Expert answer:Grant and Osanloo Theoretical and Conceptual Frame

  

Solved by verified expert:For this Discussion, you will examine the theoretical and conceptual frameworks in qualitative research.To prepare for this Discussion:Review the Grant and Osanloo article related to conceptual and theoretical frameworks found in the Learning Resources and consider how a conceptual framework differs from a theoretical framework.Use the Course Guide and Assignment Help to help you search for a research article on your topic of interest that uses a theoretical or conceptual framework. (Note: This can be the same article as the one you will use for your Annotated Bibliography in this week’s Assignment.)By Day 4Post an explanation of how Grant and Osanloo (2014) describe the differences between conceptual and a theoretical framework. Support your explanation with examples from the article as well as from your texts.Be sure to support your main post and response post with reference to the week’s Learning Resources and other scholarly evidence in APA style.
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Cynthia Grant, PhD
University of Colorado-Denver
Azadeh Osanloo, PhD
I S S U E S
New Mexico State University
A D M I N I S T R A T I V E
UNDERSTANDING, SELECTING, AND INTEGRATING A
THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK IN DISSERTATION RESEARCH:
CREATING THE BLUEPRINT FOR YOUR “HOUSE”
J O U R N A L :
The theoretical framework is one of the most important aspects in the research process, yet is often misunderstood by
doctoral candidates as they prepare their dissertation research study. The importance of theory-driven thinking and acting
is emphasized in relation to the selection of a topic, the development of research questions, the conceptualization of the
literature review, the design approach, and the analysis plan for the dissertation study. Using a metaphor of the “blueprint”
of a house, this article explains the application of a theoretical framework in a dissertation. Steps for how to select and
integrate a theoretical framework to structure all aspects of the research process are described, with an example of how to
thread theory throughout the dissertation.
C O N N E C T I N G
Keywords: theoretical framework, dissertation, doctoral, academic writing, research methods
T
E D U C A T I O N ,
he dissertation is a labor of love requiring much work, sweat, and tears, as well as organization skills and
extensive resources from others who are involved with the process. The final product is a document that one can
recognize as a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. We liken this experience to the task of building your own home.
As any architect or contractor knows, prior to building a house, one must develop drawings called a blueprint for the
structure. A blueprint serves as a guide for all those who are involved in the construction of the home. The drawing
permits the foundation of the home to be built, and it dictates the overall floor plan of rooms, the flow of plumbing,
electrical, and mechanical systems—even the direction in which the house will face. Like housing construction, much
critical thinking and planning must be put into developing a blueprint for the dissertation. We believe the blueprint
is an appropriate analogy of the theoretical framework of the dissertation.
P R A C T I C E ,
The theoretical framework is one of the most important aspects in the research process, and a component that is
often minimally covered in doctoral coursework. Iqubal described the struggle to identify and prepare the theoretical
framework for the dissertation as “the most difficult but not impossible part of [the] proposal” (2007, p.17). As
professors and dissertation committee members of doctoral students in the fields of education, policy, leadership,
curriculum and instruction, and social work, we have heard students express confusion, a lack of knowledge, and
frustration with the challenge of choosing a theoretical framework and understanding how to apply it throughout
the dissertation. Some students briefly make mention of a theoretical framework at the start of the dissertation and
never return to it throughout the rest of the document; others omit the inclusion of a theoretical framework in the
proposal and are required to restructure their document after committee review.
A N D
R E S E A R C H
The importance of utilizing a theoretical framework in a dissertation study cannot be stressed enough. The theoretical
framework is the foundation from which all knowledge is constructed (metaphorically and literally) for a research
study. It serves as the structure and support for the rationale for the study, the problem statement, the purpose, the
significance, and the research questions. The theoretical framework provides a grounding base, or an anchor, for
the literature review, and most importantly, the methods and analysis. Lysaght (2011) highlighted the necessity of
identifying one’s theoretical framework for a dissertation study:
A researcher’s choice of framework is not arbitrary but reflects important personal beliefs and understandings
a
Grant & Osanloo
DOI: 10.5929/2014.4.2.9
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R E S E A R C H
about the nature of knowledge, how it exists (in the metaphysical sense) in relation to the observer, and the
possible roles to be adopted, and tools to be employed consequently, by the researcher in his/her work. (p.
