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Defining The Conceptual Framework

Making a conceptual framework, conceptual framework for dmft students, conceptual framework guide, example frameworks, additional framework resources.

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What is it?

  • The researcher’s understanding/hypothesis/exploration of either an existing framework/model or how existing concepts come together to inform a particular problem. Shows the reader how different elements come together to facilitate research and a clear understanding of results.
  • Informs the research questions/methodology (problem statement drives framework drives RQs drives methodology)
  • A tool (linked concepts) to help facilitate the understanding of the relationship among concepts or variables in relation to the real-world. Each concept is linked to frame the project in question.
  • Falls inside of a larger theoretical framework (theoretical framework = explains the why and how of a particular phenomenon within a particular body of literature).
  • Can be a graphic or a narrative – but should always be explained and cited
  • Can be made up of theories and concepts

What does it do?

  • Explains or predicts the way key concepts/variables will come together to inform the problem/phenomenon
  • Gives the study direction/parameters
  • Helps the researcher organize ideas and clarify concepts
  • Introduces your research and how it will advance your field of practice. A conceptual framework should include concepts applicable to the field of study. These can be in the field or neighboring fields – as long as important details are captured and the framework is relevant to the problem. (alignment)

What should be in it?

  • Variables, concepts, theories, and/or parts of other existing frameworks

How to make a conceptual framework

  • With a topic in mind, go to the body of literature and start identifying the key concepts used by other studies. Figure out what’s been done by other researchers, and what needs to be done (either find a specific call to action outlined in the literature or make sure your proposed problem has yet to be studied in your specific setting). Use what you find needs to be done to either support a pre-identified problem or craft a general problem for study. Only rely on scholarly sources for this part of your research.
  • Begin to pull out variables, concepts, theories, and existing frameworks explained in the relevant literature.
  • If you’re building a framework, start thinking about how some of those variables, concepts, theories, and facets of existing frameworks come together to shape your problem. The problem could be a situational condition that requires a scholar-practitioner approach, the result of a practical need, or an opportunity to further an applicational study, project, or research. Remember, if the answer to your specific problem exists, you don’t need to conduct the study.
  • The actionable research you’d like to conduct will help shape what you include in your framework. Sketch the flow of your Applied Doctoral Project from start to finish and decide which variables are truly the best fit for your research.
  • Create a graphic representation of your framework (this part is optional, but often helps readers understand the flow of your research) Even if you do a graphic, first write out how the variables could influence your Applied Doctoral Project and introduce your methodology. Remember to use APA formatting in separating the sections of your framework to create a clear understanding of the framework for your reader.
  • As you move through your study, you may need to revise your framework.
  • Note for qualitative/quantitative research: If doing qualitative, make sure your framework doesn’t include arrow lines, which could imply causal or correlational linkages.
  • Conceptural and Theoretical Framework for DMFT Students This document is specific to DMFT students working on a conceptual or theoretical framework for their applied project.
  • Conceptual Framework Guide Use this guide to determine the guiding framework for your applied dissertation research.

Let’s say I’ve just taken a job as manager of a failing restaurant. Throughout first week, I notice the few customers they have are leaving unsatisfied. I need to figure out why and turn the establishment into a thriving restaurant. I get permission from the owner to do a study to figure out exactly what we need to do to raise levels of customer satisfaction. Since I have a specific problem and want to make sure my research produces valid results, I go to the literature to find out what others are finding about customer satisfaction in the food service industry. This particular restaurant is vegan focused – and my search of the literature doesn’t say anything specific about how to increase customer service in a vegan atmosphere, so I know this research needs to be done.

I find out there are different types of satisfaction across other genres of the food service industry, and the one I’m interested in is cumulative customer satisfaction. I then decide based on what I’m seeing in the literature that my definition of customer satisfaction is the way perception, evaluation, and psychological reaction to perception and evaluation of both tangible and intangible elements of the dining experience come together to inform customer expectations. Essentially, customer expectations inform customer satisfaction.

I then find across the literature many variables could be significant in determining customer satisfaction. Because the following keep appearing, they are the ones I choose to include in my framework: price, service, branding (branched out to include physical environment and promotion), and taste. I also learn by reading the literature, satisfaction can vary between genders – so I want to make sure to also collect demographic information in my survey. Gender, age, profession, and number of children are a few demographic variables I understand would be helpful to include based on my extensive literature review.

Note: this is a quantitative study. I’m including all variables in this study, and the variables I am testing are my independent variables. Here I’m working to see how each of the independent variables influences (or not) my dependent variable, customer satisfaction. If you are interested in qualitative study, read on for an example of how to make the same framework qualitative in nature.

Also note: when you create your framework, you’ll need to cite each facet of your framework. Tell the reader where you got everything you’re including. Not only is it in compliance with APA formatting, but also it raises your credibility as a researcher. Once you’ve built the narrative around your framework, you may also want to create a visual for your reader.

See below for one example of how to illustrate your framework:

what chapter of research is conceptual framework

If you’re interested in a qualitative study, be sure to omit arrows and other notations inferring statistical analysis. The only time it would be inappropriate to include a framework in qualitative study is in a grounded theory study, which is not something you’ll do in an applied doctoral study.

A visual example of a qualitative framework is below:


Some additional helpful resources in constructing a conceptual framework for study:

  • Problem Statement, Conceptual Framework, and Research Question. McGaghie, W. C.; Bordage, G.; and J. A. Shea (2001). Problem Statement, Conceptual Framework, and Research Question. Retrieved on January 5, 2015 from http://goo.gl/qLIUFg
  • Building a Conceptual Framework: Philosophy, Definitions, and Procedure
  • https://www.scribbr.com/dissertation/conceptual-framework/
  • https://www.projectguru.in/developing-conceptual-framework-in-a-research-paper/

Conceptual Framework Research

A conceptual framework is a synthetization of interrelated components and variables which help in solving a real-world problem. It is the final lens used for viewing the deductive resolution of an identified issue (Imenda, 2014). The development of a conceptual framework begins with a deductive assumption that a problem exists, and the application of processes, procedures, functional approach, models, or theory may be used for problem resolution (Zackoff et al., 2019). The application of theory in traditional theoretical research is to understand, explain, and predict phenomena (Swanson, 2013). In applied research the application of theory in problem solving focuses on how theory in conjunction with practice (applied action) and procedures (functional approach) frames vision, thinking, and action towards problem resolution. The inclusion of theory in a conceptual framework is not focused on validation or devaluation of applied theories. A concise way of viewing the conceptual framework is a list of understood fact-based conditions that presents the researcher’s prescribed thinking for solving the identified problem. These conditions provide a methodological rationale of interrelated ideas and approaches for beginning, executing, and defining the outcome of problem resolution efforts (Leshem & Trafford, 2007).

