough review could be under analyse . The better data quality of analysis in a litterature review may vary from little segment of data to a larger database .
A theoretical data analysis would only be eg. a reference to those works or database that are the most efective and also necessary for the data analysis The analysis should be critical and the interesting for the results. It could be produce something new comaparing to the earlier and then it defence it´s place of earth research or some target which is found according to the data independently.
A data conceptual of analysis may be the same as a theoretical database analysis, but this theory allows for more scientific space of data and the less segment of analyse. In the end, it's the first database where it is analysed the issue and reverse for the purpose of stimulating and underlining the results. There have to be the trustfull platform that we can get samples of data time after time, which can direct our data analyse kronologically.
regards Mika Moilanen PD.
2 Recommendations
10th Oct, 2018
Mika Moilanen
Kallionseutu
Good audience, Assertion in literature claim of literature review:
It is time awake for the question in Bahram Shahedi's answer. That´s why I am arguing against mr Shahedi´s opinion for a previous debate:
"The conceptual framework is an inductive-oriented approach that can not be empirically tested. ???" I answer : Why not?" That´s why I will add a deeper philosophy: Mr Bahram "You obviously mean that research has been formulated as a problem that is being solved: It is only the inductive reasoning required for each universe study, this is a philosophy that is also empirical research although it is a literature review at the same". Answers are truly proposed eg. according to the doi/10.1177/0739456X17723971: Despite differences in procedures across various types of literature reviews, all the reviews can be conducted following eight common researches: formulating the research problem; developing and validating the review protocol; searching the literature; screening for inclusion; assessing quality; extracting data; analyzing and synthesizing data; and reporting the findings =summarize research. It should also be noted that the literature review process can be iterative in nature. While conducting the review, unforeseeable problems may arise that requires modifications to the research question and/or review protocol. An often-encountered problem is that the research or question was too broad and the researchers need to narrow down the topic and adjust the inclusion criterion. Various types of reviews do differ in the review protocol, selection of literature, and techniques for extracting, analyzing, and summarizing data. We summarized these differences in research every following paragraphs discuss each step in detail. And It is really true that the research collect the data according to the literature reviews, it still doesn´t matter are they called by as their names eg. the literature reviews or analysis, because the research needs all these details and they are clarified that we can say that these studies are empiric and summarized researches. The philosophical solution at the mind of literature reviews for the results of researches independently. Regards Mika Moilanen Phd answer.
1 Recommendation
10th Oct, 2018
Professor Angelo Nicolaides
University of South Africa
I concur fully with Mika...his assessment is spot on
12th Dec, 2018
Kabeer Haneef
Tsinghua University
In conceptual analysis, you have to critically demonstrate the key points regarding to your field of studies.but in terms of review of literature, needs to discuss others findings relevant to your topic
5 Recommendations
12th Dec, 2018
Kofi Agyekum
Kwame Nkrumah University Of Science and Technology
Following
3rd Mar, 2019
Jasmin Omercic
International Islamic University Malaysia
The best is to refer to multiple books, maybe 5 books, to compare how it is defined and discussed there to get an idea of what the differences are really. It may be quicker than receiving answers here if very urgent. But always welcome to ask for clarifications.
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