While undertaking a study, researchers can uncover insights, connections, and findings that are valuable to anyone likely to read their eventual paper. Thus, it is important for the researcher to clearly present and explain the ideas and potential relationships. One important way presenting findings and relationships is by developing a graphical conceptual framework.

A graphical conceptual framework is a visual model that assists readers by showing how concepts, constructs, themes, or processes work. It’s designed to help the viewer understand how various factors interrelate and affect outcomes. They’re commonly used in research to show outcomes but also to create, develop, test, support and criticise various ideas and models.

The type of conceptual framework depends on the topic, the type of research or findings, and what can best present the story. The role of a conceptual framework also differs depending on the type of research that is being undertaken.

Qualitative vs Quantitative research

  • In qualitative research, the conceptual framework is developed at the end of the study to illustrate the factors or issues presented in the qualitative data. It is designed to assist in theory building and the visual understanding of the exploratory findings. It can also be used to develop a framework in preparation for testing the proposition using quantitative research.
  • In quantitative research, a conceptual framework can be used to synthesise the literature and theoretical concepts at the beginning of the study to present a model that will be tested in the statistical analysis of the research. 
Qualitative StudyQuantitative study
Background/lit ReviewBackground/lit Review
MethodologyConceptual Framework
Conceptual FrameworkDiscussion

Create your framework with the Six Rs

So, how should you go about creating a conceptual framework? I developed a simple model based on ‘Six Rs’: Review, Reflect, Relationships, Reflect, Review, and Repeat.

  • Review – literature/themes/theory
  • Reflect – what are the main concepts/issues?
  • Relationships – what are their relationships?
  • Reflect – does the diagram represent it sufficiently?
  • Review – check it with theory, colleagues, stakeholders, etc
  • Repeat – review and revise it to see if something better occurs

It can start with pen and paper, but after your review you should reflect to consider if the proposed framework takes into account the main concepts and issues, and the potential relationships that have been presented on topic in previous works. Itmay take a few versions before you are happy with the final framework. Reflect on the model and review its worth byreassessing it to determine if the model is consistent with the literature and theories. Discuss the idea with others,such as colleagues or presenting preliminary ideas at a conference or workshop and be open to changes.

Even after you come up with a potential model, it’s a good idea to repeat the review and revise process as this canhelp in refining the model. Over time, you may develop a number of models with each one superseding the previousone. For example, I have presented a basic model at a conference made major changes based on feedback beforepresenting to another conference, then made further changes from feedback for when it was used in an article

A concern is that some students hold on to the framework they first thought of and are concerned that developing or changing it will be seen as a negative aspect of their research. However, a revised and refined model can be an important factor in justifying the value of the research.

Keep it simple

The final result should be a clear graphical presentation that will help the reader understand what the research is about as well as where it is heading in your report. It doesn’t need to be complex – a simple diagram or table can clarify the nature of a process and help in its analysis. A picture is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes. And the same goes for a good conceptual framework when it clearly explains research process or findings to your audience.

Read the full article by David Waller as originally published on The Campus

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