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What Is a Conceptual Framework? | Tips & Examples

Published on August 2, 2022 by Bas Swaen and Tegan George. Revised on November 15, 2022.


A conceptual framework illustrates the expected relationship between your variables. It defines the relevant objectives for your research process and maps out how they come together to draw coherent conclusions.

Keep reading for a step-by-step guide to help you construct your own conceptual framework.

Table of contents

Developing a conceptual framework in research, step 1: choose your research question, step 2: select your independent and dependent variables, step 3: visualize your cause-and-effect relationship, step 4: identify other influencing variables, frequently asked questions about conceptual models.

A conceptual framework is a representation of the relationship you expect to see between your variables, or the characteristics or properties that you want to study.

Conceptual frameworks can be written or visual and are generally developed based on a literature review of existing studies about your topic.

Your research question guides your work by determining exactly what you want to find out, giving your research process a clear focus.

However, before you start collecting your data, consider constructing a conceptual framework. This will help you map out which variables you will measure and how you expect them to relate to one another.

In order to move forward with your research question and test a cause-and-effect relationship, you must first identify at least two key variables: your independent and dependent variables .

  • The expected cause, “hours of study,” is the independent variable (the predictor, or explanatory variable)
  • The expected effect, “exam score,” is the dependent variable (the response, or outcome variable).

Note that causal relationships often involve several independent variables that affect the dependent variable. For the purpose of this example, we’ll work with just one independent variable (“hours of study”).

Now that you’ve figured out your research question and variables, the first step in designing your conceptual framework is visualizing your expected cause-and-effect relationship.

We demonstrate this using basic design components of boxes and arrows. Here, each variable appears in a box. To indicate a causal relationship, each arrow should start from the independent variable (the cause) and point to the dependent variable (the effect).


It’s crucial to identify other variables that can influence the relationship between your independent and dependent variables early in your research process.

Some common variables to include are moderating, mediating, and control variables.

Moderating variables

Moderating variable (or moderators) alter the effect that an independent variable has on a dependent variable. In other words, moderators change the “effect” component of the cause-and-effect relationship.

Let’s add the moderator “IQ.” Here, a student’s IQ level can change the effect that the variable “hours of study” has on the exam score. The higher the IQ, the fewer hours of study are needed to do well on the exam.


Let’s take a look at how this might work. The graph below shows how the number of hours spent studying affects exam score. As expected, the more hours you study, the better your results. Here, a student who studies for 20 hours will get a perfect score.


But the graph looks different when we add our “IQ” moderator of 120. A student with this IQ will achieve a perfect score after just 15 hours of study.


Below, the value of the “IQ” moderator has been increased to 150. A student with this IQ will only need to invest five hours of study in order to get a perfect score.


Here, we see that a moderating variable does indeed change the cause-and-effect relationship between two variables.

Mediating variables

Now we’ll expand the framework by adding a mediating variable . Mediating variables link the independent and dependent variables, allowing the relationship between them to be better explained.

Here’s how the conceptual framework might look if a mediator variable were involved:


In this case, the mediator helps explain why studying more hours leads to a higher exam score. The more hours a student studies, the more practice problems they will complete; the more practice problems completed, the higher the student’s exam score will be.

Moderator vs. mediator

It’s important not to confuse moderating and mediating variables. To remember the difference, you can think of them in relation to the independent variable:

  • A moderating variable is not affected by the independent variable, even though it affects the dependent variable. For example, no matter how many hours you study (the independent variable), your IQ will not get higher.
  • A mediating variable is affected by the independent variable. In turn, it also affects the dependent variable. Therefore, it links the two variables and helps explain the relationship between them.

Control variables

Lastly,  control variables must also be taken into account. These are variables that are held constant so that they don’t interfere with the results. Even though you aren’t interested in measuring them for your study, it’s crucial to be aware of as many of them as you can be.


A mediator variable explains the process through which two variables are related, while a moderator variable affects the strength and direction of that relationship.

A confounding variable is closely related to both the independent and dependent variables in a study. An independent variable represents the supposed cause , while the dependent variable is the supposed effect . A confounding variable is a third variable that influences both the independent and dependent variables.

Failing to account for confounding variables can cause you to wrongly estimate the relationship between your independent and dependent variables.

Yes, but including more than one of either type requires multiple research questions .

For example, if you are interested in the effect of a diet on health, you can use multiple measures of health: blood sugar, blood pressure, weight, pulse, and many more. Each of these is its own dependent variable with its own research question.

You could also choose to look at the effect of exercise levels as well as diet, or even the additional effect of the two combined. Each of these is a separate independent variable .

To ensure the internal validity of an experiment , you should only change one independent variable at a time.

A control variable is any variable that’s held constant in a research study. It’s not a variable of interest in the study, but it’s controlled because it could influence the outcomes.

A confounding variable , also called a confounder or confounding factor, is a third variable in a study examining a potential cause-and-effect relationship.

A confounding variable is related to both the supposed cause and the supposed effect of the study. It can be difficult to separate the true effect of the independent variable from the effect of the confounding variable.

In your research design , it’s important to identify potential confounding variables and plan how you will reduce their impact.

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Defining The Conceptual Framework

Making a conceptual framework, conceptual framework for dmft students, conceptual framework guide, example frameworks, additional framework resources.

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What is it?

  • The researcher’s understanding/hypothesis/exploration of either an existing framework/model or how existing concepts come together to inform a particular problem. Shows the reader how different elements come together to facilitate research and a clear understanding of results.
  • Informs the research questions/methodology (problem statement drives framework drives RQs drives methodology)
  • A tool (linked concepts) to help facilitate the understanding of the relationship among concepts or variables in relation to the real-world. Each concept is linked to frame the project in question.
  • Falls inside of a larger theoretical framework (theoretical framework = explains the why and how of a particular phenomenon within a particular body of literature).
  • Can be a graphic or a narrative – but should always be explained and cited
  • Can be made up of theories and concepts

What does it do?

  • Explains or predicts the way key concepts/variables will come together to inform the problem/phenomenon
  • Gives the study direction/parameters
  • Helps the researcher organize ideas and clarify concepts
  • Introduces your research and how it will advance your field of practice. A conceptual framework should include concepts applicable to the field of study. These can be in the field or neighboring fields – as long as important details are captured and the framework is relevant to the problem. (alignment)

What should be in it?

  • Variables, concepts, theories, and/or parts of other existing frameworks

How to make a conceptual framework

  • With a topic in mind, go to the body of literature and start identifying the key concepts used by other studies. Figure out what’s been done by other researchers, and what needs to be done (either find a specific call to action outlined in the literature or make sure your proposed problem has yet to be studied in your specific setting). Use what you find needs to be done to either support a pre-identified problem or craft a general problem for study. Only rely on scholarly sources for this part of your research.
  • Begin to pull out variables, concepts, theories, and existing frameworks explained in the relevant literature.
  • If you’re building a framework, start thinking about how some of those variables, concepts, theories, and facets of existing frameworks come together to shape your problem. The problem could be a situational condition that requires a scholar-practitioner approach, the result of a practical need, or an opportunity to further an applicational study, project, or research. Remember, if the answer to your specific problem exists, you don’t need to conduct the study.
  • The actionable research you’d like to conduct will help shape what you include in your framework. Sketch the flow of your Applied Doctoral Project from start to finish and decide which variables are truly the best fit for your research.
  • Create a graphic representation of your framework (this part is optional, but often helps readers understand the flow of your research) Even if you do a graphic, first write out how the variables could influence your Applied Doctoral Project and introduce your methodology. Remember to use APA formatting in separating the sections of your framework to create a clear understanding of the framework for your reader.
  • As you move through your study, you may need to revise your framework.
  • Note for qualitative/quantitative research: If doing qualitative, make sure your framework doesn’t include arrow lines, which could imply causal or correlational linkages.
  • Conceptural and Theoretical Framework for DMFT Students This document is specific to DMFT students working on a conceptual or theoretical framework for their applied project.
  • Conceptual Framework Guide Use this guide to determine the guiding framework for your applied dissertation research.

Let’s say I’ve just taken a job as manager of a failing restaurant. Throughout first week, I notice the few customers they have are leaving unsatisfied. I need to figure out why and turn the establishment into a thriving restaurant. I get permission from the owner to do a study to figure out exactly what we need to do to raise levels of customer satisfaction. Since I have a specific problem and want to make sure my research produces valid results, I go to the literature to find out what others are finding about customer satisfaction in the food service industry. This particular restaurant is vegan focused – and my search of the literature doesn’t say anything specific about how to increase customer service in a vegan atmosphere, so I know this research needs to be done.

I find out there are different types of satisfaction across other genres of the food service industry, and the one I’m interested in is cumulative customer satisfaction. I then decide based on what I’m seeing in the literature that my definition of customer satisfaction is the way perception, evaluation, and psychological reaction to perception and evaluation of both tangible and intangible elements of the dining experience come together to inform customer expectations. Essentially, customer expectations inform customer satisfaction.

I then find across the literature many variables could be significant in determining customer satisfaction. Because the following keep appearing, they are the ones I choose to include in my framework: price, service, branding (branched out to include physical environment and promotion), and taste. I also learn by reading the literature, satisfaction can vary between genders – so I want to make sure to also collect demographic information in my survey. Gender, age, profession, and number of children are a few demographic variables I understand would be helpful to include based on my extensive literature review.

