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Open Posted By: surajrudrajnv33 Date: 24/12/2020 High School Rewriting & Paraphrasing

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Category: Accounting & Finance Subjects: Behavioral Finance Deadline: 24 Hours Budget: $80 - $120 Pages: 2-3 Pages (Short Assignment)

Attachment 1

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12Grant & Osanloo DOI: 10.5929/2014.4.2.9

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UNDERSTANDING, SELECTING, AND INTEGRATING A THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK IN DISSERTATION RESEARCH: CREATING THE BLUEPRINT FOR YOUR “HOUSE” Cynthia Grant, PhD University of Colorado-Denver

Azadeh Osanloo, PhD New Mexico State University

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.

Keywords: theoretical framework, dissertation, doctoral, academic writing, research methods

The 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.

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.

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

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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.

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.

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.

UNDERSTANDING THE THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK What is a Theoretical Framework? 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

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14Grant & Osanloo DOI: 10.5929/2014.4.2.9

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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 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.

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.

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.

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

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• 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.

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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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.

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.

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).

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 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.

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.

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.

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

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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.

The conceptual framework offers a logical structure of connected concepts that help provide a picture or visual display of how ideas in a study relate to one another within the theoretical framework. It is not simply a string of concepts, but a way to identify and construct for the reader your epistemological and ontological worldview and approach to your topic of study. The conceptual framework also gives you an opportunity to specify and define concepts within the problem (Luse, Mennecke, & Townsend, 2012). Once the conceptual framework for a dissertation has been established, you can then begin to determine how to go about writing your dissertation.

In another example from our work supervising dissertations, one candidate relied on best practices in the research literature associated with interventions with special needs children. Relying on national policies and protocols associated with Response to Intervention (RtI), core principles of the Federal policy (screening, diagnosis, and progress monitoring) were analyzed in relation to parent perceptions of service provisions for their children. Thus, RtI and best practices literature served as the conceptual framework for the study. However, the theoretical framework was that of educational equity theory, as shown in Table 1.

Table 1

Distinction Between a Theoretical and Conceptual Framework

Theoretical Framework Conceptual Framework Theory: Educational Equity Theory Rtl Best Practices

Theorists: Marx (1975) Brookover & Lezotte (1981)

Core concepts: screening, diagnosis, progress monitoring (as defined by No Child Left Behind legislation Key theoretical principles: equality, justified inequality, fair process, social justice access, participation

Returning to our analogy of how writing a dissertation is similar to building a house, we believe that the theoretical framework and its associated tenants and principles would entail the elevation blueprints for a house, whereas the conceptual framework would involve the floor plan blueprint of how information flows throughout the dissertation. Although these steps may be taken in tandem or one by one, we profess that the dissertation committee must challenge students to articulate both the conceptual and theoretical frameworks prior to beginning the dissertation.

SELECTING AN APPROPRIATE THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK Selecting an appropriate theoretical framework for your dissertation research is an important and necessary process with which all doctoral students should engage. The selection of a theoretical framework requires a deep and thoughtful understanding of your problem, purpose, significance, and research questions. It is imperative that all four constructs—the problem, purpose, significance, and research questions—are tightly aligned and intricately interwoven so that your theoretical framework can serve as the foundation for your work and guide your choice of research design and data analysis.

Think of the electrical system running through a house: your problem, purpose, significance, research questions, methodology, and data analysis plan must flow through all rooms in your house, connecting all the elements explicitly together to deliver power throughout the dissertation. All rooms of a house require electricity. Similarly, all aspects of the dissertation research should connect to the theoretical framework.

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For the purpose of review and consistency, it is important to briefly discuss the essence of the problem, purpose, and significance of dissertation research.

Brief Discussion of Problem, Purpose, and Significance in Dissertation Research Problem. This is one of the most critical parts of the dissertation research. The problem statement establishes an interaction by two or more factors that produce a dilemma or quandary that can cause for further examination. The problem statement defines the root problem as well as the other variables and constructs inherent to the problem. It identifies an area that needs further research or helps to resolve/address an existing problem in the field. How does the theoretical framework emerge or connect to the problem? What does the problem look like from the outside?

Purpose. This section defines the purpose, or justification, of your study. That is to say, what are the aims and/ or outcomes for the problem you have generated? Think in terms of the following questions: The aim of this study is to...? The purpose of this study is to...? What do you hope to do with this study that will add to, critique, or revise current knowledge in the field? Answering these questions will allow you to describe how the chosen theoretical framework relates to the purpose of the study.

