Developing a conceptual framework is an essential step in any research. The conceptual framework is the structure that outlines key concepts, variables, relationships, and theories that will guide your research. It is built on the theoretical foundations you unearth in your research.

To develop a conceptual framework, you must first identify the research problem. The more clearly you can articulate the problem you are investigating, the easier it will be to identify and define the key terms and concepts that will be part of your conceptual framework.

Once you have identified the research problem, you need to review the existing literature with an eye to identifying and analyzing any theories, models, or empirical studies that emerge from the review. At this point, you will begin to see how your key terms and concepts relate to each other.

Based on the literature review, you will have an idea of the main ideas associated with your topic. At this point, it is imperative that you define and operationalize these main ideas. Doing this will allow you to develop hypotheses as to the relationships between these main ideas. To further elucidate the relationships, identify whether they are causal or correlational, mediating or moderating.

The next step is to create a visual representation of the conceptual framework. This representation will not only identify what the main ideas are, but also how the ideas are related, and the direction and/or magnitude of the relationship. Typically, this representation is in the form of a flowchart, diagram, or model.

Developing a conceptual framework is an iterative process and requires that you continuously refine and revise the flowchart, diagram, or model as you learn more and more about your topic.

In your dissertation, you will need to provide a rationale for selecting the main ideas and relationships in your conceptual framework. Explain how the conceptual model relates to your research problem and what gaps the model highlights. Then justify why your conceptual model is appropriate for addressing your research objectives.

Next, you must tackle the issue of alignment. Does it work with the methodology you plan to use? Does it work well with the measurement and operationalization of the main ideas? Does it help define or explain the data you will be collecting in the study?

Finally, use the “completed” conceptual framework as a guide throughout the rest of your research process.  It will help you stay focused on the main ideas and the relationships you are trying to elucidate.