Note: this is a quantitative study. I’m including all variables in this study, and the variables I am testing are my independent variables. Here I’m working to see how each of the independent variables influences (or not) my dependent variable, customer satisfaction. If you are interested in qualitative study, read on for an example of how to make the same framework qualitative in nature.

Also note: when you create your framework, you’ll need to cite each facet of your framework. Tell the reader where you got everything you’re including. Not only is it in compliance with APA formatting, but also it raises your credibility as a researcher. Once you’ve built the narrative around your framework, you may also want to create a visual for your reader.

See below for one example of how to illustrate your framework:

sample of conceptual framework in research paper

If you’re interested in a qualitative study, be sure to omit arrows and other notations inferring statistical analysis. The only time it would be inappropriate to include a framework in qualitative study is in a grounded theory study, which is not something you’ll do in an applied doctoral study.

A visual example of a qualitative framework is below:


Some additional helpful resources in constructing a conceptual framework for study:

  • Problem Statement, Conceptual Framework, and Research Question. McGaghie, W. C.; Bordage, G.; and J. A. Shea (2001). Problem Statement, Conceptual Framework, and Research Question. Retrieved on January 5, 2015 from http://goo.gl/qLIUFg
  • Building a Conceptual Framework: Philosophy, Definitions, and Procedure
  • https://www.scribbr.com/dissertation/conceptual-framework/
  • https://www.projectguru.in/developing-conceptual-framework-in-a-research-paper/

Conceptual Framework Research

A conceptual framework is a synthetization of interrelated components and variables which help in solving a real-world problem. It is the final lens used for viewing the deductive resolution of an identified issue (Imenda, 2014). The development of a conceptual framework begins with a deductive assumption that a problem exists, and the application of processes, procedures, functional approach, models, or theory may be used for problem resolution (Zackoff et al., 2019). The application of theory in traditional theoretical research is to understand, explain, and predict phenomena (Swanson, 2013). In applied research the application of theory in problem solving focuses on how theory in conjunction with practice (applied action) and procedures (functional approach) frames vision, thinking, and action towards problem resolution. The inclusion of theory in a conceptual framework is not focused on validation or devaluation of applied theories. A concise way of viewing the conceptual framework is a list of understood fact-based conditions that presents the researcher’s prescribed thinking for solving the identified problem. These conditions provide a methodological rationale of interrelated ideas and approaches for beginning, executing, and defining the outcome of problem resolution efforts (Leshem & Trafford, 2007).

The term conceptual framework and theoretical framework are often and erroneously used interchangeably (Grant & Osanloo, 2014). Just as with traditional research, a theory does not or cannot be expected to explain all phenomenal conditions, a conceptual framework is not a random identification of disparate ideas meant to incase a problem. Instead it is a means of identifying and constructing for the researcher and reader alike an epistemological mindset and a functional worldview approach to the identified problem.

Grant, C., & Osanloo, A. (2014). Understanding, Selecting, and Integrating a Theoretical Framework in Dissertation Research: Creating the Blueprint for Your “House. ” Administrative Issues Journal: Connecting Education, Practice, and Research, 4(2), 12–26

Imenda, S. (2014). Is There a Conceptual Difference between Theoretical and Conceptual Frameworks? Sosyal Bilimler Dergisi/Journal of Social Sciences, 38(2), 185.

Leshem, S., & Trafford, V. (2007). Overlooking the conceptual framework. Innovations in Education & Teaching International, 44(1), 93–105. https://doi-org.proxy1.ncu.edu/10.1080/14703290601081407

Swanson, R. (2013). Theory building in applied disciplines . San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Zackoff, M. W., Real, F. J., Klein, M. D., Abramson, E. L., Li, S.-T. T., & Gusic, M. E. (2019). Enhancing Educational Scholarship Through Conceptual Frameworks: A Challenge and Roadmap for Medical Educators . Academic Pediatrics, 19(2), 135–141. https://doi-org.proxy1.ncu.edu/10.1016/j.acap.2018.08.003

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What is a Conceptual Framework and How to Make It (with Examples)

What is a Conceptual Framework and How to Make It (with Examples)

What is a Conceptual Framework and How to Make It (with Examples)

A strong conceptual framework underpins good research. A conceptual framework in research is used to understand a research problem and guide the development and analysis of the research. It serves as a roadmap to conceptualize and structure the work by providing an outline that connects different ideas, concepts, and theories within the field of study. A conceptual framework pictorially or verbally depicts presumed relationships among the study variables.

The purpose of a conceptual framework is to serve as a scheme for organizing and categorizing knowledge and thereby help researchers in developing theories and hypotheses and conducting empirical studies.

In this post, we explain what is a conceptual framework, and provide expert advice on how to make a conceptual framework, along with conceptual framework examples.

Table of Contents

What is a Conceptual Framework in Research

Definition of a conceptual framework.

A conceptual framework includes key concepts, variables, relationships, and assumptions that guide the academic inquiry. It establishes the theoretical underpinnings and provides a lens through which researchers can analyze and interpret data. A conceptual framework draws upon existing theories, models, or established bodies of knowledge to provide a structure for understanding the research problem. It defines the scope of research, identifying relevant variables, establishing research questions, and guiding the selection of appropriate methodologies and data analysis techniques.

Conceptual frameworks can be written or visual. Other types of conceptual framework representations might be taxonomic (verbal description categorizing phenomena into classes without showing relationships between classes) or mathematical descriptions (expression of phenomena in the form of mathematical equations).

sample of conceptual framework in research paper

Figure 1: Definition of a conceptual framework explained diagrammatically

Conceptual Framework Origin

The term conceptual framework appears to have originated in philosophy and systems theory, being used for the first time in the 1930s by the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. He bridged the theological, social, and physical sciences by providing a common conceptual framework. The use of the conceptual framework began early in accountancy and can be traced back to publications by William A. Paton and John B. Canning in the first quarter of the 20 th century. Thus, in the original framework, financial issues were addressed, such as useful features, basic elements, and variables needed to prepare financial statements. Nevertheless, a conceptual framework approach should be considered when starting your research journey in any field, from finance to social sciences to applied sciences.

Purpose and Importance of a Conceptual Framework in Research

The importance of a conceptual framework in research cannot be understated, irrespective of the field of study. It is important for the following reasons:

  • It clarifies the context of the study.
  • It justifies the study to the reader.
  • It helps you check your own understanding of the problem and the need for the study.
  • It illustrates the expected relationship between the variables and defines the objectives for the research.
  • It helps further refine the study objectives and choose the methods appropriate to meet them.

What to Include in a Conceptual Framework

Essential elements that a conceptual framework should include are as follows:

  • Overarching research question(s)
  • Study parameters
  • Study variables
  • Potential relationships between those variables.

The sources for these elements of a conceptual framework are literature, theory, and experience or prior knowledge.

How to Make a Conceptual Framework

Now that you know the essential elements, your next question will be how to make a conceptual framework.

For this, start by identifying the most suitable set of questions that your research aims to answer. Next, categorize the various variables. Finally, perform a rigorous analysis of the collected data and compile the final results to establish connections between the variables.

In short, the steps are as follows:

  • Choose appropriate research questions.
  • Define the different types of variables involved.
  • Determine the cause-and-effect relationships.

Be sure to make use of arrows and lines to depict the presence or absence of correlational linkages among the variables.

Developing a Conceptual Framework

Researchers should be adept at developing a conceptual framework. Here are the steps for developing a conceptual framework:

1. Identify a research question

Your research question guides your entire study, making it imperative to invest time and effort in formulating a question that aligns with your research goals and contributes to the existing body of knowledge. This step involves the following:

  • Choose a broad topic of interest
  • Conduct background research
  • Narrow down the focus
  • Define your goals
  • Make it specific and answerable
  • Consider significance and novelty
  • Seek feedback.

 2. Choose independent and dependent variables

The dependent variable is the main outcome you want to measure, explain, or predict in your study. It should be a variable that can be observed, measured, or assessed quantitatively or qualitatively. Independent variables are the factors or variables that may influence, explain, or predict changes in the dependent variable.

Choose independent and dependent variables for your study according to the research objectives, the nature of the phenomenon being studied, and the specific research design. The identification of variables is rooted in existing literature, theories, or your own observations.

3. Consider cause-and-effect relationships

To better understand and communicate the relationships between variables in your study, cause-and-effect relationships need to be visualized. This can be done by using path diagrams, cause-and-effect matrices, time series plots, scatter plots, bar charts, or heatmaps.

4. Identify other influencing variables

Besides the independent and dependent variables, researchers must understand and consider the following types of variables:

  • Moderating variable: A variable that influences the strength or direction of the relationship between an independent variable and a dependent variable.
  • Mediating variable: A variable that explains the relationship between an independent variable and a dependent variable and clarifies how the independent variable affects the dependent variable.
  • Control variable: A variable that is kept constant or controlled to avoid the influence of other factors that may affect the relationship between the independent and dependent variables.
  • Confounding variable: A type of unmeasured variable that is related to both the independent and dependent variables.