572)
Without a theoretical framework, the structure and vision for a study is unclear, much like a house that cannot
be constructed without a blueprint. By contrast, a research plan that contains a theoretical framework allows the
dissertation study to be strong and structured with an organized flow from one chapter to the next.
P R A C T I C E ,
A N D
Over the past 30 years, there has been an increasing trend to include a theoretical framework in the dissertation
(Melendez, 2002). There is an expectation by most chairpersons and committee members that a dissertation study
will be informed by theory. Despite these realities, oftentimes students begin the dissertation process at a loss for
how to accomplish working with a theoretical framework. Concurrently, incorporating a theoretical framework into
research studies is a task that some may continue to struggle with post-graduation. Silver and Herbst (as cited in
Lester, 2005) have acknowledged that journal submissions are often rejected for being atheoretical, or having no
theory. This underscores the importance of teaching students how to implement a theoretical framework in their
research, as it pertains not only to the dissertation, but also to scholarship and research activities in the professorate.
C O N N E C T I N G
E D U C T A T I O N ,
Thus, the purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the theoretical framework and to outline a blueprint for
how to understand, select, and integrate a theoretical framework into one’s research when writing the dissertation.
We offer the analogy of using a blueprint when building a house to provide the reader with a visual representation of
the importance of this step in the development of a dissertation idea. We hope the necessity of this step in preparing
the dissertation will be metaphorically obvious—a contractor could not possibly know what kind of house to build
without instructions mapped out ahead of time. Similarly, one cannot guide a reader through thinking about a
dissertation study without a clear explication of the study’s theoretical framework. This article is intended to be a
resource for faculty working with doctoral students in the classroom or in an advisory role; however, it is primarily
aimed towards doctoral candidates who are seeking guidance with this foundational piece of the dissertation.
This article first covers the basics of understanding a theoretical framework, while simultaneously introducing the
analogy of the blueprint for a house, which is a running theme throughout the entire article. This section also focuses
on the differences between a theoretical and conceptual framework. Next, the article describes the important tenets
of selecting an appropriate theoretical framework for one’s research. Finally, we highlight strategies and techniques
for implementing a theoretical framework in a dissertation study.
J O U R N A L :
UNDERSTANDING THE THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
What is a Theoretical Framework?
A D M I N I S T R A T I V E
I S S U E S
The theoretical framework is the “blueprint” for the entire dissertation inquiry. It serves as the guide on which to build
and support your study, and also provides the structure to define how you will philosophically, epistemologically,
methodologically, and analytically approach the dissertation as a whole. Eisenhart defined a theoretical framework
as “a structure that guides research by relying on a formal theory…constructed by using an established, coherent
explanation of certain phenomena and relationships” (1991, p. 205). Thus, the theoretical framework consists of the
selected theory (or theories) that undergirds your thinking with regards to how you understand and plan to research
your topic, as well as the concepts and definitions from that theory that are relevant to your topic. Lovitts (2005)
empirically defines criteria for applying or developing theory to the dissertation that must be appropriate, logically
interpreted, well understood, and align with the question at hand.
We assert that students must select and clarify a theoretical framework from the time the dissertation topic is initially
conceptualized. Philosophers such as Dooyeweerd (as cited in Sire, 2004, p. 35) have even gone so far as to call for
“pretheoretical commitments” by the researcher to specifically identify one’s “worldview of the heart rather than the
mind.” We profess that the researcher’s choice of theory must be clearly stated and explicitly mentioned early in the
writing of the dissertation.
