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Conceptual research, as the name suggests, is research that relates to abstract concepts and ideas. It doesn’t involve practical experimentation but instead relies on the researcher analyzing available information on a given topic. Conceptual research has been widely used in the study of philosophy to develop new theories, counter existing theories, or interpret existing theories in a different way.
A conceptual research framework is built using existing literature and studies from which inferences can be drawn. The study is conducted to reduce the existing knowledge gap on a particular topic and make relevant and reliable information available.
The following steps can be taken in order to create a conceptual research framework:
1. Define a topic for research
The first step in the framework is to clearly define the topic of your research. Most researchers will pick a topic relating to their field of expertise.
2. Collect and Organize relevant research
As conceptual research relies on pre-existing studies and literature, researchers must collect all relevant information relating to their topic.
It’s important to use reliable sources and data from scientific journals or research papers that are well reputed. As conceptual research doesn’t employ the use of practical experimentation, the importance of analyzing reliable, fact-based studies is reinforced.
3. Identify variables for the research
The next step is to select relevant variables for the research. These variables will be the yardsticks by which inferences will be drawn. They give new scope to the research and also help identify how different variables may be affecting the topic of research.
4. Create the Framework
The final step is to create the research framework using relevant literature, variables, and any other relevant material. The main question/problem statement of the research becomes your research framework.
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An example of conceptual research is Thomas Malthus’ philosophy outlined in his book, “An Essay on the Principle of Population”. In his book, Malthus theorized that due to disease, famine, war, and/or calamity, the human population would stop expanding.
His theory was based on observations of the growth of the human population and the growth of food production. He stated that the human population was increasing geometrically whilst food production only increased arithmetically. He used existing population and food statistics to draw this conclusion. Based on this information, he made the assumption that humans would eventually be unable to produce enough food to sustain themselves.
For many reasons, Malthus’ theory was flawed. One of the most prominent reasons being that technological advancements weren’t taken into account, likely due to the age in which his research was conducted. Technological developments and global interconnectedness allowed for a massive increase in food production and stimulated the flow of food from country to country.
Though Multhus’ theory was based on current statistics of his time, his observations proved to be false.
We’ve already understood conceptual research, but what is empirical research?
Empirical research, unlike conceptual research, is based on experimentation rather than theory. Researchers using empirical research gather information on their subject using quantitative or qualitative methods and use this data to make fact-based conclusions.
The following table lists additional key differences between conceptual and empirical research.
Relates to abstract ideas or concepts.
Relies on verifiable evidence found through observation and/or experimentation.
Does not involve practical experimentation.
Involves practical experimentation and conclusions are based on observable, measurable phenomena.
Used extensively in Philosophical research.
Includes both quantitative and qualitative studies, and is used extensively in scientific research among other fields.
The modern scientific method is known to rely on a combination of empirical and conceptual research, rather than just one of them. Experimental data is used to formulate hypotheses that explain the phenomena.