The term conceptual framework and theoretical framework are often and erroneously used interchangeably (Grant & Osanloo, 2014). Just as with traditional research, a theory does not or cannot be expected to explain all phenomenal conditions, a conceptual framework is not a random identification of disparate ideas meant to incase a problem. Instead it is a means of identifying and constructing for the researcher and reader alike an epistemological mindset and a functional worldview approach to the identified problem.

Grant, C., & Osanloo, A. (2014). Understanding, Selecting, and Integrating a Theoretical Framework in Dissertation Research: Creating the Blueprint for Your “House. ” Administrative Issues Journal: Connecting Education, Practice, and Research, 4(2), 12–26

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

Leshem, S., & Trafford, V. (2007). Overlooking the conceptual framework. Innovations in Education & Teaching International, 44(1), 93–105. https://doi-org.proxy1.ncu.edu/10.1080/14703290601081407

Swanson, R. (2013). Theory building in applied disciplines . San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Zackoff, M. W., Real, F. J., Klein, M. D., Abramson, E. L., Li, S.-T. T., & Gusic, M. E. (2019). Enhancing Educational Scholarship Through Conceptual Frameworks: A Challenge and Roadmap for Medical Educators . Academic Pediatrics, 19(2), 135–141. https://doi-org.proxy1.ncu.edu/10.1016/j.acap.2018.08.003

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National Academies Press: OpenBook

Growing Up Global: The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries (2005)

Chapter: part i introduction and conceptual framework--1 introduction, part i introduction and conceptual framework.

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1 Introduction

In many parts of the developing world, simultaneous changes in technology, economics, culture, politics, demographics, the environment, and education have become so pervasive and globally inclusive as to create new and emergent conditions for the coming of age of recent cohorts. These changes are reaching across national boundaries and into the smallest rural communities, carrying with them both the transformative force of markets, technology, and democracy, but also the risk of marginalization. Adolescents and young adults whose lives are affected by these changes can be beneficiaries when they are prepared for them but can also bear their scars if they are not. Those who do not feel the immediate impact of these changes will nonetheless be affected indirectly as the overall pace and pervasiveness of change continue to accelerate.

While young people—a term used in this report to capture this phase of the life cycle roughly equivalent to the age range 10 to 24—have little opportunity to affect the speed and direction of change, some will soon be taking responsibility for its management as adults. Their success in making a well-timed and proficient transition from childhood to adulthood will fundamentally affect the extent to which they will be able to become active participants in and beneficiaries of global change in the future.

Concerns about how global forces are altering the passage into adulthood are all the more urgent because of the changing demographic profile of many developing countries. The acceleration of these global changes has coincided with unprecedented growth in the size of the population of young people in developing countries. In 2005, the total number of 10-24-year-olds is estimated to reach 1.5 billion, constituting nearly 30 percent of the

population of these regions. The population of young people of the world is quite unevenly distributed: 86 percent of all young people live in developing countries, and 71 percent of young people in developing countries currently live in Asia (United Nations, 2003b). Furthermore, rates of growth vary widely. In terms of absolute size, each subsequent cohort of young people in the developing world is projected to continue to increase until 2035, as the rapid growth in Africa and parts of Asia counteracts some slow declines in absolute numbers in other parts of Asia and in Latin America.

Across the developing world, the life experience of many young people today is profoundly different from the experience of their parents or even of young people growing up a decade ago. While change in and of itself is not new, the rapidity and scale of recent change has profound implications for both the opportunities and the risks faced by the current generation of young people and for relationships between the generations.

Improvements in health and survival have ensured for a great many more infants and children the opportunity to enjoy life into adolescence and beyond. These improvements, moreover, have meant that these children have developed better cognitively as well as in terms of physical health. Furthermore, the fertility transition, which is in process in most of the developing world, means that many young people are growing up with fewer siblings and in smaller households. Rapid urbanization also means that a higher percentage of young people are growing up in cities or moving to cities during their formative years. School enrollment and attainment are increasing around the world at the same time that ages of labor force entry are rising. With rising levels of education, young people have more possibilities to participate in a rapidly modernizing economy—in their local village, a nearby town, the capital city, or even another country—and experience and enjoy freer and more fulfilling lives. However, that promise cannot be realized without certain legal rights and protections and supportive institutions, including good schools, a sufficient number of remunerative and satisfying jobs, the opportunity for community participation and political voice, the absence of discrimination, good nutrition and health, access to health services, and, for women, a choice about freedom from premature marriage and childbearing.

Barriers to mobility have lessened due to reduced costs of transportation and increasingly available means of transportation at the same time that greater access to information conveys news of a wider range of geographic opportunities for schooling, jobs, and marriage partners. The development of a global youth culture is facilitated by the growing accessibility of international media and the Internet but at the same time fully effective connectivity requires adequate income to afford access, language competency, and computer literacy—skills that are hard for many young people to acquire without more and better schooling opportunities. Later ages of

marriage and childbearing increase opportunities for further schooling, but they also increase the time during which adolescents are exposed to premarital pregnancy and childbearing.

