What is Conceptual Framework? Explanations for Beginners in Academic Research

Question: What is a conceptual framework? Explanations for beginners in academic research.


Many researchers, especially early career researchers (ECRs), are confused about the conceptual framework. As a result, they waste huge time by reading many articles, many of which make them confused eventually. In this brief article, I am going to explain the conceptual framework.

Please read till the end!

Conceptual framework

A conceptual framework is a framework where a study’s factors, constructs, or variables are addressed graphically with less/key/main words. For example, Figure 1 is a conceptual framework below.

Figure 1: Conceptual Framework

What is a conceptual framework example

The assumed title: Impact/influence/effect of salary, job security and work environment on employee retention in an organisation or industry

In the above diagram, i.e., conceptual framework, you can see some variables/constructs/factors that can be used to examine the impact on each other. For example, the variables/factors/constructs such as Salary, Job Security and Work Environment may impact employee retention!” As a result, employee retention is called a factor or a dependent variable, an outcome variable, or an endogenous variable (The endogenous variable is used in econometrics and occasionally in linear regression). However, Salary, Job Security, and Work Environment are the independent or exogenous variables (The exogenous variable is used in econometrics and occasionally in linear regression).

Now the question is, how have you got those factors or variables in the above framework? The simple answer is “obviously from the literature review.” Think that you have read some papers regarding those variables and found that they have relationships. You have found the impact/influence, for example, the impact of independent variables on dependent variables. Thus, you can imagine a framework in your mind, can’t you? Yes, you can. That is called the conceptual framework in a more straightforward way!

You also assumed some hypotheses like below after reading the papers relating to salary, job security, and work environment.

Hypothesis 1:

The salary impacts/influences/effects on employee retention.

Hypothesis 2:

The job security impacts/influences/effects on employee retention.

Hypothesis 3:

The work environment impacts/influences/effects on employee retention.

The above hypotheses are extracted from your conceptual framework to inform readers or researchers what to expect and know from your research. After your research, i.e. survey, data analyses, some hypotheses may be accepted or may be rejected.

By the way, do you assume any hypothesis when you read any research paper? Yes, you do. However, to do this, you have to read documents very much attentively.

A researcher, who reads/reviews some literature (articles/papers), naturally identifies some constructs or variables or factors on the basis of the research objectives. Here the constructs/variables/factors could be independent or dependent variables. These (i.e., independent or dependent variables) have either relationship or impact.  However, the researcher cannot reach a conclusion based on those studies relating to his particular context (geography) since those studies may be conducted in different contexts. Moreover, the researcher may not reach a conclusion based on those studies due to a smaller sample of methodological weakness or due to other factors. Even the authors of those studies may have recommended conducting further investigations.

At this stage, the researcher can develop a framework or model including some variables extracted from those papers to examine their relationship or impact in their context or attractive area to reach a conclusion or verify or validate previous findings that can be called a conceptual framework.

Overall, the conceptual framework defines and includes the relevant variables of a study and maps out how the variables relate to each other, or maybe one variable impacts another. Most importantly, the conceptual framework is prepared before data collection to give readers a visual or graphical format. However, in a broader sense, a conceptual framework gives an orientation to the study and support both researcher and readers to see how the study contributes to the body of knowledge on the topic and how the variables of the study align, and even how the study methodology fulfill the rigorous research standards.

I would say, if you are a beginner in research or you are trying to write a research paper just try to understand in simple way that conceptual framework is a graphical presentation of variables. It is developed based on the acceptable and logical findings from the literature. For example, salary has an impact/influence/effect on employee retention, or we can also depict that salary has a relationship with employee retention. We can say these based on  the results of salary and employee retention  in previous studies. Moreover, if there would nothing about salary and employee retention in the previous studies, we could assume or create hypothesis of these variables based the theories as well. Hence, we can prepare a conceptual framework to give a graphical posture of those variables (salary and employee retention) for testing via different methodological processes.

Now, let’s say you have an issue with employee retention in your selected organisation or industry. You have read many papers and found that salary, motivation, work environment, job security, bonus, and so on impact on employee retention. However, you do not know which is the main factor, or you do not know whether all these factors are responsible for developing employee retention. Here, you can create a conceptual framework where independent variables will be salary, motivation, work environment, job security, bonus, while employee retention will be the dependent variable. Now, can you imagine or draw your conceptual framework like above figure 1 mentioned in this article?

However, the conceptual framework can be explained in many ways! I respect those ways. I have just tried to make the explanation regarding the conceptual framework a simple one. And, I hope you are clear about the Conceptual Framework.


Dr Md. Asadul Islam

Assistant Professor of Management, BRAC Business School, BRAC University

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