12 julio, 2024

Conceptual framework: what it is, structure, how to do it, examples

What is the conceptual framework?

He conceptual framework It is a section of the degree theses -or research projects in general- where the authors define the key concepts and develop the theoretical arguments. These will serve as tools to interpret the results of the research to be carried out.

Normally, the conceptual framework is located after the problem statement and the general and specific objectives. This is due to the fact that the content of the conceptual framework is not fixed for all investigations, but rather it adapts to the nature of the object of study and the objectives that each project intends to achieve.

The conceptual framework is characterized by precision when defining concepts, and by going from the broadest (theoretical proposals) to the most specific (concrete concepts).

Structure of the conceptual framework

Any conceptual framework must include: the background, the definition of key concepts and the theoretical perspective. If the nature of the research object requires it, the legal bases must be included.


It refers to those investigations related to our topic that have already been carried out in the past.

Reviewing them is fundamental for the authors, since from there they could obtain valuable information about, for example, which facets of the object of study have already been sufficiently studied and should be left aside, or which methodological approaches have yielded better results and which ones. No.

But the background check is not limited to research: also include books, articles, video, conferences and any type of existing material that may be useful to us.

key concepts

Concepts are valuable tools to cognitively approach our research object. But they are only to the extent that they are fine, precise. Otherwise they become sources of ambiguity and confusion.

For this reason, it is fundamental in this section of the conceptual framework that researchers define as precisely as possible the key concepts through which they will approach their study problem. This normally requires reviewing the definitions of a concept given by leading scholars in the field.

The theoretical perspective

Here we can be faced with two different cases.

1º- The objective of the research project is to put a certain theory to the test, in order to determine if it is correct or if it has flaws.

In this case it is necessary to expose in the conceptual framework everything related to this theory: what it proposes, through which reasoning or observations it arrived at such propositions; what should happen if the theory is true; what should happen if the theory is not.

2º- The object of the investigation is not a theory, but it does require one to know how to approach its subject of study.

If this is the case, the researchers must explain in detail the theoretical perspective they have selected to approach their object of study, and explain why they chose that perspective instead of other possible ones.

The legal bases

This section mentions the current legislation (laws, regulations, norms, decrees) that apply to the object of the investigation or that are part of the objective conditions under which the investigation will be carried out.

How to make a conceptual framework step by step

First step:

The first thing to do is gather the background. Remember: these consist not only of past research related to your subject of study, but also in press articles, books, videos or any useful material.

Second step:

From the background check, determine what the key concepts are for your research paper. Order them from the most general to the most specific.

Third step:

This is the time to define your key concepts. Remember: precision is key here. Don’t forget to review the definitions given by experts in the field.

Fourth step:

Define your theoretical perspective. Explain in detail what the theory you have decided to use is like, underline its advantages, compare it with other possible theories and emphasize the reasons why you decided to leave the latter aside.

Fifth step:

When you are very clear about your key concepts, their definitions and the reasons why you chose a certain theory, it is time to sit down and write.

Conceptual Framework Examples

1- Conceptual framework of an investigation on the causes of pollution in Mexico


-Background: recent research on pollution in Mexico.

-Definition of key concepts: pollution, environment, environmental emergency.

-Legal bases: the legislation of the Mexican State regarding the environment.

-Theoretical perspectives: what explanations have been given about the causes of pollution in Mexico?

Brief fragment of the theoretical framework:

In Mexico, environmental pollution is a problem that has been going on for centuries. It started with mining in colonial times and got seriously worse when they began to extract hydrocarbons.

Currently, according to the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA), 550 environmental emergencies occur annually in Mexico associated with toxic industrial waste.

For the purposes of this research, we will understand environmental contamination as «the introduction or presence of substances, organisms or forms of energy in environments or substrates to which they do not belong, or in amounts greater than those of said substrates» (Albert, 1995). .

The Mexican legal framework includes the General Law for Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection, designed to prevent water pollution.

2- Conceptual framework of an investigation on the economic impact of covid-19


-Background: an overview of statistical studies on covid-19 and the economy.

-Definition of key concepts: non-pharmacological interventions; emerging economies, economic policies, pandemic.

-Legal bases: comparative review of executive actions taken by States to stop the spread of covid-19 and its effect on the economy

-Theoretical perspectives: hypotheses about the negative impact of health policies on economic productivity.

Brief fragment of the theoretical framework:

According to UNDP (2020), one of the ways in which covid-19 negatively impacts the economy is through NPI (non-pharmacological interventions) measures.

Among them are: restrictions on industries such as tourism and entertainment and social distancing, which forces people to work remotely or not work at all. These measures are covered by the current public legislation corresponding to each country.

In this investigation we will use the definition of Álvarez and Rojas () for what is related to NPI. According to these experts: “NPIs are health policies aimed at mitigating the effects of the spread of a new virus when vaccines or drugs are not yet available. They consist of actions recommended to the public or, in some cases, imposed by the government that affect their daily life habits.

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