Significance. Describe the significance, the importance of, or the “so what” of this exploration. Why is this an important topic? To whom is it important? Why should readers in your particular field, and in general, care about this issue? Explain the potential value of this study and how it can add to the body of existing work and knowledge in the field. This section will help you determine the audience for your study as well. Additionally, you will need to explain why you have chosen a specific theoretical framework in relation to the importance of your study.

Aligning your theoretical framework with the problem, purpose, and significance is an important part of the dissertation process. Again, consider the analogy of the necessity of a blueprint when building a home—by creating a solid, strong blueprint you can then establish the varying parts and levels for the knowledge you want to build/ know.

Understanding Your Research Questions Using the Lens of the Theoretical Framework The development of the research questions in your dissertation has a direct impact on the other parts of your study, including but not limited to the theoretical framework. The relationship between the research questions and theoretical framework is complementary.

Both the main research question or hypotheses and any sub-questions of your study should embody recognizable aspects of the theoretical framework and articulate the theoretical framework in a manner by which is can be further explored by your dissertation research. Because the theoretical framework connects the reader to existing knowledge, the research questions of your study act as the liaison between the existing knowledge and the problem you want to resolve. For example, if the “lens with which you view the world” is critical of systems and institutions, then your research questions could be framed around the ideas of in/equality, social justice, and access/barriers. A researcher with this particular lens would investigate the issue of parental involvement in a high-needs urban setting using this type of question: “How can school administrators and teachers encourage more active engagement by parents of high-needs students as a way to promote equal access and use of school resources?” This question incorporates the theoretical framework of educational equity theory (e.g., “to promote equal access”), as shown in Table 1. In contrast, the question, “How can parents of high-needs students become more actively involved in their student’s education and school-life?” does not include a theoretical framework.

As evidenced by the information above, the theoretical framework, your blueprint, is integral in developing the key components of your dissertation, including the problem, purpose, significance, and research questions. Keeping this idea in mind, the selection of a theoretical framework is one of the most important steps in moving from thinking about your dissertation research to actually starting your dissertation research.

Choosing the Right Theoretical Framework for You As stated earlier, most research studies in social and behavioral sciences (regardless of disciplines) have a base for conducting research. This base is called the theoretical framework. The theoretical framework serves as a guide to your research and assists in determining what things you will measure and examine. The theoretical framework is

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something solid and reliable on which to build your research and to inform the rest of your design.

As such, it is important to examine your own epistemological beliefs when selecting a theoretical framework. Our beliefs are influenced by assumptions, values, and ethics, which …

Attachment 2

The theoretical lens Determine the guiding framework for your

dissertation research

A theoretical framework provides the theoretical

assumptions for the larger context of a study,

and is the foundation or ‘lens’ by which a study

is developed. This framework helps to ground

the research focus under study within theoretical

underpinnings and to frame the inquiry for data

analysis and interpretation.

The theoretical contribution Determine the potential theoretical contribution of

your dissertation research

A theoretical contribution provides a

theory-driven input to current thinking

when your dissertation research study

is framed by theoretical considerations

that began with a well-defined

theoretical framework. A theoretical

framework allows for deliberation of

the theoretical contribution(s) to

current scholarship within your

discipline once you determine your key study findings. Ideally,

you will revisit the theoretical underpinnings of your study when

you describe the theoretical contribution(s) of your study findings

as you draft Chapter 5 once your study has concluded.

The Theoretical Framework Northcentral University Center for Teaching and Learning

  

Where do I start?

Consider these three

considerations to formulate

a theoretical framework:

1. Discipline/Field of Study

 What is your degree

program?

 What is your area of

specialization?

 PhD or applied doctorate?

 What is your research

focus?

2. Theory(ies)

 What are relevant theories

aligned with your

discipline?

 Which theory(ies)

resonated with you in

course work?

 What theory(ies) have past

researchers used?

3. Theorist(s)

 Who was/were the original

theorist(s)?

 Who adapted the

theory(ies) to your

discipline?

As you begin, determine with your Dissertation Chair

whether your dissertation research study is best

guided by a theoretical framework or a conceptual

framework (see also ‘The Conceptual Framework’]

Review the Chapter 1 requirements in the NCU DP/DM Template

Checklist:

☐ Identify the guiding framework. Present the key concepts, briefly explain how they are

related, and present the propositions that are relevant to this study.

☐ Explain how the framework guided the research decisions, including the development of

the problem statement, purpose statement, and research questions.

☐ If more than one framework is guiding the study, integrate them, rather than describing

them independently. Do not select a separate framework for each variable/construct under

examination.