Example of a Conceptual Framework

Let us examine the following conceptual framework example. Let’s say your research topic is “ The Impact of Social Media Usage on Academic Performance among College Students .” Here, you want to investigate how social media usage affects academic performance in college students. Social media usage (encompassing frequency of social media use, time spent on social media platforms, and types of social media platforms used) is the independent variable, and academic performance (covering grades, exam scores, and class attendance) is the dependent variable.

This conceptual framework example also includes a mediating variable, study habits, which may explain how social media usage affects academic performance. Study habits (time spent studying, study environment, and use of study aids or resources) can act as a mechanism through which social media usage influences academic outcomes. Additionally, a moderating variable, self-discipline (level of self-control and self-regulation, ability to manage distractions, and prioritization skills), is included to examine how individual differences in self-control and discipline may influence the relationship between social media usage and academic performance.

Confounding variables are also identified (socioeconomic status, prior academic achievement), which are potential factors that may influence both social media usage and academic performance. These variables need to be considered and controlled in the study to ensure that any observed effects are specifically attributed to social media usage. A visual representation of this conceptual framework example is seen in Figure 2.

sample of conceptual framework in research paper

Figure 2: Visual representation of a conceptual framework for the topic “The Impact of Social Media Usage on Academic Performance among College Students”

Key Takeaways

Here is a snapshot of the basics of a conceptual framework in research:

  • A conceptual framework is an idea or model representing the subject or phenomena you intend to study.
  • It is primarily a researcher’s perception of the research problem. It can be used to develop hypotheses or testable research questions.
  • It provides a preliminary understanding of the factors at play, their interrelationships, and the underlying reasons.
  • It guides your research by aiding in the formulation of meaningful research questions, selection of appropriate methods, and identification of potential challenges to the validity of your findings.
  • It provides a structure for organizing and understanding data.
  • It allows you to chalk out the relationships between concepts and variables to understand them.
  • Variables besides dependent and independent variables (moderating, mediating, control, and confounding variables) must be considered when developing a conceptual framework.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a moderating variable and a mediating variable.

Moderating and mediating variables are easily confused. A moderating variable affects the direction and strength of this relationship, whereas a mediating explains how two variables relate.

What is the difference between independent variables, dependent variables, and confounding variables?

Independent variables are the variables manipulated to affect the outcome of an experiment (e.g., the dose of a fat-loss drug administered to rats). Dependent variables are variables being measured or observed in an experiment (e.g., changes in rat body weight as a result of the drug). A confounding variable distorts or masks the effects of the variables being studied because it is associated both with dependent variable and with the independent variable. For instance, in this example, pre-existing metabolic dysfunction in some rats could interact differently with the drug being studied and also affect rat body weight.

Should I have more than one dependent or independent variable in a study?

The need for more than one dependent or independent variable in a study depends on the research question, study design, and relationships being investigated. Note the following when making this decision for your research:

  • If your research question involves exploring the relationships between multiple variables or factors, it may be appropriate to have more than one dependent or independent variable.
  • If you have specific hypotheses about the relationships between several variables, it may be necessary to include multiple dependent or independent variables.
  • Adequate resources, sample size, and data collection methods should be considered when determining the number of dependent and independent variables to include.

What is a confounding variable?

A confounding variable is not the main focus of the study but can unintentionally influence the relationship between the independent and dependent variables. Confounding variables can introduce bias and give rise to misleading conclusions. These variables must be controlled to ensure that any observed relationship is genuinely due to the independent variable.

What is a control variable?

A control variable is something not of interest to the study’s objectives but is kept constant because it could influence the outcomes. Control variables can help prevent research biases and allow for a more accurate assessment of the relationship between the independent and dependent variables. Examples are (i) testing all participants at the same time (e.g., in the morning) to minimize the potential effects of circadian rhythms, (ii) ensuring that instruments are calibrated consistently before each measurement to minimize the influence of measurement errors, and (iii) randomization of participants across study groups.

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Theoretical vs Conceptual Framework

What they are & how they’re different (with examples)

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Reviewed By: Eunice Rautenbach (DTech) | March 2023

If you’re new to academic research, sooner or later you’re bound to run into the terms theoretical framework and conceptual framework . These are closely related but distinctly different things (despite some people using them interchangeably) and it’s important to understand what each means. In this post, we’ll unpack both theoretical and conceptual frameworks in plain language along with practical examples , so that you can approach your research with confidence.

Overview: Theoretical vs Conceptual

What is a theoretical framework, example of a theoretical framework, what is a conceptual framework, example of a conceptual framework.

  • Theoretical vs conceptual: which one should I use?

A theoretical framework (also sometimes referred to as a foundation of theory) is essentially a set of concepts, definitions, and propositions that together form a structured, comprehensive view of a specific phenomenon.

In other words, a theoretical framework is a collection of existing theories, models and frameworks that provides a foundation of core knowledge – a “lay of the land”, so to speak, from which you can build a research study. For this reason, it’s usually presented fairly early within the literature review section of a dissertation, thesis or research paper.

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Let’s look at an example to make the theoretical framework a little more tangible.

If your research aims involve understanding what factors contributed toward people trusting investment brokers, you’d need to first lay down some theory so that it’s crystal clear what exactly you mean by this. For example, you would need to define what you mean by “trust”, as there are many potential definitions of this concept. The same would be true for any other constructs or variables of interest.

You’d also need to identify what existing theories have to say in relation to your research aim. In this case, you could discuss some of the key literature in relation to organisational trust. A quick search on Google Scholar using some well-considered keywords generally provides a good starting point.

foundation of theory

Typically, you’ll present your theoretical framework in written form , although sometimes it will make sense to utilise some visuals to show how different theories relate to each other. Your theoretical framework may revolve around just one major theory , or it could comprise a collection of different interrelated theories and models. In some cases, there will be a lot to cover and in some cases, not. Regardless of size, the theoretical framework is a critical ingredient in any study.

Simply put, the theoretical framework is the core foundation of theory that you’ll build your research upon. As we’ve mentioned many times on the blog, good research is developed by standing on the shoulders of giants . It’s extremely unlikely that your research topic will be completely novel and that there’ll be absolutely no existing theory that relates to it. If that’s the case, the most likely explanation is that you just haven’t reviewed enough literature yet! So, make sure that you take the time to review and digest the seminal sources.

Need a helping hand?

sample of conceptual framework in research paper

A conceptual framework is typically a visual representation (although it can also be written out) of the expected relationships and connections between various concepts, constructs or variables. In other words, a conceptual framework visualises how the researcher views and organises the various concepts and variables within their study. This is typically based on aspects drawn from the theoretical framework, so there is a relationship between the two.

Quite commonly, conceptual frameworks are used to visualise the potential causal relationships and pathways that the researcher expects to find, based on their understanding of both the theoretical literature and the existing empirical research . Therefore, the conceptual framework is often used to develop research questions and hypotheses .

Let’s look at an example of a conceptual framework to make it a little more tangible. You’ll notice that in this specific conceptual framework, the hypotheses are integrated into the visual, helping to connect the rest of the document to the framework.

example of a conceptual framework

As you can see, conceptual frameworks often make use of different shapes , lines and arrows to visualise the connections and relationships between different components and/or variables. Ultimately, the conceptual framework provides an opportunity for you to make explicit your understanding of how everything is connected . So, be sure to make use of all the visual aids you can – clean design, well-considered colours and concise text are your friends.

Theoretical framework vs conceptual framework

As you can see, the theoretical framework and the conceptual framework are closely related concepts, but they differ in terms of focus and purpose. The theoretical framework is used to lay down a foundation of theory on which your study will be built, whereas the conceptual framework visualises what you anticipate the relationships between concepts, constructs and variables may be, based on your understanding of the existing literature and the specific context and focus of your research. In other words, they’re different tools for different jobs , but they’re neighbours in the toolbox.

Naturally, the theoretical framework and the conceptual framework are not mutually exclusive . In fact, it’s quite likely that you’ll include both in your dissertation or thesis, especially if your research aims involve investigating relationships between variables. Of course, every research project is different and universities differ in terms of their expectations for dissertations and theses, so it’s always a good idea to have a look at past projects to get a feel for what the norms and expectations are at your specific institution.

Want to learn more about research terminology, methods and techniques? Be sure to check out the rest of the Grad Coach blog . Alternatively, if you’re looking for hands-on help, have a look at our private coaching service , where we hold your hand through the research process, step by step.

sample of conceptual framework in research paper

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Thank you for giving a valuable lesson

Muhammed Ebrahim Feto

good thanks!

Benson Wandago


olawale rasaq

thanks for given very interested understand about both theoritical and conceptual framework


I am researching teacher beliefs about inclusive education but not using a theoretical framework just conceptual frame using teacher beliefs, inclusive education and inclusive practices as my concepts


good, fantastic

Melese Takele

great! thanks for the clarification. I am planning to use both for my implementation evaluation of EmONC service at primary health care facility level. its theoretical foundation rooted from the principles of implementation science.


This is a good one…now have a better understanding of Theoretical and Conceptual frameworks. Highly grateful

Ahmed Adumani

Very educating and fantastic,good to be part of you guys,I appreciate your enlightened concern.


Thanks for shedding light on these two t opics. Much clearer in my head now.