Young people in less developed regions are confronting opportunities and challenges unique to this historical time. Young people today, especially in urban areas, are the first generation to grow up with widespread access to a radio and increasingly also to television and with the growing potential for Internet connectivity at an early age. They are also the first generation to grow up in a world in which there has always been AIDS and, at least in some parts of the developing world, the first generation with nearly universal knowledge of and access to some form of contraception. This is the first generation to be covered during their childhood by the broad protections internationally recognized in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted in 1991) and supported, in many diverse local contexts, by the work of many international agencies as well as international, national, and local nongovernmental organizations.

In the context of today’s rapid changes, gender role socialization, which is itself undergoing change, combines conflicting messages and contradictory experiences as the global culture interacts with cultural realities on the ground. Girls have historically experienced the transition to adulthood very differently from boys. Although gender role socialization begins at birth, it has generally led to an increasingly sharp differentiation of roles, behaviors, and expectations beginning at the time boys and girls experience puberty and continuing through the assumption of adult roles. This process of socialization is reinforced through social norms, laws, and institutions that in many countries progressively restrict the mobility and public participation of adolescent girls and in some settings makes them seemingly invisible while providing expanded liberties, opportunities, and agency for adolescent boys. Boys and girls usually enter adulthood having experienced differences in the duration and content of schooling, having taken up different work roles in the home and workplace, and having been offered different opportunities for community participation. Furthermore, young women typically assume adult family roles sooner than young men because they marry younger, while young men often assume more public adult roles sooner through their participation in work and their greater opportunities for leadership in schools, communities, work, and sports.

These broad statements capture only the average tendencies for young people in developing countries. At the same time that young people everywhere are becoming part of a more integrated world, at least some people in every country are experiencing transitions to adulthood that increasingly resemble those that are typical of young people in developed countries. But differential rates of change have led, in some cases, to growing differences among adolescents within and across countries, as some young people

experience progress and others are left behind. Although poverty rates have been declining for developing countries as a whole, significant fractions of young people still live in poverty. Trends in poverty rates vary across regions, with big declines in Asia but an increase in poverty in Africa. In the panel’s view, the successful achievement by 2015 of many of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals will require that policy makers center their attention on adolescents (see Box 1-1 ).

Critics of globalization argue that it has been associated with growing income inequality and social polarization, as some local participants in global change improve their economic situation while the livelihoods of others remain largely unchanged or decline (see, for example, Milanovic, 2003; United Nations, 2004; Wade, 2004). Over time the situation of those left behind may actually deteriorate, as their skills and assets become less

and less valued. Relative and absolute poverty may increase within countries as well as across them. Growing economic inequality has reverberating consequences for the next generation. Young people growing up in poverty are the most vulnerable to the negative consequences of globalization and are in the greatest need of protection and support.

The very different demographic, political, and economic circumstances of countries throughout the developing world mean that the experiences of today’s young people, and the implications of globalization for them, vary enormously. From young women in garment factories in Bangladesh, to child soldiers in Sierra Leone, to university students in Mexico, to unemployed youth in refugee communities in Palestine, to young workers in the Silicon Valley of India, to family farm workers in Egypt, to young Pakistani migrant workers in the Persian Gulf, to young wives of polygamous husbands in Senegal, one can only begin to imagine the range of experience that these examples encompass. Indeed, the diversity of experiences can only be growing, as traditional roles persist, albeit experienced in qualitatively different ways than in the past, and at the same time new opportunities and experiences emerge. Young people are adaptable and continue to demonstrate resilience in handling the contradictions of today’s world. However, the challenge is to ensure successful transitions to adulthood in these rapidly changing circumstances and to spread opportunities for success more equitably given the enormous gaps that persist between rich and poor and between boys and girls. Policies and programs, if they are to be effective, will need to be evidence-based, appropriate to the local context, and embraced and supported by the local community.


Recognizing the critical gaps in knowledge of the transitions to adulthood in developing countries in this time of rapid change, the National Academies convened a panel of experts to review the research in this area and related implications for policies and programs. Specifically, the panel’s charge was to

document the situation and status of adolescents and young adults in developing countries, highlighting what is known about various (and multiple) transitions to adulthood, with special emphasis on gender differences;

ascertain the changes that are occurring in the nature, timing, sequencing, and interrelationships of transitions to adulthood in developing countries;

assess the knowledge base regarding the causes and consequences of these changes;

identify the implications of this knowledge for policy and program interventions affecting adolescent reproductive health; and

identify research priorities that are scientifically promising and relevant for integrating adolescent research and policy.

The charge to the panel was intentionally very broad because the National Academies recognized that the transition to adulthood is multifaceted and comprises multiple and interrelated transitions across different spheres of life. To implement the charge, the panel reviewed knowledge on the full range of transitions to adulthood—schooling, health, work, citizenship, marriage, and parenthood, as well as policies and programs affecting all of these transitions. This was necessary because transitions are interrelated and interventions directed at any single transition can affect other transitions. The panel therefore addressed both the direct and indirect effects of policies and programs on adolescent reproductive health, to the extent possible given existing research and data.

The juxtaposition of diversity in the lives of young people in less developed regions and incomplete data coverage of the full range of contemporary experiences presented special challenges to the panel. The recognition that a study, no matter how comprehensive and empirically grounded, would inevitably neglect the experience of some young people led the panel to set the study in a conceptual framework that is neither time nor context specific. This allows the reader to adapt the framework (presented in the next chapter) to an understanding of the lives of the many young people whose stories will not be told or will be told only with respect to a specific time and place that is undergoing rapid change. Furthermore, in assessing the experiences of young people, the panel developed its own set of definitions of successful transitions to adulthood against which the actual experiences of young people could be compared. These definitions build on our understanding of adolescent development and of the contemporary global context and provide an essential yardstick with which data and research findings can be interpreted.

The panel’s approach was to build on the positive while not ignoring the negative. Thus, while the emphasis is on opportunity and how it can be enhanced, the panel did not ignore the risks and constraints of contemporary life. Indeed, special attention was paid to examining both success stories and failures from past policies and programs designed to reduce risks and lift constraints, particularly as they apply to the disadvantaged. The panel gives special emphasis throughout the report to the different experiences of young men and women and to the circumstances of the poor regardless of gender. The panel views the achievement and maintenance of health, in particular reproductive health during the adolescent years, as integrally connected to success in other developmental domains.