☐ Do not exceed two pages. A more thorough discussion of the theoretical/conceptual

framework will be included in Chapter 2.

From 2017 NCU Dissertation_Proposal_Manuscript_Template

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References

Casanave, C. P., & Li, Y. (2015). Novices’ struggles with conceptual and theoretical framing in writing

dissertations and papers for publication. Publications, 3(2), 104-119. doi:10.3390/publications3020104

Grant, C., & Osanloo, A. (2015). 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). doi: 10.5929/2014.4.2.9

Attachment 3

Publications 2015, 3, 104-119; doi:10.3390/publications3020104

publications ISSN 2304-6775

www.mdpi.com/journal/publications Article

Novices’ Struggles with Conceptual and Theoretical Framing in Writing Dissertations and Papers for Publication †

Christine Pearson Casanave 1,* and Yongyan Li 2

1 Graduate College of Education, Temple University, Japan Campus, Japan 2 Faculty of Education, University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong, China;

E-Mail: [email protected]

† This paper is an expanded version of our paper presented at the TESOL Convention 2013 (20–23 March, 2013, Dallas, Texas, USA).

* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed; E-Mail: [email protected]

Academic Editor: Margaret Cargill

Received: 1 January 2015 / Accepted: 17 April 2015 / Published: 28 April 2015

Abstract: In this conceptual paper, we address the problem that novice scholars in social sciences sometimes have in constructing conceptual or theoretical frameworks for their dissertations and papers for publication. In the first part of the paper, we discuss why the topic is important in the high pressure environment that novice scholars face, in which finishing a doctoral degree and getting published can make a difference in career success or failure, and explain our understanding of theoretical/conceptual framing, including provisionally defining some key terms. We then elucidate ten problems that novice scholars have with theoretical/conceptual framing, using our own experiences as manuscript reviewers and writers as examples. The paper concludes with ways that novice scholars can address the task of framing their scholarly work conceptually and theoretically, on the understanding that the struggles continue over the lifetime of a scholarly career.

Keywords: theory; conceptual framing; theoretical framing; qualitative research; novice researchers

OPEN ACCESS

Publications 2015, 3 105

1. Introduction

Some years ago, Chris was attending the dissertation defense of one of her best doctoral students. As one of her two main advisors, she had watched the student develop a scholarly persona over the previous years and had watched, in particular, the development of her longitudinal qualitative project studying the language use of bilingual Japanese high schools students. Soon into the defense, about which Chris was not worried, believing this would be an interesting intellectual discussion about an interesting and well-done qualitative project, a committee member (the incoming director of the program) asked a question: “What is theory?” The other members sat in stunned silence for a moment, not sure what to say, given that this student had framed her study quite adequately in postmodern and sociocognitive concepts of language and culture. The student recovered before the rest of the committee did, came up with a decent response and was saved from further questioning of this type by the current (outgoing) director, who stepped in and shifted the topic.

At the end of this doctoral defense, Chris found herself reliving aspects of her own doctoral education two decades before. She had entered her doctoral program as a teacher (not researcher) of English as a second language in California. She loved the work, the people and the learning she had to do about her native language as part of learning how to teach it. In her first year of doctoral work, however, she faced mountains of readings, not about teaching and practice, but about theory and research. It was an odd experience for her, not to understand readings in her native language, to be confronted with terminology that she had never heard of and sometimes could not pronounce let alone understand and to become acquainted intimately with the infamous nominalized, jargon-filled, impersonal writing style of the social sciences [1]. She wondered if authors themselves understood well the theoretical foundations of their research or if she was seeing a mass epidemic of lip-service. One of her advisors in the department tried to help her lower her resistance to “theory.” Theory in itself can be interesting, he said. Often, we cannot understand or interpret research findings without some theoretical lens; otherwise, we just end up describing things, not interpreting them or applying them to other contexts. Maybe, as Chris discovered much later, not everyone needs to become steeped in Theory (capital T, as Wolcott [2] noted, and who himself did a mainly descriptive doctoral dissertation in anthropology). Some less abstract and less pretentious conceptual thinking might do [3–5].

Now, after a decade of advising doctoral students on their qualitative dissertations in the same program that is featured in the introductory story and several decades of manuscript reviewing for five or six different journals, Chris is deeply familiar with the strict and ubiquitous structural requirement on Western English language dissertations and scholarly research articles that a theoretical or conceptual framework follow the introduction. It turns out that novice researchers are usually not very good at writing this chapter or section, for many reasons, including the fact that abstract thinking is difficult and that it takes a great deal of time to become familiar with theory at any level of depth. On top of these challenges is the persistent diversity among scholars in how they differentiate, or do not, theoretical and conceptual framing. After quite a bit of reading on and discussion of this topic, we settled in this paper for a loose distinction (described more below) and a plea to novices to come to their own decisions, as long as they are consistent, on how they frame their work.

