Conceptual research, as the name suggests, is research related to abstract concepts and ideas. It does not involve practical experimentation, but is based on the researcher analyzing the 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.

Components of Conceptual Research

Conceptual Research Framework

A conceptual research framework is constructed from existing literature and studies from which inferences can be drawn. The study is carried out to reduce existing knowledge gaps on a particular topic and to make relevant and reliable information available.

To create a conceptual research framework, the following steps can be followed:

Defining a research topic

The first step of the framework is to clearly define the topic of your research. Most researchers will choose a topic related to their field of expertise.

Collecting and organizing relevant research

Since conceptual research is based on pre-existing studies and literature, researchers should collect all pertinent information related to their topic.

It is important to use reliable sources and data from reputable scientific journals or research papers. As conceptual research does not employ the use of practical experimentation, the importance of analyzing reliable, fact-based studies is reinforced.

Identifying variables for research

The next step is to select the variables relevant to the research. These variables will be the scales with which the inferences will be made. They give a new scope to the research and also help to identify how the different variables may be affecting the subject of the research.

Creating the framework

The last step is to create the research framework using the relevant literature, variables and any other relevant material. The statement of the main question/problem of the research becomes your research framework.

Conceptual Research Example

An example of conceptual research is the philosophy of Thomas Malthus set forth in his book “An Essay on the Principle of Population”. In his book, Malthus theorized that due to disease, famine, war, and/or calamities, the human population would cease to expand.

His theory was based on observations about human population growth and the growth of food production. He claimed that the human population increased geometrically while food production only increased arithmetically. To reach this conclusion he used existing population and food statistics. Based on this information, he assumed that humans would end up being unable to produce enough food to support themselves.

For many reasons, Malthus’s theory was wrong. One of the most important is that technological advances were not taken into account, probably due to the time in which the research was carried out. Technological advances and global interconnection enabled a massive increase in food production and stimulated the flow of food from one country to another.

Although Multhus’s theory was based on the current statistics of his time, his observations turned out to be false.

Advantages of Conceptual Research

It requires few resources, compared to other forms of market research where practical experimentation is required. This saves time and resources.

It is a convenient form of research: As this form of research only requires the evaluation of the existing literature, it turns out to be a relatively convenient form of research.

Disadvantages of Conceptual Research

Questionable reliability and validity: Theories based on existing literature, rather than experimentation and observation, draw conclusions that are less based on facts and cannot necessarily be considered reliable.

It is subject to a greater number of errors or subjectivity: We often see that philosophical theories are refuted or revised because their conclusions are inferences drawn from existing texts and not from practical experimentation.

Conceptual Research vs Empirical Research

Scientific research is usually divided into two classes: conceptual research and empirical research. Before there were different ways of investigating and a researcher prided himself on being one or the other, praising his method and despising the alternative. Today the distinction is not so clear.

Conceptual research focuses on the concept or theory that explains or describes the phenomenon studied. What causes the disease? How can we describe the movement of the planets? What are the basic components of matter? The conceptual researcher sits at his desk with a pen in his hand and tries to solve these problems by thinking about them.

He doesn’t do experiments, but he can use the observations of others, since this is the mass of data he tries to make sense of. Until recently, conceptual research methodology was considered the most honorable form of research: it required using the brain, not the hands. Researchers who did experiments, like alchemists, were considered little better than blacksmiths: “disgusting empiricals.”

What is empirical research?

Despite their high status, conceptual researchers regularly produced theories that were wrong. Aristotle taught that large cannonballs fell to earth faster than small ones, and many generations of professors repeated his teachings until Galileo proved them wrong. Galileo was an empiricist of the best kind, who conducted original experiments not only to destroy old theories but to provide the basis for new theories.

The backlash against the ivory tower theorists culminated in those claiming to have no use for the theory, arguing that the empirical acquisition of knowledge was the only path to truth. A pure empiricist simply graphed the data and saw if he would get a straight-line relationship between the variables. If so, it had a good “empirical” relationship that allowed useful predictions to be made. The theory behind the correlation was irrelevant.

Conceptual Questions and Empirical Questions

Conceptual Questions

Philosophical questions tend to be conceptual in nature. This means that they cannot be answered simply by giving facts or information. A concept is the object of a thought, not something that is present to the senses.

Concepts are not a mystery, and although they are “abstract,” we use them all the time to organize our thinking. We literally couldn’t think or communicate without concepts. Some common examples of concepts are “justice,” “beauty,” and “truth,” but also “seven,” “blue,” or “big.”