We therefore emphasize in the report the interrelationships between these developmental domains and policies and programs that may affect these interrelationships.

The panel defined adulthood as a set of culturally, historically, and gender-specific activities, rights, and responsibilities that people acquire over time by means of a process of transition. The transition to adulthood begins during adolescence, but it continues beyond adolescence, sometimes even into the late 20s or early 30s. Therefore, in several places in the subsequent descriptive analysis, we make reference to

an early phase of the transition (between ages 10 and 14),

a middle phase of the transition (between ages 15 and 20), and

a later phase of the transition (21+).

It is important for a report such as this to define terms such as “children,” “adolescents,” “youth,” and “young people” and then use them consistently since the definitions and nuances of these terms vary from country to country and no common consensus exists. Even within the international community there is no ready and straightforward agreement. For example, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child covers all children, defined as anyone under the age of 18, while the International Labour Organization (ILO)’s Minimum Age Convention (No. 138) distinguishes between acceptable “child labor” that is performed by children under the age of 15 and “child work” that may contribute to a child’s healthy development. Light work may be allowed for children 12 and older (National Research Council, 2004). Given the panel’s broad definition of the process of transition, developed to encompass diversities both within and across countries, our definition and terminology differ slightly from those adopted by some international agencies, for example the World Health Organization (UNICEF and WHO, 1995), which has used the terms “adolescent” for those ages 10-19, “youth” for those ages 15-24, and “young people” for those ages 10-24. Although the panel has frequently used the terms in the same way, for the most part, we prefer to use the term “young people” to refer to the relevant age range, roughly corresponding to 10- to 24-year-olds, during which time the transition to adulthood generally occurs. Note again, however, that in some cases, the transition can continue into one’s late 20s or even early 30s. Recent analysis of the transition to adulthood in the West shows that the transition is being prolonged well into the third decade of life and sometimes even beyond (Arnett, 2000, 2004; Furstenberg et al., 2002). It is likely that a narrow focus on the age range 10 to 24 at this time in history in the developing world would risk missing important aspects of recent change. Consequently, in some of our detailed statistical analysis, the panel thought it more informative to present

data for the broader age group 10 to 29. (See also Arnett, 2002, for a discussion of how transitions to adult roles are becoming delayed, creating a distinct period of “emerging adulthood” among the [minority but growing] middle class in developing countries.)

While the panel views marriage as an important marker of adulthood, we do not think that marriage is sufficient in and of itself to confer adulthood on a young person who has not yet achieved the age of majority or completed other transitions to adulthood. This is an important caution, because much contemporary literature on adolescents focuses primarily on the unmarried, neglecting the concerns of the married, particularly young women, who are not yet fully prepared to assume adult roles and are particularly vulnerable because society provides them with few protections.


The concept of a successful transition to adulthood is inherent in the panel’s larger mission: to advance understanding of the impact of rapid and pervasive global change on the adolescent-to-young-adult phase of the life course and to propose interventions for enhancing that transition in developing countries. In particular, the panel is not concerned with traditional rites of passage, such as circumcision or (arranged) marriage, or solely with the acquisition of skills that will enable young people to become more productive as adults, but more fundamentally about the enhancement of capabilities that will allow them “to lead lives they have reason to value and to enhance the substantive choices they have” (Sen, 1997:1959). This represents a very different approach to the study of adolescent development than that taken in the United States over the last few decades, in which the focus has been primarily on problem behaviors rather than on normative development (Steinberg and Morris, 2001). It is also very different from the approach to the study of child outcomes in developing countries, which views parents as decision-makers and children as having no agency of their own (Levison, 2000). Defining what is meant by “a successful transition,” however, remains problematic, and it engages several important considerations about adolescent development in general.

First, the transition to adulthood has to be seen as embedded in the larger developmental life course, reflecting and constrained by what has gone before as well as by what lies ahead. From this perspective, the experiences and events of earlier adolescence—and of infancy and childhood—are not only precursors of, but also preparation for, making that transition. From this perspective, too, the opportunities and barriers of future adulthood, both real and perceived, also shape the course and content of that transition. It follows, then, that efforts to safeguard or enhance a successful transition cannot be confined to that brief segment of the life trajectory

between adolescence and young adulthood alone; rather, interventions must engage both earlier and later developmental periods as well.

The interrelationship between success in adolescence and opportunities at later phases of the life cycle is particularly salient in the case of gender inequalities that are socially and institutionally embedded. There is now clear evidence that countries with more equal rights for women in various domains, including politics and the law, social and economic matters, and marriage and divorce, have smaller gender gaps in such key outcome indicators as health, schooling, and political participation (King and Mason, 2001). It is rarely noted, however, that these gender gaps, which are measured for adults, take shape during adolescence. Indeed, in most societies, local definitions of success may differ profoundly for girls and boys. By contrast, the panel’s definitions of success are gender neutral and embody an emerging set of international norms about gender equality that have been embodied in many international agreements and conventions.

A second consideration in defining what is meant by successful transition to adulthood is the need to make it sensitive to the enormous diversity of developing societies, appropriate to local situations, and responsive to the dynamics of historical change. It is clear that there are prevailing cultural expectations and traditions about what constitutes the attainment of maturity, and these may vary not only in different parts of the world but also across different subgroups in the same country. For example, in some contexts, the establishment of an independent household may be a marker of adulthood, whereas in others living with one’s parents is entirely consistent with the assumption of all other adult roles. Furthermore, in some cultures in which strong family and community linkages are valued more than autonomy, success may be measured by the ability to mobilize social networks rather than by the ability to act autonomously (Mensch et al., 2003c).