Still, when both Chris and Yongyan began advising doctoral students, they realized that long before students write their dissertations and their first articles (we hope) from this huge project, they need

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help recognizing how important it is to see beyond their concrete data to higher levels of abstraction, whether we call it theorizing or conceptualizing. It is not enough to drop a few names and terms; the higher levels of abstraction actually aid in interpreting data and provide needed links to other work. By the time students are drafting dissertation chapters and their first articles for publication, it is a bit late to start this foundational work. Additionally, by the time they finish the dissertation or first article, their struggles are invisible to others, having become obliterated or excluded by the need to present a polished and authoritative document to the gatekeepers and readers. In this paper, we review some of the invisible struggles that novices have framing their papers theoretically and conceptually and offer some strategies that they might draw on to address their difficulties.

2. Why We Feel This Topic Is Important

Recent pressures on novice scholars to publish in English in order to get or keep a job have created unprecedented stresses in their lives. Of the many difficulties they face writing a publishable article or book, the initial framing is one of the most challenging, particularly in qualitative inquiry [2,6]. For those novice scholars who are engaged in doctoral study in the social sciences, the challenge begins at the dissertation stage, where a theoretical or conceptual framework is usually a required chapter in the document [7] (much to the distress of Wolcott [2]) and follows them into their early publication efforts. Having been through these experiences ourselves and now advising our own doctoral students and serving on journal editorial boards, we find that the framing stands out as a common problem.

Views on theory differ. As Maxwell ([4], p. 46) pointed out, “for many students, the development and use of theory is the most daunting part of a qualitative study.” Many of us feel intimidated by the notion of theory and anxious when we are told we need to frame our work theoretically. One reason for our anxiety is that “theory” is not something we can see concretely, in the way we can our data. Abstractions are always more difficult to think about and write about than are concrete empirical details, especially for people who are not inherently attracted to theory and who do not have theoretically-oriented minds. However, we do not need to be fearful of “theory”; it is our sense of how some aspect of the world works. As Anfara and Mertz ([6,], p. xvii) put it: “A useful theory is one that tells an enlightening story about some phenomenon. It is a story that gives you new insights and broadens your understanding of the phenomenon.” We “theorize” in daily life all the time, without calling what we are doing “theorizing.” Theory can also be interesting in itself, but is particularly useful in helping you “think about your research while you’re doing it”, as Becker put it in the title of his book [3]. Additionally, even though Maxwell ([4], p. 46) says: “Every research design needs some theory of the phenomena in reality, to guide the other design decisions that you are going to make,” there are many kinds and levels of theory, from “grand theory” (like Marxism) to middle and low level theory that appeals to common sense [5,8]. The authors of academic publications do not need to commit themselves to a grand theory, but can take a more middle ground.

Whether we pursue a grand theory or take the middle ground, we are all, including novices, probably at least vaguely aware that we need to frame our work theoretically as part of our research reports. If the notion of theory intimidates us, we might refer to conceptual, rather than theoretical, framing, possibly using the terms interchangeably, or distinguishing them by higher (theoretical) and lower (conceptual) levels of abstraction (see the next section). In either case, a framework helps us

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interpret findings and connect our projects to other work. However, novices need to understand that a conceptual or theoretical frame is not something out there hidden intact in the literature waiting to be found or discovered. Instead, it is better seen as a verb, to frame, with the task of constructing a framework resting with us, based on our observing, reading, thinking and discussing and on our reflections on how a framework might connect to the specifics of our project.

3. What Theoretical or Conceptual Framing Does and Its Role in Scholarly Work

We often come across these two terms in reading: theoretical framework and conceptual framework. Different authors seem to favor one or the other of the two terms, e.g., with Merriam [9] sticking to “theoretical framework,” while Maxwell [4] and Marshall and Rossman [10] consistently refer to “conceptual framework.” Some other authors seem to advocate interchangeable use of the two terms and thus refer to “theoretical (or conceptual) frameworks” ([11], p. 101) or “a theoretical model/conceptual framework” ([12], p. 34) (cited in ([9], p. 67). In this paper, we use both terms, but consider a “theoretical framework” to be more formal and more abstract than a “conceptual framework.” In research in education and applied linguistics, which tends to have a practical and descriptive purpose, formal theorizing is not always required, whereas some kind of conceptual framing usually is.

