The terms conceptual and theoretical framework are closely related due to their frequent use in research, but are distinct and refer to two different ideas. Conceptual frameworks are commonly used in new areas of research and are subsequently developed by researchers based on theory. Concepts are, therefore, presented by the researcher with the sole aim of establishing an informed understanding of the research being undertaken (Jones, 2018). On the other hand, theoretical frameworks are developed over time in a specific area of study and are based on existing theory and historical background. Theoretical frameworks focus mainly on exploring a current research problem through the lens of an existing theory based on existing literature.
Common Differences between a Conceptual and Theoretical Framework
Key differences exist between a conceptual and theoretical framework. Conceptual frameworks only function as structural frameworks for research. They only provide an elaborate model for a researcher on how to conduct a study and meet a desired end (Augustine, 2016). A theoretical framework, on the other hand, is the foundation of research inquiry and provides much-needed guidance on how to approach a thesis. The foundation of conceptual frameworks used in research concepts which are later linked to specific variables. Conversely, theoretical frameworks are grounded in existing theories that have been tested consistently over time and can be supported by other researchers.
While conceptual frameworks only focus on core ideas identified in their respective studies, theoretical frameworks adhere to an extensive and expansive guideline to inform research. Conceptual frameworks are also presented as a researchers own creation and as a unique inquiry on a given phenomenon and the most appropriate answer. Theoretical frameworks have a deeply ingrained need to be widely accepted after their initial introduction, which is why they are generally well developed (Dash, 2017). While conceptual frameworks follow a logical progression before during research inquiry, theoretical frameworks focus on the most reliable approach to identify the unknown in research. Furthermore, conceptual frameworks consist of interrelated concepts responding to a specific research problem while theoretical frameworks comprise interrelated propositions.
Importance of a Conceptual Framework
A conceptual framework is fundamental in research today. It is commonly utilized as an analytical tool which can be implemented within a variety of contexts in research. It provides a general overview of the research problem under review with the aim of guaranteeing comprehension of some of the basic defining elements. Conceptual frameworks are also reliable since they are based on a strong foundation relying on concepts capable of being applied in a practical setting. It also provides an elaborate conceptual distinction for authors, which ultimately allows them to apply major defining principles.
Multiple conflicting issues can also be evaluated using a conceptual framework due to its broad nature and a clear dichotomy between theoretical principles. They also play an important role in organizing empirical research and developing a clear objective for such endeavors based on scientific inquiry (Johnson, 2017). An example of a conceptual framework is a model that focuses on quality healthcare outcomes by combining nursing system characteristics, desired health outcomes, patient-centered nursing interventions, and patient trait characteristics.
The Importance of a Theoretical Framework
A theoretical framework plays an important role in research today by linking scholars with the existing body of knowledge. This ensures researchers area capable of identifying relevant knowledge and theories to support the initial hypothesis and to also inform the hypothesis and research methods used. Researchers are, therefore, able to answer the “why” and “how” in their area of study while also being highly capable of examining the limits of their generalizations and key variables informing their inquiry (Costa, 2020). A theoretical framework provides researchers with sufficient support to explain a particular phenomenon and are, therefore, relevant in research studies. The self-care deficit theory by Dorothy Orem is an example of a common theoretical framework.