Finally, it is also necessary to conceptualize successful transitions relative to a particular time in history (for this report, it is the present) and to the dynamics and speed of societal change that may be under way. What might have been considered a successful transition to adulthood before the globalization of production, the pervasive spread of information technology, and the greater access to a transnational and homogenizing youth culture may no longer be considered so today. In the contemporary world, success requires competence in coping with the reverberations of rapid global and societal change on daily life—a competence that cannot be entirely provided within the family but that requires extrafamilial inputs. In short, a successful transition entails being prepared for a changing future rather than one based on extrapolations of the past.

While success is ultimately measured at the individual level, nothing is clearer than that the burden of enhancing successful transitions to adult-

hood in developing countries is primarily on society and its institutions at the local, national, and international level, rather than on particular individuals or their families. Essential social supports for success include access to quality schooling and other educational resources outside the classroom, adequate health care, livelihood training and job opportunities, resources for civic engagement and family and community models, and supports for positive social development. The existence of norms and the availability and effectiveness of laws and institutions that can support the accomplishment of the major developmental tasks of adolescence must become a major and obligatory concern of any society seeking to enhance successful transitions to adulthood.

In light of these various considerations, the panel sought a conceptualization of successful transitions to adulthood that is both generally and locally applicable; that is predicated on preparation in prior developmental stages, especially adolescence, but also childhood; that is appropriate despite pervasive gender and socioeconomic disparities as well as different endowments and capabilities; that is open to shaping by both antecedent and subsequent life course interventions; and that recognizes the imperatives of contemporary global change. The defining attributes of such a conceptualization of successful transition to adulthood, which must be seen within the constraints of personal endowments and capabilities, include at least the following:

Good mental and physical health, including reproductive health, and the knowledge and means to sustain health during adulthood.

An appropriate stock of human and social capital to enable an individual to be a productive adult member of society.

The acquisition of prosocial values and the ability to contribute to the collective well-being as citizen and community participant.

Adequate preparation for the assumption of adult social roles and obligations, including the roles of spouse or partner, parent, and household and family manager.

The capability to make choices through the acquisition of a sense of self and a sense of personal competence.

A sense of general well-being.

Although no claim can be made that this is an exhaustive listing of the attributes of successful transition to adulthood, it does capture what the panel views as essential components of that process. What can be claimed is that the essential components listed can serve as a guide for the interpretation of a conceptual framework (presented in the next chapter) as well as for the design and targeting of societal interventions to maximize the attainability of those attributes.

Furthermore, the panel was concerned not only about the acquisition of certain personal values and attributes necessary for success, but also about the timing and sequencing of their acquisition. When young people take on adult work or family obligations before finishing school, success may be compromised. If young men who have assumed other adult roles are unable to marry until their 30s because of escalating financial demands, their need for sexual expression may compromise their health and the health of others and deprive them of the pleasures of and social status that accompanies a family life. The panel recognizes that all adulthood roles are not acquired at the same time, and therefore the report refers to multiple transitions rather than a single transition. Indeed, the panel expects that success in one domain will foster success in other domains of adult life, allowing transitions in various domains to occur in a steady succession. Ultimately, the benefit and enjoyment of each role is enhanced by the acquisition of the others.


The panel agreed early in its deliberations that our approach to the charge would be highly empirical. The panel set high standards for evidence, placing an emphasis on comparative quantitative data of high quality, supplemented by well-designed and statistically sound experimental and observational studies along with country case studies and qualitative materials.

The panel developed its own conceptual framework in order to guide our interpretation of the empirical evidence and assess claims of causal inference. This conceptual framework is presented in Chapter 2 . While the panel’s ambitions were as broad as the conceptual framework, the actual scope of the report was constrained by the availability of comparative and time-series data as well as by the limitations of existing empirical analyses of transitions to adulthood in developing countries, which are largely based on cross-sectional data.

The panel’s approach to addressing the questions outlined in the charge flows logically from the conceptual framework presented below and includes the following six elements:

To use the conceptual framework as a guide to the identification of key research questions.

To review existing research studies on trends in the contextual factors, transitions, and outcomes laid out in the conceptual framework and to supplement these with analysis of comparative data sets.

To review existing literature for insights about possible factors explaining recent changes in the transition to adulthood.

To review existing literature for insights into the longer term consequences of alternative individual and societal outcomes.

To review recent evaluations of the impact of policies and programs in order to identify promising (and ideally cost-effective) approaches to the promotion of adolescent reproductive health and other important health outcomes.

To identify research priorities by situating the panel’s findings within the conceptual framework.

To the extent that resources would permit, in Chapters 3 through 8 , the panel went beyond a mere review of the existing literature and exploited available data in new ways in order to build a more complete picture of recent trends. Whenever possible, estimates of trends that are applicable to all young people or to young people from a particular region were generated by weighting data from different countries by population size, thus allowing conclusions that are more representative of the underlying population of young people.

The panel relied on the best and most up-to-date data available for each topic, while remaining mindful of data quality issues (see Appendix A for a discussion of data quality issues.) Thus the report includes data on trends in education, marriage, childbearing, and other aspects of reproductive behavior from the Demographic and Health Surveys, data on attitudes and participation from the World Value Surveys, data on marriage trends from a United Nations data bank of censuses and national surveys, data on employment and unemployment from International Labour Organization labor force statistics, data on mortality and morbidity by age from the World Health Organization, other selected census and survey data that allow comparisons over time, and data on time use from recent Population Council surveys. While readily acknowledging that the extent of high-quality studies is highly uneven across regions, for most topics, the panel decided that we were able to make statements and draw conclusions about recent change since the 1980s or 1990s. (See Appendix A for more information about the panel’s approach to data analysis, the coverage of the report, and sources of data.)