First, here are a few terms. These are working definitions, not fixed in stone: A frame is a more or less abstract idea that encircles a study the way a frame encircles a picture and

provides a space in which it is situated. It helps explain or justify why and how the study is being done, lets readers know what the study is and is not about and helps researchers support and interpret findings and connect them to other works and to larger ideas that are more general than the concrete particulars of a study.

A concept is an abstract idea based on phenomena in reality that constitute our data (an empirical generalization, in Becker’s [3] terms). We can ask: what are our data examples of? One of Becker’s “tricks of the trade” for framing is to respond to this question by not using any of the concrete terms in a study. For instance, from our field of second language education, we might not use concrete terms, like teacher, student, verb, essay and lesson, as concepts, but what those terms represent more abstractly (expert-authority figure, novice-learner, action, knowledge production, instruction). Linking the idea of concepts to that of a frame, it follows then that “…the conceptual framework of your study [is] the system of concepts, assumptions, expectations, beliefs, and theories that supports and informs your research….” ([4], p. 33). We can note here that Maxwell, unlike some others, sees theories as part of a conceptual framework, not the other way around. The point is that the framework is a system.

A theory (in our view for this paper) consists of sets of related concepts; the theory makes clear how the concepts are related [4,7]. In this sense aspects of a theory can be presented in the form of models or networks that show relationships among concepts. Typically in relation to theory development, the literature talks about varieties of theory (e.g., [13,14]). O’Donoghue ([14], pp. 53–56), for example, outlines six varieties of theory: (i) description (or thick description); (ii) concepts; (iii) categories; (iv) propositions; (v) models; and (vi) typologies or classification schemes.

Theory can enter a project early (ethnography, phenomenology), late (grounded theory) or in the middle [15]. Framing thus consists of situating a study and interpreting data with ideas that are more abstract than the concrete particulars of a study itself or constructing theory by the end of a project

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from the particulars of the study. To frame a study or to build a theoretical or conceptual framework for a study is a matter of addressing the question during data collection or analysis “What do you think is going on?” [4] or “What do you think this is an example of?” [3]. (This is why it is difficult to impose theory from the top down, before a study is underway; but see [9], cited below.) In qualitative inquiry, framing allows for some generalizing to other particular cases via the umbrella of the concepts in the framing. In this sense, theory allows us to escape the confining particulars of our data. Silverman ([7], p. 107) pointed out that “Without theory, research is impossibly narrow. Without research, theory is mere armchair contemplation.”

Merriam [9] is one who believes that some kind of “theoretical orientation” is needed even at early stages of inquiry before we are fully familiar with our data. Her observation helps to explain novices’ confusion and uncertainty over the place of theory in qualitative research, especially when they are forced (e.g., by dissertation writing requirements) to consider theoretical aspects of a qualitative project before they have collected and thought about their data. In Merriam’s words:

Part of the struggle in identifying the theoretical framework in a qualitative study is that qualitative research is designed to inductively build rather than to test concepts, hypotheses, and theories. Because of this characteristic, many mistakenly believe that theory has no place in a qualitative study. (p. 64)

Merriam emphasizes, instead:

The argument could be made, however, that most qualitative research inherently shapes or modifies existing theory in that (1) data are analyzed and interpreted in light of the concepts of a particular theoretical orientation; and (2) a study’s findings are almost always discussed in relation to existing knowledge (some of which is theory) with an eye to demonstrating how the present study has contributed to expanding the knowledge base. (p. 70)

We quote Merriam at some length here to make the point that Merriam made: that a qualitative project is generally expected to fall between “deductive” and “inductive,” to both draw upon existing theories and to add to them (although theory building through data analysis, as happens in grounded theory [16–18], falls out of the scope of the present paper). Tardy [19], in reflecting on her struggles with theory in her doctoral dissertation project, said something that echoes Merriam’s [9] observation. We also quote Tardy here, to reinforce the point we are making:

It seems to me now that the entire process of carrying out a qualitative study reflects the process of theory building. This process requires grounding ideas in prior research and theory, categorizing phenomena, and building models or narratives that explain or simplify details, perhaps leading to new or modified theories. (p. 123)

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4. Problems That Novices Have

The theoretical or conceptual framework is a required element in most doctoral work that is supposed to demonstrate the knowledge and authority of the author, both of which are scarce assets in novice scholars. Our observations of novices’ problems in theoretical and conceptual framing (as we mentioned earlier, the former “grander” and more abstract than the latter, in our definition) are based both on our readings and our experiences. In the following, the examples we provide come from reviews we wrote or received on submissions to journals or comments we wrote on student papers. From perusing our reviews and feedback to students, we identified the following types of problems that would-be authors, including ourselves, have in theoretical-conceptual framing:

