How to develop and present a conceptual framework in a research paper?

By Priya Chetty on August 25, 2015

Before studying the application of the conceptual framework, we need to first define it. It can be defined as a ‘visual’ presentation of key variables, factors or concepts and their relationship with each other which have been or have to be studied in the research either graphically or in some other narrative form (Miles and Huberman, 1994).

The difference between conceptual and theoretical frameworks (Research, 2020)

How to define a conceptual framework?

A conceptual Framework is like pre-planning wherein we define what the research will include. However, the position of a conceptual framework within Qualitative and Quantitative Research varies. The table below explains the difference in position.

Conceptual framework in quantitative and qualitative research
Conceptual framework in quantitative and qualitative research

In the case of quantitative research, the researcher defines the research problem and key variables which will be used to resolve the problem. However, in the case of qualitative research inductive position is applicable wherein the researcher seeks to build up theory. In such a situation, existing theories can be misleading and therefore the conceptual framework emerges after the research is complete.

However, here I should point out that researchers generally have an idea of what will feature in the study which could be treated as a tentative framework that would give an idea, however, can be changed over a period of time.

How to develop a conceptual framework?

There are several inputs that are essential when working on a conceptual framework. The two main elements are;

  1. Experiential Knowledge: technical knowledge, research background and personal experience.
  2. Literature Review: related theory, related research and other theories and research related to the topic.

The key steps for the development of the conceptual framework are:

  1. Identify the key variables used in the subject area of the study.
  2. Draw out key variables within something you have already written about the subject area i.e. literature review.
  3. Perennial to the aim, segregate them as dependent and independent variables.
  4. Take one key variable and then brainstorm all the possible things related to the key variable(Dependent variable).
  5. After all the variables have been defined, focus on the number of relationships they can form with each other to determine the inter-relationships between all.
  6. The arrows used to identify the relationship between variables must be applied in the direction as to what impacts the other.
  7. Always keep in mind that the formation of a conceptual framework directs the researcher to apply a suitable test for analysis.

It can be presented in the form of; flow diagrams, tree diagrams, mind maps or even shape-based diagrams. Below are some examples  for better understanding:

Using a flow chart to present it

A flow chart presenting conceptual framework
A flow chart presenting a conceptual framework

In this flow chart, it is evident that academic staff job satisfaction is associated with pay and growth resources, work-family conflict stressors, work relationship stressors, and work-role stressors. Therefore the dependent variable here is academic staff job satisfaction while the rest are independent variables. A suitable correlation or regression test can be applied knowing this representation.

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Using a tree diagram to present it

Using tree diagram to present a conceptual framework
Using a tree diagram to present a conceptual framework

Similarly, in this tree diagram, it is well understood that customers’ behaviour changes with respect to various factors like experiences, values, lifestyle, or product expectations in terms of price, quality, information etc. Therefore this indicates that there are two possible areas for analyzing a customer’s behaviour and thus two hypotheses can be constructed out of this. One is related to consumer behaviour with respect to experiences, values, lifestyle etc while the other can be based on the product’s expectation.

A conceptual framework is essential to bring focus to the content and also acts as a link between literature, methodology, and results.


  • Miles, M. B., & Huberman, M. A. (1994): “Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expanded Sourcebook” (2nd edition). Beverley Hills, Sage.
  • Research, G. (2020, April 20). Difference Between Conceptual and Theoretical Framework. Youtube.Com.

Priya is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Project Guru, a research and analytics firm based in Gurgaon. She is responsible for the human resource planning and operations functions. Her expertise in analytics has been used in a number of service-based industries like education and financial services.

Her foundational educational is from St. Xaviers High School (Mumbai). She also holds MBA degree in Marketing and Finance from the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, Delhi (2008).

Some of the notable projects she has worked on include:

  • Using systems thinking to improve sustainability in operations: A study carried out in Malaysia in partnership with Universiti Kuala Lumpur.
  • Assessing customer satisfaction with in-house doctors of Jiva Ayurveda (a project executed for the company)
  • Predicting the potential impact of green hydrogen microgirds (A project executed for the Government of South Africa)

She is a key contributor to the in-house research platform Knowledge Tank.

She currently holds over 300 citations from her contributions to the platform.

She has also been a guest speaker at various institutes such as JIMS (Delhi), BPIT (Delhi), and SVU (Tirupati).



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