Visit South’s online library and review these two articles.

Connelly, L. M. (2014). Use of theoretical frameworks in research. MEDSURG Nursing, 23(3), 187-188.

Green, H. E. (2014). Use of theoretical and conceptual frameworks in qualitative research. Nurse Researcher, 21(6), 34-38.

Next, review the evidence you are collecting for your proposed study. Which theories have others cited? Are you seeing a common theme? Next construct a conceptual map (see p. 138 in your textbook). Use Microsoft Word or Microsoft PowerPoint and include this as an attachment. Be sure you have defined the concepts and included relational statements.

Nurse Researcher

Introduction THIS PAPER aims to help the researcher to understand the nature of theoretical and conceptual frameworks and how they can be used to help give direction to a study, or be identified as an outcome. The use of theoretical and conceptual frameworks is part of research, but is relatively obscure among the myriad of literature available. In published research reports, there is often no explanation as to what theoretical and conceptual frameworks are, and they are mentioned in many popular research textbooks at best minimally and often as terms in a glossary. There appears to be no manual about how theoretical and/or conceptual frameworks should be used.

This paper examines what the literature says in relation to theoretical and/or conceptual frameworks and considers how researchers seem to be using them. It also shows how a conceptual framework was used in case study research to determine the professional jurisdictions of doctors and nurses in the supply and prescription of medicines, and ultimately to the development of a conceptual model.

Definitions of frameworks Fain (2004) defined theory as ‘an organised and systematic set of interrelated statements (concepts) that specify the nature of relationships between

Correspondence Helen Elise Green

Helen Elise Green PhD is director of student education at the University of Leeds, UK

Peer review This article has been subject to double-blind review and has been checked using antiplagiarism software

Author guidelines r/nr-author-guidelines

Abstract Aim To debate the definition and use of theoretical and conceptual frameworks in qualitative research.

Background There is a paucity of literature to help the novice researcher to understand what theoretical and conceptual frameworks are and how they should be used. This paper acknowledges the interchangeable usage of these terms and researchers’ confusion about the differences between the two. It discusses how researchers have used theoretical and conceptual frameworks and the notion of conceptual models. Detail is given about how one researcher incorporated a conceptual framework throughout a research project, the purpose for doing so and how this led to a resultant conceptual model.

Review methods Concepts from Abbott (1988) and Witz (1992) were used to provide a framework for research involving two case study sites. The framework was used to determine research questions and give direction to interviews and discussions to focus the research.

Discussion Some research methods do not overtly use a theoretical framework or conceptual framework in their design, but this is implicit and underpins the method design, for example in grounded theory. Other qualitative methods use one or the other to frame the design of a research project or to explain the outcomes. An example is given of how a conceptual framework was used throughout a research project.

Conclusion Theoretical and conceptual frameworks are terms that are regularly used in research but rarely explained. Textbooks should discuss what they are and how they can be used, so novice researchers understand how they can help with research design.

Implications for practice/research Theoretical and conceptual frameworks need to be more clearly understood by researchers and correct terminology used to ensure clarity for novice researchers.

Keywords Theoretical framework, conceptual framework, case study, conceptual model, qualitative research, research design, case study research.

Date of submission: May 22 2013. Date of acceptance: August 28 2013.

Cite this article as: Green H (2014) Use of theoretical and conceptual frameworks in qualitative research. Nurse Researcher. 21, 6, 34-38.

Use of theoretical and conceptual frameworks in qualitative research

© RCN PUBLISHING / NURSE RESEARCHER July 2014 | Volume 21 | Number 6 35


two or more variables, with the purpose of understanding a problem or the nature of things’ and concepts as ‘symbolic statements describing a phenomenon or a class of phenomena’.

It is a matter of interpretation as to when concepts become organised and interrelated enough to be deemed theories, which might explain why the two terms are used interchangeably when referring to frameworks. However, Parahoo (2006) suggested that ‘theoretical framework’ should be used when research is underpinned by one theory and that a ‘conceptual framework’ draws on concepts from various theories and findings to guide research. This is a slightly different interpretation to that of Fain (2004) because, instead of suggesting that the concepts have been built into a theory, it suggests that parts of multiple theories have been taken.

Whether these distinctions matter is questionable. Parahoo (2006) implied that it is fruitless to consider whether a researcher has used the correct terminology and it is far more important to consider how theory has been used to underpin the study.

Authors use the terms ‘conceptual framework’ and ‘theoretical framework’ interchangeably (Fain 2004, Parahoo 2006). Some authors only refer to one. For example, Lacey (2010) referred to conceptual frameworks, suggesting that they identify researchers’ ‘world views’ of their research topics and so delineate their assumptions and pre- conceptions about the areas being studied. Fain (2004) suggested that where a framework is based on concepts, the framework should be called a conceptual framework, and where it is based on theories it should be called a theoretical framework.

Given that there is confusion between theoretical and conceptual frameworks, it could be argued that they are of questionable value. However, frameworks have been described as the map for a study, giving a rationale for the development of research questions or hypotheses (Fulton and Krainovich-Miller 2010). LoBiondo-Wood (2010) similarly said that the framework is the design and added that the research question, purpose, literature review and theoretical framework should all complement each other and help with the operationalisation of the design.