What is a Conceptual framework? And How to create it

Last Updated: 30 April 2024

When you embark on any journey, you need a plan that represents your intricate ideas. For instance, imagine you are working on building a house. Before embarking on the journey, you must have a clear outline of how each room will be organized, where the fireplace, windows, doors, and front porch will go, and how they will fit together to form your beautiful home. Thus, we can say that this plan is your conceptual framework for building the house.

In academia, understanding a conceptual framework and what it entails will help you grasp a research problem and guide you through your research process.

In this guide, we will define a conceptual framework, explain how to make one and provide examples of conceptual frameworks. 

What is Conceptual Framework 

A conceptual framework is an analytical tool for understanding ideas and how they relate to each other. It is used as a visual representation to help understand specific subjects in disciplines like medicine, social science, literature, etc., and to show how those ideas relate to the research study. 

A conceptual framework provides a foundation and standards for defining a research question by defining the scope of the research, identifying variables and appropriate methodologies, and finding the right meaning and answers to the query. In short, think of a conceptual framework as a diagram that shows the relationship between the identified variables.

A conceptual framework consists of four main essential elements:

  1. Overarching research question (s).
  2. Study parameters.
  3. Study variables.
  4. The potential relationship between variables.

Please note that you can create your conceptual framework using a mind map, process diagram, or flowchart. Use a conceptual framework template like the one below.

example of planning a conceptual; framework

Locate these essential elements of conceptual framework from literature, prior knowledge, and theory. Note that a strong conceptual framework lays the groundwork for good research.

Types of Conceptual Framework 

There are different types of conceptual frameworks for research. Let us explore each.


This type of conceptual framework organizes ideas into groups and is useful when working with large amounts of data.

The Taxonomy framework was developed in 1956 by Benjamin Bloom and consists of six major categories: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation.

Taxonomy was developed as a guide for educators to help learners fulfil learning objectives.

Visual Representation 

This is a type of conceptual framework that uses a graph or diagram to show the relationship between different variables. It is useful when trying to understand how these variables interact or influence each other. For instance, it shows the interaction between an independent variable (IV), the dependent variable (DV), and other variables.

Visual representation, when used as a conceptual framework, will help you understand the cause and effect of different variables. 

Working Hypothesis

A working hypothesis is a proposed explanation for further research. In other words, it is a hypothesis that is accepted as a foundation for further research in the hope of producing a more tentative theory. 

As a conceptual framework, a working hypothesis will help you understand the relationship between different variables.

Descriptive categories

Descriptive categories refer to a set of labels or classifications that describe and categorize different aspects or elements of the subject matter. As a conceptual framework, descriptive categories can help you organize your data, identify patterns, and make meaningful inferences or interpretations between different ideas. 

Pillar Questions 

This is a type of conceptual framework that serves as key inquiries that serve as a foundation for exploring a particular topic or subject. Pillar questions help in structuring and guiding an investigation and ensuring all the important elements have been addressed, and there is the need for a framework for analysis.

Pillar questions have been designed to elicit thoughtful responses and the need for further exploration. 

Practical Ideal Type

This type of conceptual framework refers to a model that incorporates both practical and idealized views of concepts or ideas. In other words, it provides an idealized model representing a perfect world. These models then serve as a reference point against which a real-world situation can be compared and analyzed. 

Practical ideal types provide a valuable tool for understanding and interpreting phenomena, challenging existing systems, and developing practical ways for improvement. 

Mathematical Description

As a conceptual framework, mathematical description uses equations, concepts, and principles to show the relationship between variables. Mathematical description relies on the application of mathematical methods, formalisms, and notations to analyze, describe, and simulate complex structures, patterns, and dynamics of systems or relationships.

Importance of a Conceptual Framework in Research

When using a conceptual framework, you explain why your topic is important both practically and theoretically. Additionally, a theoretical framework will help you show how the research methods will help you answer your questions.

