Conceptual and Theoretical Frameworks for Educational Research

October 30, 2017

Sarah Eaton blog technology researchIn my experience it is not uncommon for graduate students to struggle to figure out how to develop a conceptual or theoretical framework for their thesis or capstone project.

Here’s a list of resources that may help you do just that. I have developed this list with educational research in mind. Some of the resources are from other fields, but may have strong transferability to educational research contexts. Conversely, researchers from other fields may find the resources in this list helpful.

I have curated resources that are, in my opinion, high quality and relevant to those working in post-secondary research context. I have tried to include resources that are publicly accessible and available free of charge. I have excluded resources that seemed to be (again, in my opinion) overly brief or were being sold for profit.

Remember, if you are looking for sources to cite in your research paper or dissertation, scholarly journal articles and book chapters are often preferable to other kinds of resources because they are considered more credible. If you are just trying to wrap your head around the basics, any of these resources might help you.

Web-based resources

Clarke, R. (2011). Conceptual framework basics.   Retrieved from

Kesterson, T. (2013). Developing Conceptual Framework: Part 1.   Retrieved from

Maxwell, J. A. (2005). Conceptual framework: What do you think is going on? Qualitative research design: An interactive approach (3rd. ed., pp. 39-72): Sage. Retrieved from:

Metha, R. S. (2013). Theoretical and Conceptual Framework as Blue Print of a House.   Retrieved from

Schneider, D. K. (2005). The research plan and conceptual frameworks.   Retrieved from

Sitko, N. J. (2013). Designing a qualitative research project: Conceptual framework and research questions.   Retrieved from

Thompson, C. J. (2017). How to use a theory to frame your research study.   Retrieved from

Scholarly journal articles and book chapters

If you cannot find these articles easily, contact your local librarian. Often librarians can help you access legitimate copies of materials free of charge if you are having difficulty finding them.

Green, H. E. (2014). Use of theoretical and conceptual frameworks in qualitative research. Nurse Researcher, 21(6), 34-38. doi:10.7748/nr.21.6.34.e1252

Imenda, S. (2014). Is There a Conceptual Difference between Theoretical and Conceptual Frameworks? Sosyal Bilimler Dergisi/Journal of Social Sciences, 38(2), 185-195.

Jabareen, Y. (2009). Building a conceptual framework: Philosophy, definitions, and procedure International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 8(4), 49-62. Retrieved from

Pearson Casanave, C., & Li, Y. (2013). Novices’ struggles with conceptual and theoretical framing in writing dissertations and papers for publication. Publications, 3(2), 104-119. Retrieved from doi:10.3390/publications3020104

Saunders, M., N.K., Gray, D. E., Tosey, P., & Sadler-Smith, E. (2015). Concepts and theory building. In L. Anderson, J. Gold, J. Stewart, & R. Thorpe (Eds.), A Guide to Professional Doctorates in Business and Management (pp. 35-56). London: Sage.

Related posts:

How to narrow down your research topic

Developing a Work Plan for Your Thesis

What if you’re wrong? A question for researchers


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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