(1) No framework: One of the things we look for in papers being prepared for publication is some kind of framework that would, at the very least, identify the author’s assumptions that underlie the rationale for the paper, even if these are not couched in formal theory. From one of Chris’s reviews of a journal manuscript is her comment to the author: “No conceptual framework: We do not know what theoretical, conceptual, or even methodological assumptions underlie this study.” Particularly in qualitative inquiry, if there are no foundational concepts or frames, authors will have trouble connecting their work to that of others in the field or in conveying their interpretations of the findings, beyond the concrete particulars of a study.

In Yongyan’s Faculty of Education where she now works, “the need for a theoretical/conceptual framework” has often been the most important first lesson that a doctoral student learns after entry into the doctoral program. Working out a theoretical framework is among the biggest challenges that the student is faced with, certainly before the confirmation of one’s candidature (see [20] for a study of doctoral students’ perspectives on the role of theory in dissertation research). Largely through peer interaction and observation of each other’s presentations and sometimes through supervisors’ teaching, doctoral students usually learn the lesson of the need for a theoretical/conceptual framework quickly. However, before novices start to develop a vague understanding of what a framework is, they can mistake “context” for “framing,” and start off a paper or dissertation with lengthy descriptions of the events and changes in the educational environment being studied and, yet, fail to reach the essence of the study that is reported in the paper. Yongyan recalls how this problem was present in her own early attempts of paper submission. A paper of hers in its early version got this comment from a reviewer:

However, in its present form, the paper is framed in the introduction as a study of Chinese researchers’ contributions to publication in computer science. That is fine as a context for this study, but isn’t the main issue one of a novice struggling to figure out different sets of conventions in Chinese and English? My suggestion, therefore, is that the author reframe the paper as an exploration of a novice writer’s attempts to enter the community of professional Chinese scholars in computer science.

Years later as a supervisor, Yongyan has seen in doctoral students’ early drafts of dissertations voluminous chapter-after-chapter presentation of contextual information (e.g., the medium-of-instruction policies in Hong Kong over time) in place of a theorized or conceptualized framing of the study. For

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novices, it is much easier to see and describe the concrete particulars of a setting than to frame an inquiry more abstractly; they often need guidance to see beyond the concrete particulars.

(2) Inappropriate framework (does not suit the data or the purpose of a study): We have found that authors sometimes write a section on theory based on their readings or course work without knowing clearly how to connect the theory to the purpose or data of a particular study. This is a question of relevance, as these comments from two manuscript reviews that Chris wrote reveal: (i) “The introduction about the process approach doesn’t work. It is not reflective of current thinking about process approaches or writing pedagogy or even very relevant to this study”; (ii) “I enjoyed reading the framework for this study of four L2 graduate students […] However, […] the rich framework did not match the data and analysis parts.” We have also seen cases where a doctoral student falls in love with a particularly dense and complex theory during course work and then tries desperately to make the theory fit a far less grand empirical study. The same mismatch also sometimes happens when novice authors try to match one kind of theory with a different kind of study, seemingly through attachment to the theory.

(3) The framework does not link up with data: In other cases, the theory itself might be appropriate, but the author does not use it to help with interpretation and discussion of data. We would expect the initial framing theory to be drawn upon later in the discussion section of a dissertation or article as a way to bring everything in a study together. Chris wrote in a review: “In general, the results and the discussion do not match up. I was not able to read the observations and assertions in the discussion section and say to myself ‘yes, I saw evidence of this in the results section.’” In numerous examples of her students’ doctoral dissertation work, Chris has also found that even if a theoretical or conceptual framework chapter early in the work is both appropriate and quite strong, the discussion chapter often begins by merely repeating and summarizing the findings. In comments on a doctoral student’s draft of a discussion chapter, Chris said: “As you revise, are you drawing on your reading notes and on the literature you reviewed in your conceptual-lit review chapters? […] What follows looks more like findings than discussion. Can you find a way to move some of the material into findings chapters and then revamp the discussion?”

A related problem for novice scholars is that their theoretical framework appears only in the introductory sections of a dissertation or article, without much further discussion at all. In other words, it seems to serve no purpose beyond display. Chris wrote in a review: “This section seems to present findings. Immediately following this section is the short Conclusion, without any real discussion that tied back to the framing in the first 6 pages of the paper (on discourse communities, social constructionism in academic literacy, and models of academic literacy). Make sure that a discussion section in a revision relates concepts and issues from the first part of the paper to what you found or did in this study.”