According to Ravitch and Riggan's book How Conceptual Frameworks Guide Research, a conceptual framework is a thought integration mechanism for learning as one cultivates and generates knowledge from within and across communities. 

A conceptual framework will help you locate your research based on its newness and how it contributes to your field of study. According to Ravitch and Riggan, a conceptual framework is like a landmark or a compass of your vision apparatus.

Just like a compass helps you navigate through a new environment, a conceptual framework will help you understand how different ideas and concepts are related to one another within their study. Ravitch and Riggan suggested the following six ways of framing questions for scholars:

In other words, conceptual frameworks are like building blocks that researchers use to organize every detail of their study, including their thoughts, to see the bigger picture. This will then help them collect data, analyze it, deal with challenges, and draw meaningful conclusions.

Overall, a conceptual framework is a tool for structuring and understanding the different concepts and components of a study, showing how everything fits together to result in new knowledge in your field of study.

Roles and Uses of a Conceptual Framework

A conceptual framework provides a myriad of uses to help researchers in their work. The following are some of the uses:

Features of Conceptual Frameworks

Here are some of the key features of conceptual frameworks that contribute to laying the foundation for understanding and analyzing a particular subject.

Conceptual Definitions

A conceptual framework begins by clearly defining the key concepts, terms, and ideas related to a particular subject under investigation. This establishes a common understanding, ensuring that everyone is on the same page.

Qualitative Analysis

A conceptual framework can be developed through qualitative analysis, which is a systematic interpretation and analysis of nonnumerical data to uncover hidden means and patterns.

Indeterminist in Nature

Being indeterminist in nature, a conceptual framework doesn’t provide a way to predict an outcome. This means it recognizes the existence of factors that make room for uncertainty and doubt to arise in a system. Researchers should pay attention to factors such as randomness and the influence of multiple interactive variables that could lead to different outcomes within the same conditions.

Relationships and Connections

A conceptual framework identifies and explains the relationship between different elements by showing how they relate to and influence each other. This helps researchers see the bigger picture of how everything will eventually fit together.

Contextual Understanding

A contextual framework provides a basis for understanding a problem in the world. It considers the influencing factors and conditions that might affect the subject under investigation.

Theory Development

Conceptual frameworks involve developing theories to explain the phenomena being studied. These theories, in turn, provide a way to understand and predict future behavior or outcomes.

Steps to Make a Conceptual Framework.

While it might be intimidating at first, creating a conceptual framework is straightforward once you get down to it. Follow these steps to make your conceptual framework:

Step 1: Select Your Ideal Topic or Research Problem

Take a moment to understand your area of study and identify the research problem or topic. Conduct literature reviews to determine how many resources you currently have or need. A literature review will also help you gain a comprehensive understanding of the existing theories related to your area of interest.

Ensure you select a topic so that you can create a well-thought-out and rounded conceptual framework around it.

Step 2:  Determine Your Research Question

A research question will guide you when determining what exactly you want to achieve with the research, thus giving you a clear focus. A research question addressed by your conceptual framework should be specific and relate to your topic.

To help you with this, think of what, who, where, when, why, and how of your chosen topic that you wish to address with a conceptual framework. Knowing that you can come up with answers to the questions is proof that you can develop an effective conceptual framework.

Step 3: Conduct Comprehensive Research

The research process will likely take up most of your time because, at this step, you want to study and understand the works created by other authors in your field. You will need to go through various reliable and credible sources directly related to your topic to get the answers you need.

When doing this research, ensure you learn as much as possible about your topic to get insights into the different opinions and thoughts of other researchers you can.

Step 4: Determine Framework Variables

Next, choose at least two variables, dependent and independent variables, to test a cause-and-effect relationship. Independent variables are those that you can control or influence within your study. Dependent variables, on the other hand, change because of manipulation by the independent variable.

