Differences between Theoretical and Conceptual Framework


Differences between Conceptual and Theoretical Framework.

Whether or not ‘theoretical’ and ‘conceptual’ frameworks are conceptual synonyms, or they are different. Generally, a lot of literature uses these two terms interchangeably – suggesting that they are conceptually equivalent. This session focuses on this debate and assesses how they may be different, similar, or complementary.

Theoretical and Conceptual Framework

It is not controversial to state that three people coming from different walks of life, watching the same event, are likely to come up with different interpretations of that event.

Certainly, de-pending on “the spectacles” each one of them is “wearing” in viewing the event, they would each have a different “view” of the event.

Each person’s view-point, or point of reference, is his/her conceptual or theoretical framework.

In essence, the conceptual or theoretical framework is the soul of every research project. It determines how a given researcher formulates his/her research problem – and how s/he goes about investigating the problem, and what meaning s/he attaches to the data accruing from such an investigation.

Theoretical Framework

  • Theoretical Framework: A theoretical framework refers to the theory that a researcher chooses to guide him/her in his/her research.
  • Thus, a theoretical framework is the application of a theory, or a set of concepts drawn from one and the same theory, to offer an explanation of an event, or shed some light on a particular phenomenon or research problem.
  • This could refer to, for instance, the Job Demand and Resources Model, that could be applied to a given research problem, deductively.

Conceptual Framework

  • On the other hand, a researcher may opine that his/her research problem cannot meaningfully be researched in reference to only one theory, or concepts resident within one theory.
  • In such cases, the researcher may have to “synthesize” the existing views in the literature concerning a given situation – both theoretical and from empirical findings.
  • The synthesis may be called a model or conceptual framework, which essentially represents an ‘integrated’ way of looking at the problem (Liehr and Smith 1999).
  • Such a model could then be used in place of a theoretical framework. Thus, a conceptual framework may be defined as an end result of bringing together a number of related concepts to explain or predict a given event, or give a broader understanding of the phenomenon of interest – or simply, of a research problem.
  • The process of arriving at a conceptual framework is akin to an inductive process whereby small individual pieces (in this case, concepts) are joined together to tell a bigger map of possible relationships.
  • Thus, a conceptual framework is derived from concepts, in-so-far as a theoretical framework is derived from a theory.

Another Viewpoint

  • Theoretical framework in a study is based on an existing theory or theories (e.g., a theory of motivation/). The conceptual framework, on the other hand, is something you can develop yourself based on this theory.
  • A Theoretical Framework can have multiple theories.
  • A conceptual framework emerges from concepts drawn from adopted theories and empirical studies.
  • For instance Knowledge Based View, Stakeholder Theory, LMX Theory, or Resource Based Theory.
  • Both Concepts are Complimentary to each other.
  • Theoretical Framework is more general/Broad while the conceptual framework is more specific.
  • The conceptual framework presents the overall structure of the study, and the theoretical frame-work within it explains the relationships that are explored within the study (Ravitch and Riggan, 2017).

Video Tutorial: Understand Theoretical and Conceptual Framework