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sample of conceptual framework in research paper

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An Example of a Conceptual Framework with Statement of the Problem

This article shows an example of a conceptual framework. It demonstrates how a conceptual framework and the corresponding statement of the problem are organized and written in a dissertation. Take a look at how it is done, and try to make one for your paper. You may also use this in your thesis.

You may be thinking about too many theories to base your study on. However, a conceptual framework is inbuilt on a theory or model that serves as the basis for your research. Once you have decided which theory to adopt, try to figure out if that theory can best explain the phenomenon with all the associated variables in your study. The example below illustrates how this works.

Example of a Conceptual Framework

This example of a conceptual framework zeroes in on teachers’ professional development activities by espousing the idea. main argument, or thesis that teachers’ classroom performance is a critical factor for student academic performance. The researcher based her assumption from Weiner’s Attribution Theory that external and internal factors can improve performance.

For example, students may attribute their academic performance to their teachers ( external factor ). In contrast, the teachers may attribute their teaching performance to in-service training ( external facto r) and perhaps their teaching efficacy, job satisfaction, and attitude towards the teaching profession ( internal factors ). These relationships are illustrated in Figure 1.


Statement of the Problem

The purpose of this study is to provide baseline data on in-service training for English, Mathematics, and Science Fourth Year High School teachers from the School Year 2006 up to 2010. Also, a professional development model for teachers is proposed.

Specifically, this study sought answers to the following questions:

  • What are the most familiar in-service training activities among teachers? And what are their insights about these activities as to: (a) applicability in the classroom, (b) importance in the teaching profession, and (c) impact on student performance?
  • What feedback do teachers have of the in-service training programs attended in terms of (a) perception, and (b) satisfaction?
  • What are the teachers’ level of teaching efficacy, job satisfaction, and attitude towards the teaching profession?
  • What is the performance of the fourth year high school students in their Subject Achievement Tests in three subject areas: English, Mathematics, and Science during the first semester of SY 2010-2011?
  • Are the teachers’ perception and satisfaction regarding the in-service training programs predictors of their levels of teaching efficacy, job satisfaction, and attitude towards the teaching profession?
  • Are the teachers’ levels of teaching efficacy, job satisfaction, and attitude towards the teaching profession predictors of their student performance in the Subject Achievement Tests?
  • What enhanced professional development model for teachers can be developed on the basis of the results of this study?

Organized Flow of Ideas Characterize a Conceptual Framework

Now, you have learned how a theory is used and how the questions in the problem statement are formulated. Take note that the problem statement questions are arranged according to the flow of the conceptual framework.

First, it has questions on an inventory of in-service training activities , followed by the feedback . The next question is about teacher factors , then the results of student performance . The last question relates to the development of the enhanced professional development model .

Notice that all of the factors identified in the study serve as input to the final outcome of the study which is the enhanced professional development model. It is easy to conceptualize what the researcher is trying to incorporate in the training design for teachers’ professional development. It is a systematic representation of the intention, direction, and outcome of the study.

Can you make it? Yes, you can!

For further information on how to design a training, see the following video.

© 2015 January 19 M. G. Alvior Updated: 15 December 2020; 14 October 2023

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About the author, mary g. alvior, phd.

Dr. Mary Gillesania Alvior has PhD in Curriculum Development from West Visayas State University. She earned her Master of Arts in Teaching English from De La Salle University, Manila as Commission on Higher Education (CHED) scholar. As academic advisor, she helps learners succeed in their academic careers by providing them the necessary skills and tips in order to survive in this wobbling financial environment. In 2014, she got involved in the establishment of a language institute in the Middle East, particularly in the use of Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). Then she went to Thailand and became a lecturer in the international college and handled English and Graduate Education courses. From 2017 to 2021, she became the Focal Person for the Establishment of a Medical School, Director of Curriculum and Instructional Materials Development Office (CIMDO), Head of BAC Secretariat, Quality Management System (QMS) Leader, and TWG member of the Procurement for Medical Equipment. Currently, she is the coordinator of the Project Management Committee for the Establishment of the Medical School. In spite of numerous tasks, she is into data privacy, quality management system, and space industry.


thanks for the info. I have an idea now on how to write a Statement of the Problem and conceptual framework

You are welcome, Jenny.

Topic:relationship between quality assurance and principal role performance in secndary schools in kano metropolis, nigeria. Problem:can the relationship between quality assurance and principals role performance bringing effectiveness on academic performance of secondary school students in kano metropolis? What is the conceptual frame work of my thesis pls?

Hello, Muhammad. Just identify your variables. The independent and dependent variables and make relationships.

I need 5 different definitions of Research problem by different authors can you help with that

I’m so sorry Ife. Please search the internet or read more books. Thank you.

This has really helped me Thanks

i really need to understand conceptual framework pls….

Perhaps the book by Dr. Regoniel can help you a lot, Vinny.

do we really have to include the parameters of the problem statement in the conceptual framework?…thanks..

Yes, Paulo. The conceptual framework should contain the statement of the problem in a form of variables.

May I duplicate the study of yours in our institution? We got lot of trainings and seminars on instruction research and extensions. However, it seems that instruction is at stake due to absences of the teachers attending different professional development programs. I’d like to make a study on that to inform the admin and let them create/design a program that will enhance the capabilities of the teachers but will not affect the learning of the students. Further, are those trainings and seminars really improved their instruction, research and extension capabilities? Or applied what they have learned from those seminars and trainings? I would be grateful if give me permission to do study similar to yours. Thanks, Cecilia

Hello, Ma’am Cecilia. Yes, you may replicate it. Thank you.

Hi Ms. Mary! May I know the thesis title of your sample conceptual framework? Thank you. And can I use it as a sample for my graduate studies presentation on conceptual framework? Thanks.

Hello, Gine. Sure, it is my pleasure. My dissertation is entitled: In-Service Training Programs, Teacher Factors and Student Performance: Bases for Enhanced Professional Development Model for Teachers. Sorry for a late reply. I was so busy then. May I know where you are from?

maternal health and its impact on social-economic development

Hi Mary, can you help me in creating our conceptual framework regarding on students’ academic achievement in relation to their economic status? I hope you will pay attention of this.

Hello Chenny. How can I help you? Please give me some inputs. Or perhaps you can work on this, if there is direct correlation/relationship between acedemic achievement (grades in the subject or grade in all subjects for the entire year) then link it to economic status (poor, mid/average or rich according to their income) . Thank you.

Hi! I’m writting a dissertation on cardiovascular responses to inversion and how time affects the variable responses. The problem is that some treatment procedures are done at vague degrees of inversion. My quest is to find safer degrees to avoid detrimental consequences. Can you help me on how to write a conceptual framework on this?

Hello, Jibril. Perhaps, Dr. Patrick Regoniel can help you with that. Please contact him through the contact section in the upper right portion of the site. Or you click that link and ask him at the comments section, https://simplyeducate.me//2016/05/20/marketing-research/

is statement of the problem needed to conceptual framework?

Hi, JV. Yes! You should address the questions in the conceptual framework and vice versa. Make sure that the statement of the problem is aligned with the conceptual framework.

Hi Mary thanks very much for the example given . may I used my own mindmap even though is not on the theory I used?

Hello, Meriam. You may use your own but in using it make sure that it has something to do with the theory you use. Your mindmap must have relation to the theory. You may modify it but it represents the theory. for example, I used Attribution theory in my paper. Now, you may think of other variables/factors in which you can apply the Theory of Attribution.

Thanks very much for your prop response Mary. What other services do you offer regarding dissertation writing?

Here are the other services: Please click the link, https://simplyeducate.me//services/

Hello, can you help me with our research? Our research title is “Awareness of Senior High School Students on the Benefits and Risks of Coffee Consumption: an Analysis”. Thank you!!

Could you help me start with our conceptual framework? Idk how to get started with it.

Topic : Knowledge and practices of indigenous people towards to biodiversity conservation. Is anyone who can help me how to make a conceptional framework and statement of the problem? pleaseee.

Hi can you help me with our research? our topic is about learner-centered teaching strategies. our main concern is to know if there is a significant relationship between the respondents demographic profile such as their senior high school academic strand and the learner-centered approach used by their teacher. what conceptual framework do you suggest?

Good day, do you consider literature review as theoretical framework of the study? thanks

Thank you very much. It has really helped me a lot. I want to know how theoretical framework is clearly different from conceptual framework and how the variables can be positioned accurately as in using distributional or attributional method?

i need help on how to come up with a conceptual framework for this study: ICT Integration-Its Influence in Learner’s Study Habits

thank you very much

how can I prepare conceptual frame work on the research title the practices and challenges of educational supervision on the professional development of teachers.

I need your assistance in writing conceptual framework on “How can overcrowded classroom affect the academic performance of students at the primary school”

Dear Theodora, there are lots of literature on density of the classroom and it is a well studied concern. But with the pandemic nowadays, you cannot afford to have overcrowded classrooms due to health reasons. Search for literature using Google Scholar as it widely returns articles using your keyword search.

Hi, please assist with better ways of presenting conceptual framework for a study in gender, Village Saving Loan Associations and Household Decision making ability.