Mertens acknowledged that the theoretical framework “has implications for every decision made in the research
process” (1998, p. 3), which supports our belief that the theoretical framework for a study must be identified at the
13
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A D M I N I S T R A T I V E
inception of dissertation work. We also believe that all research is theoretical. The importance of theory-driven
thinking and acting should be emphasized in relation to the selection of a topic, development of research questions,
focus of the literature review, the design approach, and analysis plan for the dissertation study. Anderson, Day, and
McLaughlin (2006) capture the necessity of including a sound theoretical underpinning in a dissertation study with a
quote from a dissertation supervisor who stated, “I don’t see how you can do a good piece of work that’s atheoretical”
(p. 154). Similarly, Sarter (2005, p. 494) addressed the “limited usefulness of findings and conclusions” when a study
is not justified by a theoretical framework. Evidence across disciplines is clear that the explicit identification and
inclusion of a theoretical framework is a necessity of sound research.
The Blueprint
I S S U E S
We liken the theoretical framework to the blueprint for a house—you (the student and researcher) are the architect
who is charged with choosing what you are going to build and how the property will be constructed as you imagine
it. Once you create the blueprint, others will have a basic idea of what concepts and principles you will use to establish
the ideas and approaches to your dissertation. Only after a plan for the house has been determined can you begin to
build the dissertation study.
J O U R N A L :
There are two types of blueprint drawings that are used in the construction industry that correlate to the theoretical
framework of the dissertation. First, an architect must create an elevation drawing to display the exterior of the home.
This drawing offers an outside view of the style and structure, as shown in Figure 1.
C O N N E C T I N G
E D U C A T I O N ,
P R A C T I C E ,
Figure 1. Traditional style elevation blueprint drawing
Types of houses vary across the country, from a ranch, bungalow, an American Four Square, adobe style, Craftsman,
split-level, etc. There is no one perfect or right style of house, although certain home styles dominate certain parts of
the country. All can provide shelter and residency. Similarly, there is no one perfect or right theory for a dissertation,
but certain theories are popular within each discipline. As an architect or construction developer must select the type
of house to build, the researcher must choose a theory to structure the dissertation.
A N D





R E S E A R C H
Theories come from a multitude of sources in each discipline, and there are always more being created and applied
across fields. For example, there is a plethora of options within the realm of educational leadership for selecting a
theoretical framework. The researcher must select the appropriate theory of how his/her “house” will look on the
exterior. The following list details a sampling of commonly used theories across disciplines.
Transformational/relational theories
Transactional/management theories
Servant leadership/moral theories
Trait theories
Situational theories
a
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E D U C T A T I O N ,
P R A C T I C E ,
A N D
R E S E A R C H



















Behavioral theories
Systems theory
Developmental theory
Cognitive theory
Sense of community theory
Behavioral theory
Queer theory
Feminist Theory
Critical race theory
Self-efficacy theory
Functionalist theory
Relational theory
Marxist Theory
Intersubjectivity theory
Gender theory
Change theory
Identity formation
Community of Inquiry
Transformational theory
The researcher’s choice of a theory provides structure to the entire dissertation. It provides a common world view or
lens from which to support one’s thinking on the problem and analysis of data.
A D M I N I S T R A T I V E
I S S U E S
J O U R N A L :
C O N N E C T I N G
The second type of blueprint is a floor plan, which details the interior details of the construction of a home. This
drawing allows the viewer to see the floor plan as if you were looking down from above into the home itself. All homes
contain common elements such as rooms, doors, toilets, a kitchen, ventilation, electrical outlets, and an aesthetic
design. Yet how each home is organized or laid out will be in accordance with the design choice used in the elevation
drawing. For example, bungalow homes have similar floor plans and exteriors, but these floor plans are very different
than an adobe home, as shown below in Figure 2.
Figure 2. Craftsman style floor plan blueprint
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A D M I N I S T R A T I V E
Similarly, most professional practice dissertations and research articles follow the typical format of Statement of the
Problem, Literature Review, Methods or Research Design, Presentation of the Data, and Discussion. Yet the contents
of each section or chapter will vary from student to student, and must be consistent with the theoretical framework
selected for the dissertation as a whole.