On an early draft of a paper [21] targeted for a special issue of a journal that Chris and Xiaoming Li were guest-editing, Yongyan observed in an email to the guest editors: “I tend to feel that my Abstract, which only explains the way I use the term ‘legitimate peripheral participation,’ perhaps does not reflect well my focus in the paper.” To this Chris responded sympathetically, emphasizing at the same time the importance of linking data with theoretical framework:

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We both recognize that you have a complex study, full of lots of qualitative and anecdotal material, which makes it quite difficult to narrow and focus for the purpose of producing one paper. We can continue discussing your revisions, so let us know what you decide to do. Whatever the direction, the important thing will be to link data clearly with your theoretical framework.

(4) Imbalance between a framework and data: There are two possible manifestations of this

problem. In the first case, a data-rich project is presented in great detail with little or no theoretical or conceptual framing to assist readers in interpreting the study. This is a problem of “no conceptual framework” that we discussed at the beginning of this section. In the second case, a theoretical or conceptual framework might be presented with excessive detail relative to the presentation of data, which might be sparse. In one of her reviews, Chris wrote: “(In the revision) I still had a great deal of trouble figuring out what this paper was about. There were lots of big ideas and big concepts and big claims, and not enough data to support them.” As we mentioned earlier, novice scholars might have learned about particular theories as part of doctoral course work and be less adept at conducting and writing up actual research that can be interpreted with the aid of those theories.

We suspect the problem can also occur when novices adapt materials from a dissertation to prepare a journal paper. In their dissertation, they might have more than enough discussion of theories and concepts to extract from their early chapters, yet have problems creating a clear focus and, at the same time, leaving enough space for presenting the study properly. The latter problem is perhaps partly a result of students’ uncertainty over which part to present in the shorter journal article from the much larger study reported in the dissertation. In a review of a manuscript, Yongyan wrote: “On the whole, it seems the lengthy literature review section touches upon many things but does not signal strongly a focus for the study. Sorry but I got lost in the middle.”

(5) Incomplete, superficial or inconsistent treatment of a framework: Unlike in some doctoral dissertations, where typically, an entire chapter can be devoted to a theoretical or conceptual framework, superficial or incomplete treatment of theory and related concepts is extremely common in journal article manuscripts, where there is little space for elaboration. However, novice scholars might treat theory superficially because, at the earliest stages of their professional development, they have not yet acquired the depth of understanding, through wide and deep reading, necessary for a more complete or knowledgeably succinct treatment of their framework. This problem is difficult to overcome at early stages, but tends to resolve itself over time as novice scholars develop experience and familiarity with sets of ideas and with a theorist’s body of work.

Inconsistent treatment of theory can happen when novice or even experienced authors cannot find the theory or theories that work to support the main point of an article. Chris received a review of one of her manuscripts that pointed out this problem: “Theoretical focus not yet consistent. Seem to be five areas, the most salient of which is the notion of ‘ecology of effort,’ the strongest area of contribution in the paper. Develop further, situate in motivation research.”

(6) Misinterpretation of a theory: Particularly, if several key concepts from a theory have become common parlance in academic work, novice scholars face the danger of adopting the buzzword without studying it thoroughly or fully understanding it, thus leading to misinterpretations. In a manuscript review, Chris wrote: “In the introduction to this paper, the authors imply that novices

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move ‘from marginal to legitimate participation.’ However, in Wenger’s view, at least in the 1998 book, marginality follows a trajectory to non-participation, whereas peripherality follows a trajectory to the ‘inside,’ to fuller participation. In his view, one is not marginal, then peripheral, then in; rather, one is marginal heading out, or peripheral, heading in” [22]. In another manuscript reviewed by Chris, the author did not seem fully familiar with the work of Vygotsky and his overarching sociocultural theory (e.g., [23]), whose concepts s/he was using …

Attachment 4

NCU Library / LibGuides / Library How-To Guides / Research Process

/ Researching Theoretical Frameworks

Research Process These pages offer an introduction to the research process at a

very general level.