Dear NEK, please clarify what you want to do first by writing your statements of the problem. Example questions could be: 1) Is there a relationship between household decision making ability and gender?, 2) Is there a relationship between gender and the tendency to apply for a loan in Village Saving Loan Associations? Your conceptual framework depends on the issue you would like to work on. The purpose of your study should be crystal clear.

kindly help me come up with the conceptual framework am doing my research on,effects of tax revenue on economic performance

plss help me for my research its all about the effect of hand held devices and social media to the behavior of the stem student. plss help me ,i do not know how to make an SOP , conceptual frame work ,etc.

I have trouble till this time of my MSc. studies to design a comprehensive conceptual framework but this one is simple and easy to replicate however, there are no arrows showing the flow of the ideas, I found it difficult to follow. If you can include the directions of the arrows on the conceptual framework, it will be easy for students to espouse and replicate the idea. Thank you.

Thank you so much for providing valuable insights. This will definitely helpful for viewers who wanted to make bright career in this field. Courses and training will definitely helpful for gaining knowledge. Unified Mentor is an online learning platform that offers user-friendly certification courses. Learn and excel in your chosen field with ease. I hope you will like our platform and courses

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National Academies Press: OpenBook

Growing Up Global: The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries (2005)

Chapter: part i introduction and conceptual framework--1 introduction, part i introduction and conceptual framework.

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1 Introduction

In many parts of the developing world, simultaneous changes in technology, economics, culture, politics, demographics, the environment, and education have become so pervasive and globally inclusive as to create new and emergent conditions for the coming of age of recent cohorts. These changes are reaching across national boundaries and into the smallest rural communities, carrying with them both the transformative force of markets, technology, and democracy, but also the risk of marginalization. Adolescents and young adults whose lives are affected by these changes can be beneficiaries when they are prepared for them but can also bear their scars if they are not. Those who do not feel the immediate impact of these changes will nonetheless be affected indirectly as the overall pace and pervasiveness of change continue to accelerate.

While young people—a term used in this report to capture this phase of the life cycle roughly equivalent to the age range 10 to 24—have little opportunity to affect the speed and direction of change, some will soon be taking responsibility for its management as adults. Their success in making a well-timed and proficient transition from childhood to adulthood will fundamentally affect the extent to which they will be able to become active participants in and beneficiaries of global change in the future.

Concerns about how global forces are altering the passage into adulthood are all the more urgent because of the changing demographic profile of many developing countries. The acceleration of these global changes has coincided with unprecedented growth in the size of the population of young people in developing countries. In 2005, the total number of 10-24-year-olds is estimated to reach 1.5 billion, constituting nearly 30 percent of the

population of these regions. The population of young people of the world is quite unevenly distributed: 86 percent of all young people live in developing countries, and 71 percent of young people in developing countries currently live in Asia (United Nations, 2003b). Furthermore, rates of growth vary widely. In terms of absolute size, each subsequent cohort of young people in the developing world is projected to continue to increase until 2035, as the rapid growth in Africa and parts of Asia counteracts some slow declines in absolute numbers in other parts of Asia and in Latin America.

Across the developing world, the life experience of many young people today is profoundly different from the experience of their parents or even of young people growing up a decade ago. While change in and of itself is not new, the rapidity and scale of recent change has profound implications for both the opportunities and the risks faced by the current generation of young people and for relationships between the generations.

Improvements in health and survival have ensured for a great many more infants and children the opportunity to enjoy life into adolescence and beyond. These improvements, moreover, have meant that these children have developed better cognitively as well as in terms of physical health. Furthermore, the fertility transition, which is in process in most of the developing world, means that many young people are growing up with fewer siblings and in smaller households. Rapid urbanization also means that a higher percentage of young people are growing up in cities or moving to cities during their formative years. School enrollment and attainment are increasing around the world at the same time that ages of labor force entry are rising. With rising levels of education, young people have more possibilities to participate in a rapidly modernizing economy—in their local village, a nearby town, the capital city, or even another country—and experience and enjoy freer and more fulfilling lives. However, that promise cannot be realized without certain legal rights and protections and supportive institutions, including good schools, a sufficient number of remunerative and satisfying jobs, the opportunity for community participation and political voice, the absence of discrimination, good nutrition and health, access to health services, and, for women, a choice about freedom from premature marriage and childbearing.

Barriers to mobility have lessened due to reduced costs of transportation and increasingly available means of transportation at the same time that greater access to information conveys news of a wider range of geographic opportunities for schooling, jobs, and marriage partners. The development of a global youth culture is facilitated by the growing accessibility of international media and the Internet but at the same time fully effective connectivity requires adequate income to afford access, language competency, and computer literacy—skills that are hard for many young people to acquire without more and better schooling opportunities. Later ages of

marriage and childbearing increase opportunities for further schooling, but they also increase the time during which adolescents are exposed to premarital pregnancy and childbearing.

Young people in less developed regions are confronting opportunities and challenges unique to this historical time. Young people today, especially in urban areas, are the first generation to grow up with widespread access to a radio and increasingly also to television and with the growing potential for Internet connectivity at an early age. They are also the first generation to grow up in a world in which there has always been AIDS and, at least in some parts of the developing world, the first generation with nearly universal knowledge of and access to some form of contraception. This is the first generation to be covered during their childhood by the broad protections internationally recognized in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted in 1991) and supported, in many diverse local contexts, by the work of many international agencies as well as international, national, and local nongovernmental organizations.

In the context of today’s rapid changes, gender role socialization, which is itself undergoing change, combines conflicting messages and contradictory experiences as the global culture interacts with cultural realities on the ground. Girls have historically experienced the transition to adulthood very differently from boys. Although gender role socialization begins at birth, it has generally led to an increasingly sharp differentiation of roles, behaviors, and expectations beginning at the time boys and girls experience puberty and continuing through the assumption of adult roles. This process of socialization is reinforced through social norms, laws, and institutions that in many countries progressively restrict the mobility and public participation of adolescent girls and in some settings makes them seemingly invisible while providing expanded liberties, opportunities, and agency for adolescent boys. Boys and girls usually enter adulthood having experienced differences in the duration and content of schooling, having taken up different work roles in the home and workplace, and having been offered different opportunities for community participation. Furthermore, young women typically assume adult family roles sooner than young men because they marry younger, while young men often assume more public adult roles sooner through their participation in work and their greater opportunities for leadership in schools, communities, work, and sports.

These broad statements capture only the average tendencies for young people in developing countries. At the same time that young people everywhere are becoming part of a more integrated world, at least some people in every country are experiencing transitions to adulthood that increasingly resemble those that are typical of young people in developed countries. But differential rates of change have led, in some cases, to growing differences among adolescents within and across countries, as some young people

experience progress and others are left behind. Although poverty rates have been declining for developing countries as a whole, significant fractions of young people still live in poverty. Trends in poverty rates vary across regions, with big declines in Asia but an increase in poverty in Africa. In the panel’s view, the successful achievement by 2015 of many of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals will require that policy makers center their attention on adolescents (see Box 1-1 ).

Critics of globalization argue that it has been associated with growing income inequality and social polarization, as some local participants in global change improve their economic situation while the livelihoods of others remain largely unchanged or decline (see, for example, Milanovic, 2003; United Nations, 2004; Wade, 2004). Over time the situation of those left behind may actually deteriorate, as their skills and assets become less

and less valued. Relative and absolute poverty may increase within countries as well as across them. Growing economic inequality has reverberating consequences for the next generation. Young people growing up in poverty are the most vulnerable to the negative consequences of globalization and are in the greatest need of protection and support.

The very different demographic, political, and economic circumstances of countries throughout the developing world mean that the experiences of today’s young people, and the implications of globalization for them, vary enormously. From young women in garment factories in Bangladesh, to child soldiers in Sierra Leone, to university students in Mexico, to unemployed youth in refugee communities in Palestine, to young workers in the Silicon Valley of India, to family farm workers in Egypt, to young Pakistani migrant workers in the Persian Gulf, to young wives of polygamous husbands in Senegal, one can only begin to imagine the range of experience that these examples encompass. Indeed, the diversity of experiences can only be growing, as traditional roles persist, albeit experienced in qualitatively different ways than in the past, and at the same time new opportunities and experiences emerge. Young people are adaptable and continue to demonstrate resilience in handling the contradictions of today’s world. However, the challenge is to ensure successful transitions to adulthood in these rapidly changing circumstances and to spread opportunities for success more equitably given the enormous gaps that persist between rich and poor and between boys and girls. Policies and programs, if they are to be effective, will need to be evidence-based, appropriate to the local context, and embraced and supported by the local community.


Recognizing the critical gaps in knowledge of the transitions to adulthood in developing countries in this time of rapid change, the National Academies convened a panel of experts to review the research in this area and related implications for policies and programs. Specifically, the panel’s charge was to

document the situation and status of adolescents and young adults in developing countries, highlighting what is known about various (and multiple) transitions to adulthood, with special emphasis on gender differences;

ascertain the changes that are occurring in the nature, timing, sequencing, and interrelationships of transitions to adulthood in developing countries;

assess the knowledge base regarding the causes and consequences of these changes;

identify the implications of this knowledge for policy and program interventions affecting adolescent reproductive health; and

identify research priorities that are scientifically promising and relevant for integrating adolescent research and policy.