I S S U E S
The floor plan of the dissertation blueprint contains the theoretical principles, constructs, concepts, and tenants
of a theory. Specific conceptual elements of a theory (i.e. the interior of a home) must align with the researcher’s
theoretical framework. Thus, you would not expect to walk into a bungalow style home and find massive stucco walls
with rounded edges, which are characteristic of an adobe style house. In reference to the dissertation blueprint, if you
select transformational leadership as your theoretical framework, each chapter should connect to theorists who have
written about leadership and concepts drawn from this framework. It would not be appropriate to discuss variables
that do not relate to principles of transformational leadership (e.g. gender, age, or ethnicity). This would be akin to
placing stucco, rounded walls in your Craftsman style home. Principles and constructs (the interior blueprint) that
do not derive from your theoretical worldview of the study (the exterior blueprint) would be inconsistent and out of
place.
J O U R N A L :
Before committing to a research design, you must first consider the guiding principles for your inquiry so that readers
will understand how you have situated the problem of study in relation to a theoretical context. The theory selected for
your study offers a conceptual basis for understanding, analyzing, and designing ways to investigate a problem. Thus,
you need to know how you will define and approach your research problem and provide a rationale for how and why
you are conducting your study in order for the reader to get a sense for where you stand on the problem itself. This
belief is supported by Maxwell, who wrote, “The function of this theory is to inform the rest of your design—to help
you to assess and refine your goals, develop realistic and relevant research questions, select appropriate methods,
and identify potential validity threats to your conclusions. It also helps you justify your research” (2004, pp. 33-34).
C O N N E C T I N G
Embedded within the discussion of a theoretical framework is an explanation of a conceptual framework. While these
two ideas are similar in nature, they do differ in their approach, style, and utilization within a dissertation. This is an
important distinction for doctoral students to understand and grasp.
The Difference Between a Theoretical and Conceptual Framework
E D U C A T I O N ,
Theoretical frameworks are sometimes referred to as a conceptual framework; however, these terms are neither
interchangeable nor synonymous. They can be vague and lead to confusion for students and dissertation committee
members alike. As such, it is important and necessary to differentiate these terms.
P R A C T I C E ,
We distinguish the two terms by clarifying that a theoretical framework is derived from an existing theory (or theories)
in the literature that has already been tested and validated by others and is considered a generally acceptable theory
in the scholarly literature. As Merriam (2001) proposed, it is the researcher’s lens with which to view the world. It is the
responsibility of the doctoral student to make a unique application of the selected theory (or theories) so as to apply
theoretical constructs to his or her dissertation study.
A N D
Traditionally, theoretical frameworks are developed a priori, or before data collection in quantitative designs.
However, a theoretical framework may also involve a theory that is developed in the course of the dissertation
study. Qualitative research designs may begin with a structured, or perhaps less structured theoretical framework to
keep the researcher from forcing preconceptions on the findings. In the latter case, the theoretical framework often
emerges in the data analysis phase. Our dissertation committee work has focused almost exclusively on working
with students who “borrow” blueprints from someone else’s theory and use those plans to build their own home. For
example, one of our doctoral candidates used Burns (1978) transformational leadership theory to investigate how
school leaders implemented a change process in a K-12 environment. Principles and concepts of transformational
leadership were threaded throughout all chapters of the dissertation.
R E S E A R C H
We believe this approach towards the utilization of theoretical frameworks can be used with qualitative, quantitative,
and mixed method designs. However, we recognize that doctoral candidates are capable of crafting their own
blueprint for a new theory to be developed a posteriori as a result of their research endeavors.
On the other hand, a conceptual framework, in our view, is the researcher’s understanding of how the research
a
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problem will best be explored, the specific direction the research will have to take, and the relationship between
the different variables in the study. This is best summarized by Miles & Huberman (1994), who categorized it as a
system of concepts, assumptions, and beliefs that support and guide the research plan. Specifically, the conceptual
framework “lays out the key factors, constructs, or variables, and presumes relationships among them” (1994, p. 440).
Moreover, Camp (2001) aptly described a conceptual framework, asserting that a conceptual framework is a structure
of what has been learned to best explain the natural progression of a phenomenon that is being studied.
P R A C T I C E ,
A N D
The conceptual framework offers a logical structure of connected concepts that help provide a picture or visual
display of how idea …
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