Home

Finding a

Research Topic

Determining

Information

Needs

Scholarly

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Preparing to

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Reading a

Scientific Article

Finding Similar

Resources

Resources for a

Literature Review

Resources for

Dissertation

Research

Finding

Dissertations

Researching

Theoretical

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Frameworks

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Methods &

Design

Tests and

Measurements

Organizing

Research &

Citations

Scholarly

Publication

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Researching Theoretical Frameworks

Theoretical frameworks provide a particular perspective, or lens, through which

to examine a topic. There are many different lenses, such as psychological

theories, social theories, organizational theories and economic theories, which

may be used to define concepts and explain phenomena. Often times, these

frameworks may come from an area outside of your immediate academic

discipline. See the link below for a comprehensive definition of theory and how it

relates to social science research. Using a theoretical framework for your

dissertation can help you to better analyze past events by providing a particular

set of questions to ask, and a particular perspective to use when examining

your topic.

Traditionally, Ph.D. and Applied Degree research must include relevant

theoretical framework(s) to frame, or inform, every aspect of the dissertation.

Further, Ph.D. dissertations should make an original contribution to the field by

adding support for the theory, or, conversely, demonstrating ways in which the

theory may not be as explanatory as originally thought. You can learn more

about the theoretical framework requirements in the NCU Dissertation

Proposal/Dissertation Manuscript Template 2019 document located in the

NCU Dissertation Center. View our Library FAQ for how to locate this document

here.

It can be difficult to find scholarly work that takes a particular theoretical

approach because articles, books, and book chapters are typically described

according to the topics they tackle rather than the methods they use to tackle

them. Further, there is no single database or search technique for locating

theoretical information. However, the suggestions below provide techniques for

locating possible theoretical frameworks and theorists in the Library databases.

In addition to your Library research, you should consider discussing possible

theories with colleagues and your Dissertation Chair. Also, keep in mind that

you will probably find and discard several potential theoretical frameworks

before one is finally chosen.

Theory Definition

From the book The A-Z of Social Research

The Theoretical Framework

Guide from the NCU Center for Teaching and Learning

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Additional Resources

Conceptual

Framework

Maxwell, J. A.

(2004).

Conceptual

framework: What

do you think is

going on? In

Qualitative

Research

Design: An

Interactive

Approach.

Thousand Oaks,

CA: SAGE

Publications

Organizing

Your Social

Sciences

Research

Paper:

Theoretical

Framework

University of

Southern

California

The Research

Planning

Process:

Theoretical

Framework

(video)

Theoretical

Framework

(video)

Resources

Use the Library’s e-book databases to gather background information on a

particular theory or theorist. To access, go to Research Resources – Find an

E-Book. Since the e-book databases will contain fewer resources than a

database containing thousands of scholarly journal articles, it is best to keep your

search terms a little more broad.

For example, a search for education theory in the Ebook Central database

results in many relevant e-books, as shown below. Expanding the Table of

Contents will provide additional details about the e-book.

E-Book Databases Google ProQuest Dissertations & Theses

Roadrunner Search SAGE Research Methods Web of Knowledge

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Attachment 5

Theory or Conceptual Framework Search

This week, you will focus on a theory of your choice and a pre-identified conceptual framework.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of a theory is an idea or set of ideas

that are organized to explain something. Typically, this is an event or facts. There are theories in

every discipline of study. You are encouraged in this assignment to find a theory that aligns to

your topic of interest or one that has interested you during your previous courses. In your

dissertation for your Ph.D., you will be required to have at least one theory. Other DBA will use

a conceptual framework.

A conceptual framework, according to Business Dictionary.com, is a theoretical structure of

assumptions, principles, and or rules that bring together ideas to create a broad concept. In

essence, the conceptual framework can be a model, a diagram, or a framework that guides you

through a process. By conducting a simple Internet search, you will find many images and ideas

of the conceptual framework. Remember from last week, the goal is to determine the reliability

of what you find: research, research, research.

In your dissertation, the theory or the conceptual framework assist you in developing the

research questions as well as the gap in the literature that you research. The problem typically is

the gap in the research. Your study will seek to fill this gap.

Attachment 6

Analyze Differences between Theory and

Concept Research

Instructions

Assignment

Write an annotated bibliography of two theories and two conceptual framework models. Use

your knowledge about writing an annotated bibliography. This week, you will keep the sources

to only theories and conceptual frameworks. You may use any theories and conceptual

frameworks you choose.

1. Name the theory or conceptual framework in a heading. 2. Write two or three paragraphs about the author, the concept of the theory or conceptual

framework.

3. Write at least one paragraph of the use in history and today or why it is not used today. 4. Write a conclusion about your thoughts on the theory or conceptual framework.

Length: 5-7 pages

References: Include a minimum of five (5) scholarly resources.

Your paper should demonstrate thoughtful consideration of the ideas and concepts presented in

the course and provide new thoughts and insights relating directly to this topic. Your response

should reflect scholarly writing and current APA standards.