The charge to the panel was intentionally very broad because the National Academies recognized that the transition to adulthood is multifaceted and comprises multiple and interrelated transitions across different spheres of life. To implement the charge, the panel reviewed knowledge on the full range of transitions to adulthood—schooling, health, work, citizenship, marriage, and parenthood, as well as policies and programs affecting all of these transitions. This was necessary because transitions are interrelated and interventions directed at any single transition can affect other transitions. The panel therefore addressed both the direct and indirect effects of policies and programs on adolescent reproductive health, to the extent possible given existing research and data.

The juxtaposition of diversity in the lives of young people in less developed regions and incomplete data coverage of the full range of contemporary experiences presented special challenges to the panel. The recognition that a study, no matter how comprehensive and empirically grounded, would inevitably neglect the experience of some young people led the panel to set the study in a conceptual framework that is neither time nor context specific. This allows the reader to adapt the framework (presented in the next chapter) to an understanding of the lives of the many young people whose stories will not be told or will be told only with respect to a specific time and place that is undergoing rapid change. Furthermore, in assessing the experiences of young people, the panel developed its own set of definitions of successful transitions to adulthood against which the actual experiences of young people could be compared. These definitions build on our understanding of adolescent development and of the contemporary global context and provide an essential yardstick with which data and research findings can be interpreted.

The panel’s approach was to build on the positive while not ignoring the negative. Thus, while the emphasis is on opportunity and how it can be enhanced, the panel did not ignore the risks and constraints of contemporary life. Indeed, special attention was paid to examining both success stories and failures from past policies and programs designed to reduce risks and lift constraints, particularly as they apply to the disadvantaged. The panel gives special emphasis throughout the report to the different experiences of young men and women and to the circumstances of the poor regardless of gender. The panel views the achievement and maintenance of health, in particular reproductive health during the adolescent years, as integrally connected to success in other developmental domains.

We therefore emphasize in the report the interrelationships between these developmental domains and policies and programs that may affect these interrelationships.

The panel defined adulthood as a set of culturally, historically, and gender-specific activities, rights, and responsibilities that people acquire over time by means of a process of transition. The transition to adulthood begins during adolescence, but it continues beyond adolescence, sometimes even into the late 20s or early 30s. Therefore, in several places in the subsequent descriptive analysis, we make reference to

an early phase of the transition (between ages 10 and 14),

a middle phase of the transition (between ages 15 and 20), and

a later phase of the transition (21+).

It is important for a report such as this to define terms such as “children,” “adolescents,” “youth,” and “young people” and then use them consistently since the definitions and nuances of these terms vary from country to country and no common consensus exists. Even within the international community there is no ready and straightforward agreement. For example, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child covers all children, defined as anyone under the age of 18, while the International Labour Organization (ILO)’s Minimum Age Convention (No. 138) distinguishes between acceptable “child labor” that is performed by children under the age of 15 and “child work” that may contribute to a child’s healthy development. Light work may be allowed for children 12 and older (National Research Council, 2004). Given the panel’s broad definition of the process of transition, developed to encompass diversities both within and across countries, our definition and terminology differ slightly from those adopted by some international agencies, for example the World Health Organization (UNICEF and WHO, 1995), which has used the terms “adolescent” for those ages 10-19, “youth” for those ages 15-24, and “young people” for those ages 10-24. Although the panel has frequently used the terms in the same way, for the most part, we prefer to use the term “young people” to refer to the relevant age range, roughly corresponding to 10- to 24-year-olds, during which time the transition to adulthood generally occurs. Note again, however, that in some cases, the transition can continue into one’s late 20s or even early 30s. Recent analysis of the transition to adulthood in the West shows that the transition is being prolonged well into the third decade of life and sometimes even beyond (Arnett, 2000, 2004; Furstenberg et al., 2002). It is likely that a narrow focus on the age range 10 to 24 at this time in history in the developing world would risk missing important aspects of recent change. Consequently, in some of our detailed statistical analysis, the panel thought it more informative to present

data for the broader age group 10 to 29. (See also Arnett, 2002, for a discussion of how transitions to adult roles are becoming delayed, creating a distinct period of “emerging adulthood” among the [minority but growing] middle class in developing countries.)

While the panel views marriage as an important marker of adulthood, we do not think that marriage is sufficient in and of itself to confer adulthood on a young person who has not yet achieved the age of majority or completed other transitions to adulthood. This is an important caution, because much contemporary literature on adolescents focuses primarily on the unmarried, neglecting the concerns of the married, particularly young women, who are not yet fully prepared to assume adult roles and are particularly vulnerable because society provides them with few protections.


The concept of a successful transition to adulthood is inherent in the panel’s larger mission: to advance understanding of the impact of rapid and pervasive global change on the adolescent-to-young-adult phase of the life course and to propose interventions for enhancing that transition in developing countries. In particular, the panel is not concerned with traditional rites of passage, such as circumcision or (arranged) marriage, or solely with the acquisition of skills that will enable young people to become more productive as adults, but more fundamentally about the enhancement of capabilities that will allow them “to lead lives they have reason to value and to enhance the substantive choices they have” (Sen, 1997:1959). This represents a very different approach to the study of adolescent development than that taken in the United States over the last few decades, in which the focus has been primarily on problem behaviors rather than on normative development (Steinberg and Morris, 2001). It is also very different from the approach to the study of child outcomes in developing countries, which views parents as decision-makers and children as having no agency of their own (Levison, 2000). Defining what is meant by “a successful transition,” however, remains problematic, and it engages several important considerations about adolescent development in general.

First, the transition to adulthood has to be seen as embedded in the larger developmental life course, reflecting and constrained by what has gone before as well as by what lies ahead. From this perspective, the experiences and events of earlier adolescence—and of infancy and childhood—are not only precursors of, but also preparation for, making that transition. From this perspective, too, the opportunities and barriers of future adulthood, both real and perceived, also shape the course and content of that transition. It follows, then, that efforts to safeguard or enhance a successful transition cannot be confined to that brief segment of the life trajectory

between adolescence and young adulthood alone; rather, interventions must engage both earlier and later developmental periods as well.

The interrelationship between success in adolescence and opportunities at later phases of the life cycle is particularly salient in the case of gender inequalities that are socially and institutionally embedded. There is now clear evidence that countries with more equal rights for women in various domains, including politics and the law, social and economic matters, and marriage and divorce, have smaller gender gaps in such key outcome indicators as health, schooling, and political participation (King and Mason, 2001). It is rarely noted, however, that these gender gaps, which are measured for adults, take shape during adolescence. Indeed, in most societies, local definitions of success may differ profoundly for girls and boys. By contrast, the panel’s definitions of success are gender neutral and embody an emerging set of international norms about gender equality that have been embodied in many international agreements and conventions.

A second consideration in defining what is meant by successful transition to adulthood is the need to make it sensitive to the enormous diversity of developing societies, appropriate to local situations, and responsive to the dynamics of historical change. It is clear that there are prevailing cultural expectations and traditions about what constitutes the attainment of maturity, and these may vary not only in different parts of the world but also across different subgroups in the same country. For example, in some contexts, the establishment of an independent household may be a marker of adulthood, whereas in others living with one’s parents is entirely consistent with the assumption of all other adult roles. Furthermore, in some cultures in which strong family and community linkages are valued more than autonomy, success may be measured by the ability to mobilize social networks rather than by the ability to act autonomously (Mensch et al., 2003c).

Finally, it is also necessary to conceptualize successful transitions relative to a particular time in history (for this report, it is the present) and to the dynamics and speed of societal change that may be under way. What might have been considered a successful transition to adulthood before the globalization of production, the pervasive spread of information technology, and the greater access to a transnational and homogenizing youth culture may no longer be considered so today. In the contemporary world, success requires competence in coping with the reverberations of rapid global and societal change on daily life—a competence that cannot be entirely provided within the family but that requires extrafamilial inputs. In short, a successful transition entails being prepared for a changing future rather than one based on extrapolations of the past.

While success is ultimately measured at the individual level, nothing is clearer than that the burden of enhancing successful transitions to adult-

hood in developing countries is primarily on society and its institutions at the local, national, and international level, rather than on particular individuals or their families. Essential social supports for success include access to quality schooling and other educational resources outside the classroom, adequate health care, livelihood training and job opportunities, resources for civic engagement and family and community models, and supports for positive social development. The existence of norms and the availability and effectiveness of laws and institutions that can support the accomplishment of the major developmental tasks of adolescence must become a major and obligatory concern of any society seeking to enhance successful transitions to adulthood.

In light of these various considerations, the panel sought a conceptualization of successful transitions to adulthood that is both generally and locally applicable; that is predicated on preparation in prior developmental stages, especially adolescence, but also childhood; that is appropriate despite pervasive gender and socioeconomic disparities as well as different endowments and capabilities; that is open to shaping by both antecedent and subsequent life course interventions; and that recognizes the imperatives of contemporary global change. The defining attributes of such a conceptualization of successful transition to adulthood, which must be seen within the constraints of personal endowments and capabilities, include at least the following:

Good mental and physical health, including reproductive health, and the knowledge and means to sustain health during adulthood.

An appropriate stock of human and social capital to enable an individual to be a productive adult member of society.

The acquisition of prosocial values and the ability to contribute to the collective well-being as citizen and community participant.