One of the important roles of the conceptual framework is to guide the interpretation of empirical evidence on causal effects in the rest of the report. Simple associations in observed data, such as between schooling and age of marriage or childbearing, are useful for describing the reality of the transition to adulthood and how those patterns have changed. But descriptions of patterns do not lead to confident assessment of causality for several reasons. Different behaviors are likely to be embedded in a “web of causality,” as described above. So the association between, say, schooling and age of marriage may reflect two-way or reverse causality, or that both are

determined by some third factor, such as changing labor market opportunities, and not simply that schooling affects the age of marriage or that age of marriage affects schooling. The panel’s goal of comprehensively addressing the factors that determine observed outcomes, and not just measured factors and their effects, required a systematic thoughtful and rigorous approach to the sifting of evidence (Bachrach and McNicoll, 2003; Smith, 2003). 1

One scientific method for dealing with such problems of empirical inference is to use well-designed and well-implemented double-blind experiments, with random assignment to treatment and control groups and control for such factors as spillovers. There are some empirical areas for which such experiments have been undertaken and provide some of the evidence regarding what is known about transitions to adulthood in developing countries. But these are relatively limited because of costs and ethical concerns. There are no good experiments for many questions of interest, and they may not even be feasible. Furthermore, such randomized controlled trials “championed by many economists, maximize internal validity, but often at the expense of generalizability and the ability to extrapolate findings” (Moffitt, 2003:445).

In many cases, therefore, the empirical evidence must be based on observational (or sometimes called behavioral) data. These data include imperfect measures of the transitions to adulthood that are determined directly and indirectly, with feedback in many cases, by other factors. The best empirical evidence from such behavioral data makes explicit the behavioral model underlying the determination of the transitions to adulthood. It also uses estimation techniques and data that permit control for various estimation problems, such as selectivity, measurement error, and endogeneity (or the correlation of measured variables with unobservables).

For example, if there is interest in the impact of early childbearing on some other aspects of the transition to adulthood, the best empirical studies control for measurement errors in data on childbearing and for what determines childbearing—family background, ability, motivations, cultural beliefs related to gender, labor market options—in the estimation of the impact of early childbearing on other transitions to adulthood. The failure to do so is likely to lead to misunderstanding of the impact of early childbearing—confounding the effects of childbearing with other effects, such as of those determinants of childbearing noted above.

Undertaking such systematic empirical research is difficult. Many studies in the literature are not explicit about what conceptual framework is being used to interpret behavioral data and often implicitly make very strong assumptions. For example, many studies of the impact of early childbearing make the implicit assumption that childbearing is assigned randomly, or that there are no factors that affect both the outcome being studied as well as the timing of childbearing itself.

This report tries to make clear the quality of the empirical evidence that is being used. At times, simple descriptions are presented because they are of interest in themselves, but they should not be confused with assertions about causality. In a few cases, good experimental evidence is summarized. In other cases, there are good systematic studies using behavioral data with explicit models and methods, so the nature of the underlying assumptions is transparent and the assumptions themselves are plausible. To the extent possible, this report relies on evidence from these high-quality sources. But for some topics that are important, the evidence is much weaker. Too much would be lost by complete omission of these topics. Therefore in such cases the report presents what is known and tries to be clear about why that knowledge is qualified—and thus, why more and better research is warranted in certain areas.

The panel has paid special attention to policy and programs that hold promise of supporting successful transitions in resource-constrained environments. This is an area in which the empirical evidence is particularly uneven. Most interventions that have been rigorously evaluated have relatively narrowly defined intended outcomes and a limited time frame for assessing impact (Knowles and Berhman, 2005). Various policies and programs that are designed to benefit younger children may have important benefits that extend into the second decade of life, but that are generally not measured or evaluated. Furthermore, the impact of many national policies and programs with potentially profound importance to the life course and life chances of young people, such as school reforms, marriage laws, abortion laws, and child labor laws, may never have been assessed. Whether assessing policies and programs in the area of reproductive health or in other important areas, such as education, work, and marriage, the report sets the panel’s review of the empirical evidence on interventions in the larger context of the policies and programs that have the potential to affect the lives of young people.


The report has the following plan. Part I sets the stage with this introduction, and in the next chapter, we introduce our conceptual framework

and use it to guide a discussion of the key elements of global change. Because of the diversity of experiences among young people, the implications of these changes for national and local environments are illustrated using examples from the empirical literature. These serve to make more tangible the many ways in which global change is affecting the daily lives of young people.

Part II looks at the two critical elements of individual resources for which we have relatively rich data and evidence: changes in education ( Chapter 3 ) and changes in health and reproductive health ( Chapter 4 ). Each chapter starts by describing recent data on patterns and trends, then reviews critically what is known from the empirical literature about the factors affecting these patterns and changes and finishes with a review of relevant policies and programs designed to positively affect the necessary resources and attributes for successful transitions, including evidence (when available) about their effectiveness.

Part III is organized around four adult roles: worker ( Chapter 5 ), citizen ( Chapter 6 ), spouse or partner ( Chapter 7 ), and parent ( Chapter 8 ). As there are very few data on the role of household manager, this adult role is not treated separately, although the panel recognizes its potential importance. In Part III , we are particularly interested in how changes at the global level are affecting the very nature of the transition itself, in terms of timing, sequencing, duration, and content. Each successive chapter in this part of the report considers not just that particular adult role in isolation but explores the ways in which one transition relates to another. While considerations of the timing of work in relation to schooling or the timing of marriage in relation to parenthood are more familiar in the literature, the links between work and marriage or schooling and childbearing are less familiar. The interrelationships among transitions is a key theme in each chapter whenever data permit.

It will become obvious to the reader in proceeding from the conceptual framework in Part I to the substantive chapters in Part II and Part III that the panel’s knowledge falls far short of its curiosity. The gaps between the conceptual framework and the empirical evidence remain huge. Nonetheless, the panel’s comparative empirical approach does allow new facts and insights to emerge, some of which have implications for the design of policies and programs. The panel’s conceptual framework highlights the gap between theory and evidence with clear implications for future research priorities. Part IV’s Chapter 9 summarizes the findings from Chapters 2 through 8 and identifies promising avenues for future research that can provide important insights for understanding and for policy choices.

