Conceptual Framework: A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Make One

What is a conceptual framework? How do you prepare one? This article defines the conceptual framework and lists the steps on how to prepare it. A simplified example is added to strengthen the reader’s understanding.

In preparing your research paper as one requirement for your course as an undergraduate or graduate student, you will need to write the conceptual framework of your study. The conceptual framework steers the whole research activity. The conceptual framework serves as a “map” or “rudder” that will guide you towards realizing your study’s objectives or intent.

What, then, is a conceptual framework in empirical research? The next section defines and explains the term.

Definition of Conceptual Framework

A conceptual framework represents the researcher’s synthesis of the literature on how to explain a phenomenon. It maps out the actions required in the study’s course, given the researcher’s previous knowledge of other researchers’ point of view and his or her observations about the phenomenon studied.

The conceptual framework is the researcher’s understanding of how the particular variables in the study connect. Thus, it identifies the variables required in the research investigation. It is the researcher’s “map” in pursuing the investigation.

As McGaghie et al. (2001) put it: The conceptual framework “sets the stage” to present the particular research question that drives the investigation being reported based on the problem statement. The problem statement of a thesis gives the context and the issues that caused the researcher to conduct the study.

The conceptual framework lies within a much broader framework called a theoretical framework. The latter draws support from time-tested theories that embody many researchers’ findings on why and how a particular phenomenon occurs.

I expounded on this definition, including its purpose, in my recent post titled “What is a Conceptual Framework? Expounded Definition and Five Purposes.”

4 Steps on How to Make the Conceptual Framework

Before you prepare your conceptual framework, you need to do the following things:

Choose your topic

Decide on what will be your research topic. The topic should be within your field of specialization. (Generate your research topic using brainstorming tips).

Do a literature review

Review relevant and updated research on the theme that you decide to work on after scrutiny of the issue at hand. Preferably use peer-reviewed, and well-known scientific journals as these are reliable sources of information.

Isolate the important variables

Identify the specific variables described in the literature and figure out how these are related. Some research abstracts contain the variables, and the salient findings thus may serve the purpose. If these are not available, find the research paper’s summary.

If the variables are not explicit in summary, get back to the methodology or the results and discussion section and quickly identify the study variables and the significant findings. Read the TSPU Technique to skim articles efficiently and get to the essential points with little fuss.

Generate the conceptual framework

Build your conceptual framework using your mix of the variables from the scientific articles you have read. Your problem statement or research objective serves as a reference for constructing it. In effect, your study will attempt to answer the question that other researchers have not explained yet. Your research should address a knowledge gap.

Example of a Conceptual Framework

Research Topic

Statement number 5 introduced in an earlier post titled How to Write a Thesis Statement will serve as the basis of the illustrated conceptual framework in the following examples.

The youth, particularly students who need to devote a lot of time using their mobile phones to access their course modules, laptops, or desktops, are most affected. Also, they spend time interacting with their mobile phones as they communicate with their friends on social media channels like Facebook, Messenger, and the like.

When free from schoolwork, many students spend their time viewing films on Netflix, YouTube, or similar sites. These activities can affect their sleeping patterns and cause health problems in the long run because light-emitting diode (LED) exposure reduces the number of hours spent sleeping.

Thesis Statement

Related to the students’ activity, we can write the thesis statement thus:

Thesis statement: Chronic exposure to blue light from LED screens (of computer monitorsmobile phones, tablets, and television) deplete melatonin levels, thus reducing the number of sleeping hours among the youth, particularly students who need to work on their academic requirements.

Review of Literature

The literature review supports the thesis statement as among those that catch one’s attention is a paper that warns against the use of LED devices at night. Although we can save a lot of electrical energy by using the efficient LED where the inventors Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura received a Nobel prize in physics in 2014, there is growing evidence that it can cause human health problems, particularly cancer.

