The conceptual framework for a thesis is similar to an artist's concept illustration for a new building. Just as a good illustration conveys everything the architect wants to accomplish in the building, from how it will actually look to the desired emotion the architect wants to evoke, the conceptual framework communicates the essence of a thesis.
Framework Purpose & Elements
The conceptual framework also guides research. It is a starting point that helps researchers deepen their awareness and understanding of what is to be studied as well as a tool that scaffolds research once the study is underway. A conceptual framework contains both narrative text (such as the hypotheses and key factors, constructs or variables) and a schematic, which illustrates the relationship between them. A thorough framework also helps researchers make meaning of their findings.
The Narrative Text
For example, suppose you want to study the effect of campaign issue ads during an election. The framework's narrative portion should communicate your hypotheses as well as any independent and dependent variables. It could be as straightforward as the following -- this study examines the relationship between respondents' exposure to TV and radio campaign issue ads (independent variable) and their attitude towards that issue (dependent variable). It will also take into account respondents' socio-demographic characteristics (independent variable).
The schematic shows the relationship between the identified variables. For the campaign issue ad study, the schematic could consist of three components. On the left side, under the heading Independent Variables, there would be two boxes. One would be labeled Issue Ads and contain two variables: television ads and radio ads. The other box, labeled Socio-Demographic Variables, would contain the variables age, sex, income, religion and so on. To the right of these boxes would be an arrow pointing to a box on the right side. Here, under the heading Dependent Variables, would be one box containing this text: Belief and attitude toward issue in advertisement.
A Reiterative Process
The conceptual framework should be considered a living document. Anytime a change is made to one framework component, all other components should be reviewed and revised as needed. Also, it is important to review and revise the framework whenever changes are made to other methodology components. Upon conclusion of the study, review the framework's effectiveness by seeing if it provided a common language to describe the study and report your findings.
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