Adequate preparation for the assumption of adult social roles and obligations, including the roles of spouse or partner, parent, and household and family manager.

The capability to make choices through the acquisition of a sense of self and a sense of personal competence.

A sense of general well-being.

Although no claim can be made that this is an exhaustive listing of the attributes of successful transition to adulthood, it does capture what the panel views as essential components of that process. What can be claimed is that the essential components listed can serve as a guide for the interpretation of a conceptual framework (presented in the next chapter) as well as for the design and targeting of societal interventions to maximize the attainability of those attributes.

Furthermore, the panel was concerned not only about the acquisition of certain personal values and attributes necessary for success, but also about the timing and sequencing of their acquisition. When young people take on adult work or family obligations before finishing school, success may be compromised. If young men who have assumed other adult roles are unable to marry until their 30s because of escalating financial demands, their need for sexual expression may compromise their health and the health of others and deprive them of the pleasures of and social status that accompanies a family life. The panel recognizes that all adulthood roles are not acquired at the same time, and therefore the report refers to multiple transitions rather than a single transition. Indeed, the panel expects that success in one domain will foster success in other domains of adult life, allowing transitions in various domains to occur in a steady succession. Ultimately, the benefit and enjoyment of each role is enhanced by the acquisition of the others.


The panel agreed early in its deliberations that our approach to the charge would be highly empirical. The panel set high standards for evidence, placing an emphasis on comparative quantitative data of high quality, supplemented by well-designed and statistically sound experimental and observational studies along with country case studies and qualitative materials.

The panel developed its own conceptual framework in order to guide our interpretation of the empirical evidence and assess claims of causal inference. This conceptual framework is presented in Chapter 2 . While the panel’s ambitions were as broad as the conceptual framework, the actual scope of the report was constrained by the availability of comparative and time-series data as well as by the limitations of existing empirical analyses of transitions to adulthood in developing countries, which are largely based on cross-sectional data.

The panel’s approach to addressing the questions outlined in the charge flows logically from the conceptual framework presented below and includes the following six elements:

To use the conceptual framework as a guide to the identification of key research questions.

To review existing research studies on trends in the contextual factors, transitions, and outcomes laid out in the conceptual framework and to supplement these with analysis of comparative data sets.

To review existing literature for insights about possible factors explaining recent changes in the transition to adulthood.

To review existing literature for insights into the longer term consequences of alternative individual and societal outcomes.

To review recent evaluations of the impact of policies and programs in order to identify promising (and ideally cost-effective) approaches to the promotion of adolescent reproductive health and other important health outcomes.

To identify research priorities by situating the panel’s findings within the conceptual framework.

To the extent that resources would permit, in Chapters 3 through 8 , the panel went beyond a mere review of the existing literature and exploited available data in new ways in order to build a more complete picture of recent trends. Whenever possible, estimates of trends that are applicable to all young people or to young people from a particular region were generated by weighting data from different countries by population size, thus allowing conclusions that are more representative of the underlying population of young people.

The panel relied on the best and most up-to-date data available for each topic, while remaining mindful of data quality issues (see Appendix A for a discussion of data quality issues.) Thus the report includes data on trends in education, marriage, childbearing, and other aspects of reproductive behavior from the Demographic and Health Surveys, data on attitudes and participation from the World Value Surveys, data on marriage trends from a United Nations data bank of censuses and national surveys, data on employment and unemployment from International Labour Organization labor force statistics, data on mortality and morbidity by age from the World Health Organization, other selected census and survey data that allow comparisons over time, and data on time use from recent Population Council surveys. While readily acknowledging that the extent of high-quality studies is highly uneven across regions, for most topics, the panel decided that we were able to make statements and draw conclusions about recent change since the 1980s or 1990s. (See Appendix A for more information about the panel’s approach to data analysis, the coverage of the report, and sources of data.)

One of the important roles of the conceptual framework is to guide the interpretation of empirical evidence on causal effects in the rest of the report. Simple associations in observed data, such as between schooling and age of marriage or childbearing, are useful for describing the reality of the transition to adulthood and how those patterns have changed. But descriptions of patterns do not lead to confident assessment of causality for several reasons. Different behaviors are likely to be embedded in a “web of causality,” as described above. So the association between, say, schooling and age of marriage may reflect two-way or reverse causality, or that both are

determined by some third factor, such as changing labor market opportunities, and not simply that schooling affects the age of marriage or that age of marriage affects schooling. The panel’s goal of comprehensively addressing the factors that determine observed outcomes, and not just measured factors and their effects, required a systematic thoughtful and rigorous approach to the sifting of evidence (Bachrach and McNicoll, 2003; Smith, 2003). 1

One scientific method for dealing with such problems of empirical inference is to use well-designed and well-implemented double-blind experiments, with random assignment to treatment and control groups and control for such factors as spillovers. There are some empirical areas for which such experiments have been undertaken and provide some of the evidence regarding what is known about transitions to adulthood in developing countries. But these are relatively limited because of costs and ethical concerns. There are no good experiments for many questions of interest, and they may not even be feasible. Furthermore, such randomized controlled trials “championed by many economists, maximize internal validity, but often at the expense of generalizability and the ability to extrapolate findings” (Moffitt, 2003:445).

In many cases, therefore, the empirical evidence must be based on observational (or sometimes called behavioral) data. These data include imperfect measures of the transitions to adulthood that are determined directly and indirectly, with feedback in many cases, by other factors. The best empirical evidence from such behavioral data makes explicit the behavioral model underlying the determination of the transitions to adulthood. It also uses estimation techniques and data that permit control for various estimation problems, such as selectivity, measurement error, and endogeneity (or the correlation of measured variables with unobservables).

For example, if there is interest in the impact of early childbearing on some other aspects of the transition to adulthood, the best empirical studies control for measurement errors in data on childbearing and for what determines childbearing—family background, ability, motivations, cultural beliefs related to gender, labor market options—in the estimation of the impact of early childbearing on other transitions to adulthood. The failure to do so is likely to lead to misunderstanding of the impact of early childbearing—confounding the effects of childbearing with other effects, such as of those determinants of childbearing noted above.

Undertaking such systematic empirical research is difficult. Many studies in the literature are not explicit about what conceptual framework is being used to interpret behavioral data and often implicitly make very strong assumptions. For example, many studies of the impact of early childbearing make the implicit assumption that childbearing is assigned randomly, or that there are no factors that affect both the outcome being studied as well as the timing of childbearing itself.

This report tries to make clear the quality of the empirical evidence that is being used. At times, simple descriptions are presented because they are of interest in themselves, but they should not be confused with assertions about causality. In a few cases, good experimental evidence is summarized. In other cases, there are good systematic studies using behavioral data with explicit models and methods, so the nature of the underlying assumptions is transparent and the assumptions themselves are plausible. To the extent possible, this report relies on evidence from these high-quality sources. But for some topics that are important, the evidence is much weaker. Too much would be lost by complete omission of these topics. Therefore in such cases the report presents what is known and tries to be clear about why that knowledge is qualified—and thus, why more and better research is warranted in certain areas.

The panel has paid special attention to policy and programs that hold promise of supporting successful transitions in resource-constrained environments. This is an area in which the empirical evidence is particularly uneven. Most interventions that have been rigorously evaluated have relatively narrowly defined intended outcomes and a limited time frame for assessing impact (Knowles and Berhman, 2005). Various policies and programs that are designed to benefit younger children may have important benefits that extend into the second decade of life, but that are generally not measured or evaluated. Furthermore, the impact of many national policies and programs with potentially profound importance to the life course and life chances of young people, such as school reforms, marriage laws, abortion laws, and child labor laws, may never have been assessed. Whether assessing policies and programs in the area of reproductive health or in other important areas, such as education, work, and marriage, the report sets the panel’s review of the empirical evidence on interventions in the larger context of the policies and programs that have the potential to affect the lives of young people.


The report has the following plan. Part I sets the stage with this introduction, and in the next chapter, we introduce our conceptual framework

and use it to guide a discussion of the key elements of global change. Because of the diversity of experiences among young people, the implications of these changes for national and local environments are illustrated using examples from the empirical literature. These serve to make more tangible the many ways in which global change is affecting the daily lives of young people.

Part II looks at the two critical elements of individual resources for which we have relatively rich data and evidence: changes in education ( Chapter 3 ) and changes in health and reproductive health ( Chapter 4 ). Each chapter starts by describing recent data on patterns and trends, then reviews critically what is known from the empirical literature about the factors affecting these patterns and changes and finishes with a review of relevant policies and programs designed to positively affect the necessary resources and attributes for successful transitions, including evidence (when available) about their effectiveness.

Part III is organized around four adult roles: worker ( Chapter 5 ), citizen ( Chapter 6 ), spouse or partner ( Chapter 7 ), and parent ( Chapter 8 ). As there are very few data on the role of household manager, this adult role is not treated separately, although the panel recognizes its potential importance. In Part III , we are particularly interested in how changes at the global level are affecting the very nature of the transition itself, in terms of timing, sequencing, duration, and content. Each successive chapter in this part of the report considers not just that particular adult role in isolation but explores the ways in which one transition relates to another. While considerations of the timing of work in relation to schooling or the timing of marriage in relation to parenthood are more familiar in the literature, the links between work and marriage or schooling and childbearing are less familiar. The interrelationships among transitions is a key theme in each chapter whenever data permit.