Haim & Zubidat (2015) of the Israeli Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Chronobiology synthesized the literature about LEDs. They found out that blue light from the light-emitting diodes (LED) inhibits melatonin production, particularly during active secretion at night. Melatonin is a neuro-hormone that regulates sleep and wake cycles. Also, it can slow down aging and prevent cancer (Srinivasan et al., 2011).

Thus, looking directly at your laptop, mobile phone, or television at night not only can severely damage your eyes but also prevent the achievement of sound sleeping patterns. As a countermeasure, sleep experts recommend limiting the use of digital devices until 8 o’clock in the evening.

Those affected experience insomnia (see 10 Creative Ways on How to Get Rid of Insomnia); they sleep less than required (usually less than six hours), and this happens when they spend too much time working on their laptops doing some machine learning stuff, monitoring conversations or posts on social media sites using their mobile phones, or viewing the television at night.

Variables Isolated from the Literature

Using the background information backed by evidence in the literature review, we can now develop the study’s paradigm on the effect of LED exposure to sleep. We will not include all the variables mentioned and select or isolate only those factors that we are interested in.

Figure 1 presents a visual representation, the paradigm, of what we want to correlate in this study. It shows measurable variables that can produce data we can analyze using a statistical test such as either the parametric test Pearson’s Product-Moment Correlation or the nonparametric test Spearman Rho (please refresh if you cannot see the figure).

Fig. 1. The research paradigm illustrating the researcher’s conceptual framework.

Notice that the variables of the study are explicit in the paradigm presented in Figure 1. In the illustration, the two variables are:

1) the number of hours devoted in front of the computer, and
2) the number of hours slept through the night until dawn.

The former is the independent variable, while the latter is the dependent variable. Both variables are easy to measure. It is just counting the number of hours spent in front of the computer and the number of hours slept through the night in the study subjects.

Assuming that other things are constant during the study’s performance, it will be possible to relate these two variables and confirm that, indeed, blue light emanated from computer screens can affect one’s sleeping patterns. (Please read the article titled “Do you know that the computer can disturb your sleeping patterns?” to find out more about this phenomenon). A correlation analysis will show if the relationship is significant.

Related Reading:

Evolution of a Social Theory as Basis of Conceptual Framework Development

Related to the development of the conceptual framework, I wrote a comprehensive article on how a social theory develops by incisively looking at current events that the world is facing now — the COVID-19 pandemic. It shows how society responds to a threat to its very survival.

Specifically, this article focuses on the COVID-19 vaccine, how it develops and gets integrated into the complex fabric of human society. It shows how the development of the vaccine is only part of the story. A major consideration in its development resides in the supporters of the vaccine’s development, the government, and the recipients’ trust, thus the final acceptance of the vaccine.

Social theory serves as the backdrop or theoretical framework of the more focused or variable level conceptual framework. Hence, the paradigm that I develop at the end of that article can serve as a lens to examine how the three players of vaccine development interact more closely at the variable level. It shows the dynamics of power and social structure and how it unfolds in response to a pandemic that affects everyone.

Check out the article titled “Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine: More Than 90% Effective Against the Coronavirus.” This article shall enrich your knowledge of how an abstract concept narrows down into blocks of researchable topics.


Haim, A., & Zubidat, A. E. (2015). LED light between Nobel Prize and cancer risk factor. Chronobiology International, 32(5), 725-727.

McGaghie, W. C.; Bordage, G.; and J. A. Shea (2001). Problem Statement, Conceptual Framework, and Research Question. Retrieved on January 5, 2015 from

Srinivasan, V., R Pandi-Perumal, S., Brzezinski, A., P Bhatnagar, K., & P Cardinali, D. (2011). Melatonin, immune function and cancer. Recent patents on endocrine, metabolic & immune drug discovery, 5(2), 109-123.

©2015 January 5 P. A. Regoniel

Cite as: Regoniel, P. A. (2015, January 5). Conceptual framework: a step-by-step guide on how to make one. Research-based Articles.


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