Conceptual framework

A conceptual framework illustrates what you expect to find through your research. It defines the relevant variables for your study and maps out how they might relate to each other.

You should construct a conceptual framework before you begin collecting data. It is often represented in a visual format.

When to create a conceptual framework

If you want to investigate any kind of relationship between variables, it’s a good idea to create a conceptual framework.

Research example
You want to know if students who study more hours get higher exam scores. To investigate this question, you can use methods such as an experiment or survey to test the relationship between variables.

Before you start collecting data, construct a conceptual framework to show exactly which variables you will measure and how you expect them to relate to each other.

The conceptual framework is developed based on a literature review of existing studies on the topic.

Identifying your variables

Variables are simply the characteristics or properties that you want to study. The conceptual framework will map the expected relationship between them.

In our example, the two key variables are “hours of study” and “exam score.”

Independent and dependent variables

If we want to test a cause-and-effect relationship, we need to identify at least two variables: the independent variable and the dependent variable. In our example:

  • the expected cause, “hours of study,” is the independent variable (aka the predictor or explanatory variable).
  • the expected effect, “exam score,” is the dependent variable (aka the response or outcome variable).

In other words, “exam score” depends on “hours of study.”

Causal relationships often involve several independent variables that affect the dependent variable. However, to keep things simple, we’ll work with just one independent variable, namely “hours of study.”

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See an example

Designing a conceptual framework

A conceptual framework can be designed in many different ways. The form yours takes will depend on what kinds of relationships you expect to find.

To visualize our expected cause-and-effect relationship, we will use the basic design components of boxes, arrows, and lines.

Component Meaning
Box Variable
Arrow Causal relationship
Line Correlation


To indicate a causal relationship, each arrow should start from the independent variable (the cause) and point to the dependent variable (the effect).

Use a line when you expect a correlation between two variables, but no cause-and-effect relationship.



Basic conceptual framework using an independent variable and a dependent variable

Expanding the conceptual framework

As you develop your conceptual framework, you should also aim to identify other variables that might influence the relationship between your independent and dependent variables.

Some common variables to be incorporated into the conceptual framework include:

    Is this article helpful?
    Bas Swaen

    Bas is co-founder of Scribbr. Bas is an experienced academic writer and loves to teach. He helps students by writing clear, simple articles about difficult topics.


    Catherine Mbaya
    October 16, 2020 at 10:52 PM

    Thanks for clear explanation. Iam an academic writer too and this is life saving. I appreciate.


    September 16, 2020 at 10:39 PM

    How can make conceptual framework on 'issueses of online learning faced by school students and their parents at rural areas,
    *Independent variable :socio personal variable of both students &their parents.
    *Dependant variable :?


    Mohsina Jahan
    October 23, 2020 at 5:13 PM

    I think the title should be " Factors affecting online learning of school students".
    Here, the dependent variable is online learning. The independent variable can be many factors like availability of internet connection, appropriate device, parents income, knowledge of technology, and many others.


    September 15, 2020 at 10:18 PM

    How do I develop a framework when there no variables for a phemenological study using qualitative methodology


    Kamal rasaili
    September 14, 2020 at 7:50 PM

    How can make a conceptual framework on the activities for teaching engkish alphabet in montessrri scahool?


    Bello Jajere
    August 29, 2020 at 2:54 PM

    Good explanation, but how could I put or state categorically the conceptual framework in an abstract.


    borniface chilufya
    August 19, 2020 at 7:31 PM

    what could be the diagram for conceptual framework maths


    August 17, 2020 at 11:15 PM

    Thanks for this wonderful will go a long way in helping me design a really good and straight forward conceptual framework for my research.


    Lapulani Malata
    July 31, 2020 at 4:54 AM

    I'm really impressed with your explanation on conceptual framework .I'm also into academic writing and would love to join your team


    Nanseera vincent
    August 11, 2020 at 3:40 AM

    Thanks for your clear explanation of conceptual is an added value to my research dissertation


    Opara james
    July 28, 2020 at 1:11 PM

    How do I then relate it to an existing models?


    Paul Ndibe
    July 27, 2020 at 4:21 PM

    Thanks for your assistance.
    I now have a better and more straight forward approach to handling
    my dissertation.
    I now have the confidence.
    I am grateful.


    July 19, 2020 at 2:31 AM

    Thank you for keeping it simple. I really appreciated the explanation and examples. Because of this, I've saved myself time and headache from over-complicating my research. In my original conceptual framework, I had both moderating and mediating variables and did not fully understand the magnitude of statistical analysis might be involved by having them. Because of how well this was explained, I have now simplified my research into one moderating variable.


    July 17, 2020 at 7:50 PM

    thank you so much for this, the explaination is spot on :)


    June 17, 2020 at 10:22 AM

    Your explanation came at the right time! Never been thought how to do this before. Reading this, it's like I've studied a course teaching me how to write a conceptual framework. Thank you!


    December 10, 2019 at 6:09 AM

    Great! Your explanations are so straight -forward and easy to understand. I have being battling with understanding conceptual framework but thanks to your explanation. I'm clear now. I love to become a great writer like you


    Ajems Jennifer
    May 27, 2020 at 11:42 AM

    Amazing always dependable for answers to thesis writing i just appreciate you guys.


    June 20, 2019 at 4:56 PM

    Hi there,

    Is it possible to create a conceptual framework with two dependent variables? And can be gender an independent variable, or is it a moderator then?



    Raimo Streefkerk
    Raimo Streefkerk (Scribbr-team)
    July 3, 2019 at 1:56 PM

    Hi Anne,

    It is indeed possible to have two dependent variables. Gender can both be an independent variable or a moderator. It depends on the relationship you expect. For example: gender is a moderator when the relationship between X and Y is different for men and women.



    July 29, 2018 at 10:22 AM

    how to write a problem statement in dissertation


    Victoria Mrosek
    Victoria Mrosek (Scribbr-team)
    July 29, 2018 at 11:47 AM

    Dear Piya,
    Thanks for your question.
    Unfortunately, I am not sure if I got it right though. I'd recommend for you to check our knowledge base:
    I hope that helps.
    Good luck!


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