When considering what variables to include in your study, only consider those that play a significant role in your research problem. Take the following into account:

Consider existing literature, theories, or observations to help you identify variables. This ensures you cover only the most relevant topics, thus making your conceptual framework as succinct as possible.

Step 5:  Identify Other Variables

You may also have to identify other variables that could influence or affect the relationship between dependent and independent variables. Some of these common variables include:

Moderating Variables

These types of variables affect the strength and direction of the relationship between variables. In simpler terms, moderating variables can affect the effect components of the cause-and-effect relationship.

Moderating variables helps determine under what conditions the relationship between the dependent variable and independent variables is stronger or weaker. Thus, it provides a more nuanced understanding of the existing variables.

Mediating Variable

This type of variable helps in explaining the relationship between variables and clarifies how independent variables affect the independent variables.

An example of a mediating variable is, when researching the effects of job satisfaction, you are mediating variable could be a person's education level. It could explain why older people are more satisfied with their jobs because they have been in the profession for longer and have gained the required qualifications for their jobs.

Control Variable

A controlled variable is a condition or element in an experiment that remains constant throughout the study. This variable is kept constant to ensure it does not affect or influence other variables in a study. An example of a control variable in an experiment is participant age. If you are studying a new teaching method, all your participants will be of the same age.

Step 6: Visualize the Cause-and-Effect Relationship

Now that you have identified your variables, the next part of making a conceptual framework is visualizing the cause-and-effect relationship. It is important to identify how each variable influences or affects the other in a relationship.

You must be able to explain the relationship concisely because it will affect and influence conceptual frameworks that appear in a diagram. Additionally, having a clear and concise explanation will help your readers understand your conceptual framework.

Step 7: Desing the Framework

Based on the identified relationships, it is important to develop a clear hypothesis that articulates what you expect to achieve with the research. Creates tentative statements that can be tested or validated as part of your investigation.

Additionally, you need to consider contextual factors and assumptions relevant to your study. This includes cultural, historical, or environmental factors that could impact the relationships within these frameworks.

Your research problem statement becomes your research framework, and your attempt to answer it becomes the basis of your investigative study. This study will help reduce the knowledge gap and generate more accurate and relevant information.

When making your conceptual framework, use different shapes, lines, and arrows to show the connections between different components.

Step 8: Revise and refine the Conceptual Framework

The final step for making your conceptual framework is revising and refining it. Continuously revise and refine your conceptual framework to understand more about it.

Take note that the process of making a conceptual framework requires continuous refinement to align it with your research objectives and that it represents the complexities of your research problem.

Please note that depending on what you intend to include and the extent of the framework, your conceptual framework may look different from others.

Conceptual Framework Examples

Here are practical examples of conceptual frameworks in different fields.

1.   International Standards Board (IASB)

This is a conceptual framework for financial reporting that assists in the development of future International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and helps in the reviews of the existing standards that set out the underlying concepts.

They also help prepare financial statements by applying IFRS, such as dealing with accounting transactions when there is no accounting standard.

2.   Conceptual Framework for Educators' Preparation

Education systems use unit principles that are applicable to all programs to identify the skills and knowledge central to preparing students to be leaders of tomorrow who support developments. Through this conceptual framework, candidates will develop a belief that all students, regardless of their backgrounds, can learn and make positive changes in their communities and societies at large.

Related Readings:

We have other research-related blog posts that could also come in handy as you develop your research. Check these links:

Final Word

Conceptual frameworks are important tools that researchers use to understand relationships between different elements, such as theories, concepts, and ideas, forming the foundation for understanding a particular problem. By following the above guide, you can understand and make a conceptual framework that provides practical solutions to your research problem.

If you are struggling with writing a conceptual framework for your research or would wish to pay someone to write your research proposal, thesis, dissertation, or research paper, GradeCrest has the best research writers. They will formulate everything your research requires, analyze the data you will collect, write a fine writeup, or even make PPTs for defence.