The challenges for young people making the transition to adulthood are greater today than ever before. Globalization, with its power to reach across national boundaries and into the smallest communities, carries with it the transformative power of new markets and new technology. At the same time, globalization brings with it new ideas and lifestyles that can conflict with traditional norms and values. And while the economic benefits are potentially enormous, the actual course of globalization has not been without its critics who charge that, to date, the gains have been very unevenly distributed, generating a new set of problems associated with rising inequality and social polarization. Regardless of how the globalization debate is resolved, it is clear that as broad global forces transform the world in which the next generation will live and work, the choices that today's young people make or others make on their behalf will facilitate or constrain their success as adults. Traditional expectations regarding future employment prospects and life experiences are no longer valid.

Growing Up Global examines how the transition to adulthood is changing in developing countries, and what the implications of these changes might be for those responsible for designing youth policies and programs, in particular, those affecting adolescent reproductive health. The report sets forth a framework that identifies criteria for successful transitions in the context of contemporary global changes for five key adult roles: adult worker, citizen and community participant, spouse, parent, and household manager.

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What is a Conceptual Framework?

A dissertation is a complex document with many moving parts. Several theories and concepts are likely to inform the argument you make in your dissertation, which will draw on many ideas to support the viability of your hypothesis. The conceptual framework is an essential part of your dissertation, one that will shape the focus of your research. 

Since conceptual frameworks can vary by discipline, you’ll want to look at sample documents from your field. Better yet, ask your advisor to share examples of conceptual frameworks written by recent graduates from your program. This section of your dissertation can be difficult to write, and it’s a good idea to ask questions. The conceptual framework can be intimidating because the theories you’re working with feel complex and abstract. The good news is, you’re better prepared to write this section than you realize. 

Conceptual Framework Questions

Let’s consider some of the questions often asked about the conceptual framework: 

  • What is a conceptual framework?
  • When is a conceptual framework introduced? 
  • How long should my conceptual framework be? 
  • How do I structure my conceptual framework?

woman holding a stack of books in a library

A conceptual framework is the lens through which your research is being viewed. Concepts are the theoretical underpinnings used to frame research in your field. A clear conceptual framework anchors your research in the context of known models and established theories used by scholars in your field. It also offers insight into how your research will build upon earlier contributions to the body of knowledge. 

Conceptual Framework Examples

A lens is a good metaphor for describing the role a conceptual framework plays in a dissertation. It offers direct access to the perspective from which research is being evaluated and interpreted in your dissertation, and distinguishes it from other approaches. For instance, research examining economic trends using feminist theory will be quite different from research that relies on legal or post-structural or game theory. 

For me, writing the conceptual framework of my dissertation was all about making connections. It made me think deeply about how my topic was rooted within an ecosystem of tangled, interconnected ideas. Writing the conceptual framework of your dissertation is an intellectual exercise that shows how dynamic the production of knowledge really is, and also how mutable topics are depending on the lens you’re looking at them through. 

man taking notes in front of his laptop at sunset

As you are reading different conceptual framework examples, pay attention to the references the authors make. What theories do they cite? Which researchers are influential? The conceptual framework is a section of the dissertation where you can expect to see landmark studies and seminal works used as a solid foundation for further research. As a faculty mentor once told me, find the North Star of your research, and then figure out which theories will help you get there. 

When is a Conceptual Framework Introduced?

The conceptual framework is an established section in most dissertations. Though in some creative fields the conceptual framework is part of the introduction , it is conventionally located in Chapter 1 or Chapter 2 of the dissertation. In some dissertations, there will be a conceptual framework section in each of those chapters.

Clarity is key when introducing your conceptual framework. It’s important to quickly establish a reference point for your readers and let them know which theories have been foundational to your research. It’s best to begin this section by stating your conceptual framework and then the theories and researchers who developed it. Provide any information that you feel is essential to understanding your approach to your research. 

How Long is a Conceptual Framework?

woman sitting in an armchair and typing on her laptop

Length is another area where conceptual frameworks vary by program, discipline, and university. Before you begin, ask your advisor about the expectations for your department. While conceptual frameworks are generally 1-3 pages, they can be more extensive. In dissertations where conceptual framework is discussed in multiple chapters, the first section may consist of a brief introduction to the conceptual framework being used, with a more in-depth discussion taking place in the next chapter. 

When outlining your conceptual framework, remember to be clear and concise. Though the document is intended to reflect the wealth of research you’ve already done, resist the urge to overwrite. There will be plenty of opportunities throughout your dissertation to discuss your ideas in depth. 

Writing a conceptual framework is an act of brevity. It’s a great opportunity to show your audience that you have a firm grasp on the theories you’re working with, and you can explain their relevance to your topic in a way that is short and to the point. It may take you a few drafts to get your conceptual framework right, but these revisions will be a sound investment of your time and energy. 

Conceptual Framework Structure

bearded man taking notes next to a stack of books

The structure of your conceptual framework should provide insight and perspective into the way in which you approach your research. If your conceptual framework comprises multiple theories or lenses, you’ll want to show how you believe they are connected. If you think this sounds tricky, fear not. These are deep intellectual waters that you’re swimming in, but you’re well-prepared for the challenges ahead. 

While the bulk of your conceptual framework will be written, visuals are also an option that many doctoral students use to illustrate their process. The images may include models that show the intersection of the theories that make up your conceptual framework. Flow charts and concept maps that are relevant to your conceptual framework may also be helpful. 

Creating Context

Having a clear conceptual framework helped me put complex–and sometimes competing–ideas in context. My topic–authenticity of reconstructed literary landmarks in the South–felt perilously narrow and isolated until I started thinking about my conceptual framework. It offered a clear illustration of the disparate elements that I would be looking at in my qualitative research. 

The theories that explain the phenomena of tourism are cross-disciplinary and far-reaching. My conceptual framework, which covered everything from heritage economies to cultural production, gave me a way to explain why that is. It allowed me to see the phantom threads tying my own theoretical assertions together. I could feel that there was something there, and my conceptual framework showed me how to prove it. 

Related posts:

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Courtney Watson, Ph.D.