It will become obvious to the reader in proceeding from the conceptual framework in Part I to the substantive chapters in Part II and Part III that the panel’s knowledge falls far short of its curiosity. The gaps between the conceptual framework and the empirical evidence remain huge. Nonetheless, the panel’s comparative empirical approach does allow new facts and insights to emerge, some of which have implications for the design of policies and programs. The panel’s conceptual framework highlights the gap between theory and evidence with clear implications for future research priorities. Part IV’s Chapter 9 summarizes the findings from Chapters 2 through 8 and identifies promising avenues for future research that can provide important insights for understanding and for policy choices.

The challenges for young people making the transition to adulthood are greater today than ever before. Globalization, with its power to reach across national boundaries and into the smallest communities, carries with it the transformative power of new markets and new technology. At the same time, globalization brings with it new ideas and lifestyles that can conflict with traditional norms and values. And while the economic benefits are potentially enormous, the actual course of globalization has not been without its critics who charge that, to date, the gains have been very unevenly distributed, generating a new set of problems associated with rising inequality and social polarization. Regardless of how the globalization debate is resolved, it is clear that as broad global forces transform the world in which the next generation will live and work, the choices that today's young people make or others make on their behalf will facilitate or constrain their success as adults. Traditional expectations regarding future employment prospects and life experiences are no longer valid.

Growing Up Global examines how the transition to adulthood is changing in developing countries, and what the implications of these changes might be for those responsible for designing youth policies and programs, in particular, those affecting adolescent reproductive health. The report sets forth a framework that identifies criteria for successful transitions in the context of contemporary global changes for five key adult roles: adult worker, citizen and community participant, spouse, parent, and household manager.

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Conceptual and Theoretical Frameworks for Thesis Studies: What you must know

sample of conceptual framework in research paper

A theoretical framework is a conceptual model that provides a systematic and structured way of thinking about a research problem or question. It helps to identify key variables and the relationships between them and to guide the selection and interpretation of data. Theoretical frameworks draw on existing theories and research and can be used to develop new hypotheses or test existing ones. They provide a foundation for research design, data collection, and analysis and can help to ensure that research is relevant, rigorous, and coherent. Theoretical frameworks are common in many disciplines, including social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities, and are essential for building knowledge and advancing understanding in a field.

This article explains the importance of frameworks in a thesis study and the differences between conceptual frameworks and theoretical frameworks. It provides guidelines on how to write a thesis framework, definitions of variable types, and examples of framework types.

What is a research framework and why do I need one?

When planning your thesis study, you need to justify your research and explain its design to your readers. This is called the research framework.

When planning your thesis study, you need to justify your research and explain its design to your readers. This is called the research framework. Think of it as the foundation of a building. A good building needs a strong foundation. Similarly, your research needs to be supported by reviewing and explaining the existing knowledge in the field, describing how your research study will fit within or contribute to the existing literature (e.g., it could challenge or test an existing theory or address a knowledge gap), and informing the reader how your study design aligns with your thesis question or hypothesis.

Important components of the framework are a literature review of recent studies associated with your thesis topic as well as theories/models used in your field of research. The literature review acts as a filtering tool to select appropriate thesis questions and guide data collection, analysis, and interpretation of your findings. Think broadly! Apart from reviewing relevant published papers in your field of research, also explore theories that you have come across in your undergraduate courses, other published thesis studies, encyclopedias, and handbooks.

There are two types of research frameworks: theoretical and conceptual .

What is a conceptual framework?

A conceptual framework is a written or visual representation that explains the study variables and their relationships with each other. The starting point is a literature review of existing studies and theories about your topic.

Steps to develop a conceptual framework

  • Clarify your study topic by identifying and defining key concepts in your thesis problem statement and thesis question. Essentially, your thesis should address a knowledge gap.
  • Perform a literature review to provide a background to interpret and explain the study findings. Also, draw on empirical knowledge that you have gained from personal experience.
  • Identify crucial variables from the literature review and your empirical knowledge, classify them as dependent or independent variables, and define them.
  • Brainstorm all the possible factors that could affect each dependent variable.
  • Propose relationships among the variables and determine any associations that exist between all variables.
  • Use a flowchart or tree diagram to present your conceptual framework.

Types of variables

When developing a conceptual framework, you will need to identify the following:

  • Independent variables
  • Dependent variables
  • Moderating variables
  • Mediating variables
  • Control variables

First, identify the independent (cause) and dependent (effect) variables in your study. Then, identify variables that influence this relationship, such as moderating variables, mediating variables, and control variables. A moderating variable changes the relationship between independent and dependent variables when its value increases or decreases. A mediating variable links independent and dependent variables to better explain the relationship between them. A control variable could potentially impact the cause-and-effect relationship but is kept constant throughout the study so that its effects on the findings/outcomes can be ruled out.

Example of a conceptual framework

You want to investigate the hours spent exercising (cause) on childhood obesity (effect).

sample of conceptual framework in research paper

Now, you need to consider moderating variables that affect the cause-and-effect relationship. In our example, the amount of junk food eaten would affect the level of obesity.

sample of conceptual framework in research paper

Next, you need to consider mediating variables. In our example, the maximum heart rate during exercise would affect the child’s weight.

sample of conceptual framework in research paper

Finally, you need to consider control variables. In this example, because we do not want to investigate the role of age in obesity, we can use this as a control variable. Thus, the study subjects would be children of a specific age (e.g., aged 6–10 years).

sample of conceptual framework in research paper

What is a theoretical framework?

A theoretical framework provides a general framework for data analysis. It defines the concepts used and explains existing theories and models in your field of research.

A theoretical framework provides a general framework for data analysis. It defines the concepts used and explains existing theories and models in your field of research. It also explains any assumptions that were used to inform your approach and your choice of specific rationales. Theoretical frameworks are often used in the fields of social sciences.

Purpose of a theoretical framework

  • Test and challenge existing theories
  • Establish orderly connections between observations and facts
  • Predict and control situations
  • Develop hypotheses

Steps to develop a theoretical framework

  • Identify and define key concepts in your thesis problem statement and thesis question.
  • Explain and evaluate existing theories by writing a literature review that describes the concepts, models, and theories that support your study.
  • Choose the theory that best explains the relationships between the key variables in your study.
  • Explain how your research study fills a knowledge gap or fits into existing studies (e.g., testing if an established theory applies to your thesis context).
  • Discuss the relevance of any theoretical assumptions and limitations.

A thesis topic can be approached from a variety of angles, depending on the theories used.

  • In psychology, a behavioral approach would use different methods and assumptions compared with a cognitive approach when treating anxiety.
  • In literature, a book could be analyzed using different literary theories, such as Marxism or poststructuralism.

Structuring a theoretical framework

The structure of a theoretical framework is fluid, and there are no specific rules that need to be followed, as long as it is clearly and logically presented.

The theoretical framework is a natural extension of your literature review. The literature review should identify gaps in the field of your research, and reviewing existing theories will help to determine how these can be addressed. The structure of a theoretical framework is fluid, and there are no specific rules that need to be followed, as long as it is clearly and logically presented. The theoretical framework is sometimes integrated into the literature review chapter of a thesis, but it can also be included as a separate chapter, depending on the complexity of the theories.

Example of a theoretical framework

The sales staff at Company X are unmotivated and struggling to meet their monthly targets. Some members of the management team believe that this could be achieved by implementing a comprehensive product-training program, but others believe that introducing a sales commission structure will help.

Company X is not achieving their monthly sales targets

To increase monthly sales.

Research question:

How can Company X motivate their sales team to achieve its monthly sales targets?


  • Why do the sales staff feel unmotivated?
  • What is the relationship between motivation and monetary rewards?
  • Do the sales staff feel that they have sufficient product knowledge?

Theoretical framework:

A literature search will need to be performed to understand the background of the many different theories of motivation in psychology. For example, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (basic human needs—physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization—have to be fulfilled before one can live up to their true potential), Vroom’s Theory of Expectancy (people decide upon their actions based on the outcomes they expect), and Locke’s Goal-Setting Theory (goals are a key driver of one’s behavior). These theories would need to be investigated to determine which would be the best approach to increase the motivation of the sales staff in Company X so that the monthly sales targets are met.

A robust conceptual or theoretical framework is crucial when writing a thesis/dissertation. It defines your research gap, identifies your approach, and guides the interpretation of your results.

A thesis is the most important document you will write during your academic studies. For professional thesis editing and thesis proofreading services, check out Enago's Thesis Editing service s for more information.

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What type of framework is used in the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) domain? +

Theoretical frameworks are typically used in the HSS domain, while conceptual frameworks are used in the Sciences domain.

What is the difference between mediating versus moderating variables? +

The difference between mediators and moderators can be confusing. A moderating variable is unaffected by the independent variable and can increase or decrease the strength of the relationship between the independent and dependent variables. A mediating variable is affected by the independent variable and can explain the relationship between the independent and dependent variables. T he statistical correlation between the independent and dependent variables is higher when the mediating variable is excluded.

What software should I use to present my conceptual framework? +

The software program Creately provides some useful templates that can help you get started. Other recommended programs are SmartDraw , Inkscape , and diagrams.net .


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