Courtney Watson, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of English at Radford University Carilion, in Roanoke, Virginia. Her areas of expertise include undergraduate and graduate curriculum development for writing courses in the health sciences and American literature with a focus on literary travel, tourism, and heritage economies. Her writing and academic scholarship has been widely published in places that include  Studies in American Culture ,  Dialogue , and  The Virginia Quarterly Review . Her research on the integration of humanities into STEM education will be published by Routledge in an upcoming collection. Dr. Watson has also been nominated by the State Council for Higher Education of Virginia’s Outstanding Faculty Rising Star Award, and she is a past winner of the National Society of Arts & Letters Regional Short Story Prize, as well as institutional awards for scholarly research and excellence in teaching. Throughout her career in higher education, Dr. Watson has served in faculty governance and administration as a frequent committee chair and program chair. As a higher education consultant, she has served as a subject matter expert, an evaluator, and a contributor to white papers exploring program development, enrollment research, and educational mergers and acquisitions.

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  • What Is a Conceptual Framework? | Tips & Examples

What Is a Conceptual Framework? | Tips & Examples

Published on August 2, 2022 by Bas Swaen and Tegan George. Revised on November 15, 2022.


A conceptual framework illustrates the expected relationship between your variables. It defines the relevant objectives for your research process and maps out how they come together to draw coherent conclusions.

Keep reading for a step-by-step guide to help you construct your own conceptual framework.

Table of contents

Developing a conceptual framework in research, step 1: choose your research question, step 2: select your independent and dependent variables, step 3: visualize your cause-and-effect relationship, step 4: identify other influencing variables, frequently asked questions about conceptual models.

A conceptual framework is a representation of the relationship you expect to see between your variables, or the characteristics or properties that you want to study.

Conceptual frameworks can be written or visual and are generally developed based on a literature review of existing studies about your topic.

Your research question guides your work by determining exactly what you want to find out, giving your research process a clear focus.

However, before you start collecting your data, consider constructing a conceptual framework. This will help you map out which variables you will measure and how you expect them to relate to one another.

In order to move forward with your research question and test a cause-and-effect relationship, you must first identify at least two key variables: your independent and dependent variables .

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

Note that causal relationships often involve several independent variables that affect the dependent variable. For the purpose of this example, we’ll work with just one independent variable (“hours of study”).

Now that you’ve figured out your research question and variables, the first step in designing your conceptual framework is visualizing your expected cause-and-effect relationship.

We demonstrate this using basic design components of boxes and arrows. Here, each variable appears in a box. To indicate a causal relationship, each arrow should start from the independent variable (the cause) and point to the dependent variable (the effect).


It’s crucial to identify other variables that can influence the relationship between your independent and dependent variables early in your research process.

Some common variables to include are moderating, mediating, and control variables.

Moderating variables

Moderating variable (or moderators) alter the effect that an independent variable has on a dependent variable. In other words, moderators change the “effect” component of the cause-and-effect relationship.

Let’s add the moderator “IQ.” Here, a student’s IQ level can change the effect that the variable “hours of study” has on the exam score. The higher the IQ, the fewer hours of study are needed to do well on the exam.


Let’s take a look at how this might work. The graph below shows how the number of hours spent studying affects exam score. As expected, the more hours you study, the better your results. Here, a student who studies for 20 hours will get a perfect score.


But the graph looks different when we add our “IQ” moderator of 120. A student with this IQ will achieve a perfect score after just 15 hours of study.


Below, the value of the “IQ” moderator has been increased to 150. A student with this IQ will only need to invest five hours of study in order to get a perfect score.


Here, we see that a moderating variable does indeed change the cause-and-effect relationship between two variables.

Mediating variables

Now we’ll expand the framework by adding a mediating variable . Mediating variables link the independent and dependent variables, allowing the relationship between them to be better explained.

Here’s how the conceptual framework might look if a mediator variable were involved:


In this case, the mediator helps explain why studying more hours leads to a higher exam score. The more hours a student studies, the more practice problems they will complete; the more practice problems completed, the higher the student’s exam score will be.

Moderator vs. mediator

It’s important not to confuse moderating and mediating variables. To remember the difference, you can think of them in relation to the independent variable:

  • A moderating variable is not affected by the independent variable, even though it affects the dependent variable. For example, no matter how many hours you study (the independent variable), your IQ will not get higher.
  • A mediating variable is affected by the independent variable. In turn, it also affects the dependent variable. Therefore, it links the two variables and helps explain the relationship between them.

Control variables

Lastly,  control variables must also be taken into account. These are variables that are held constant so that they don’t interfere with the results. Even though you aren’t interested in measuring them for your study, it’s crucial to be aware of as many of them as you can be.


A mediator variable explains the process through which two variables are related, while a moderator variable affects the strength and direction of that relationship.

A confounding variable is closely related to both the independent and dependent variables in a study. An independent variable represents the supposed cause , while the dependent variable is the supposed effect . A confounding variable is a third variable that influences both the independent and dependent variables.

Failing to account for confounding variables can cause you to wrongly estimate the relationship between your independent and dependent variables.

Yes, but including more than one of either type requires multiple research questions .

For example, if you are interested in the effect of a diet on health, you can use multiple measures of health: blood sugar, blood pressure, weight, pulse, and many more. Each of these is its own dependent variable with its own research question.

You could also choose to look at the effect of exercise levels as well as diet, or even the additional effect of the two combined. Each of these is a separate independent variable .

To ensure the internal validity of an experiment , you should only change one independent variable at a time.

A control variable is any variable that’s held constant in a research study. It’s not a variable of interest in the study, but it’s controlled because it could influence the outcomes.

A confounding variable , also called a confounder or confounding factor, is a third variable in a study examining a potential cause-and-effect relationship.

A confounding variable is related to both the supposed cause and the supposed effect of the study. It can be difficult to separate the true effect of the independent variable from the effect of the confounding variable.

In your research design , it’s important to identify potential confounding variables and plan how you will reduce their impact.

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