When we ask a philosophical conceptual question, we usually inquire into the nature of something, or ask a question about how something is as it is. Ancient philosophers, such as Plato, posed conceptual questions such as “What is justice?” as the basis of philosophy. The statements “That action is wrong” or “Knowledge is a true justified belief” are conceptual statements.

In papers, you will often be asked to consider concepts, analyze and describe how philosophers use them, and perhaps compare them between texts. For example, you may be asked, “Do animals have rights?” This question asks you to consider what a right is and whether it is the kind of thing an animal should or even might have. He did not wonder whether or not there were any laws that actually granted those rights. Nor does it ask for your opinion on this question, but a reasoned position that is based on philosophical concepts and texts.

Empirical Questions

The word “empirical” means “obtained through experience.” Scientific experiments and observation give rise to empirical data. The scientific theories that organize the data are conceptual. Historical records or the results of sociological or psychological surveys are empirical. Making sense of those records or results requires the use of concepts.

Empirical questions can be answered by giving facts or information. Examples of empirical questions are: “What is the chemical composition of water?” or: “When did the French Revolution occur?” or: “Which education system gives rise to the highest literacy rate?”

The cycle of empirical research

The empirical research cycle is a 5-phase cycle that describes the systematic processes for conducting empirical research. It was developed by the Dutch psychologist A.D. de Groot in the 1940s and it aligns 5 important stages that can be considered deductive approaches to empirical research.

In the methodological cycle of empirical research, all processes are interconnected and neither of them is more important than the other. This cycle clearly outlines the different phases involved in the generation of research hypotheses and in the systematic testing of these hypotheses from empirical data.


It is the process of collecting empirical data for research. In this phase, the researcher collects relevant empirical data using qualitative or quantitative observation methods, and this serves to support the hypotheses of the research.


At this stage, the researcher makes use of inductive reasoning to reach a probable overall conclusion of the research based on his observation. The researcher generates a general hypothesis that tries to explain the empirical data and goes on to observe the empirical data according to this hypothesis.


It is the stage of deductive reasoning. In it, the researcher generates hypotheses by applying logic and rationality to his observation.


Here the researcher tests the hypotheses using qualitative or quantitative research methods. At the verification stage, the researcher combines the relevant instruments of systematic research with empirical methods to arrive at objective results that support or negate the research hypotheses.


Evaluation research is the final stage of an empirical research study. It presents the empirical data, the conclusions of the research and the arguments that support them, in addition to the problems that have been found during the research process.

This information is useful for future research.

Examples of empirical research

An empirical research study can be conducted to determine whether listening to upbeat music improves people’s mood. The researcher may have to conduct an experiment that involves exposing individuals to upbeat music to see if this improves their mood.

The results of such an experiment will provide empirical evidence that confirms or disproves the hypotheses.

An empirical research study may also be conducted to determine the effects of a new drug on specific groups of people. The researcher may expose research subjects to controlled amounts of the drug and observe the effects over a specific period of time to gather empirical data.

Another example of empirical research is the measurement of noise pollution levels in an urban area to determine the average levels of sound exposure experienced by its inhabitants. In this case, the researcher may have to administer questionnaires or conduct a survey to collect relevant data based on the experiences of the research subjects.

Empirical research can also be conducted to determine the relationship between seasonal migration and the body mass of flying birds. A researcher may need to observe the birds and carry out the observation and experimentation necessary to arrive at objective results that answer the research question.

Methods of data collection from empirical research

Empirical data can be collected using qualitative and quantitative data collection methods. Quantitative data collection methods are used for numerical data collection, while qualitative data collection processes are used to collect empirical data that cannot be quantified, i.e. non-numerical data.

The following are common methods of data collection in empirical research

Survey/ Questionnaire

The survey is a data collection method typically employed by researchers to gather large data sets from a specific number of respondents in relation to a research topic. This method of data collection is often used for quantitative data collection, although it can also be used in quantitative research.

A survey contains a set of questions that can range from closed questions to open-ended questions, along with other types of questions that revolve around the research topic. A survey can be administered physically or with the use of online data collection platforms.


Empirical data can also be collected by conducting an experiment. An experiment is a controlled simulation in which one or more of the variables of the research are manipulated by a set of interconnected processes in order to confirm or refute the hypotheses of the research.

An experiment is a useful method for measuring causality, i.e., cause and effect between dependent and independent variables in a research environment. It is a comprehensive method of data collection in an empirical research study because it involves checking calculated assumptions to arrive at the most valid data and research results.

Case Studies

The case study method is another common method of data collection in an empirical research study. It consists of examining and analyzing relevant cases and real-life experiences on the topic or variables of the research to discover in-depth information that can serve as empirical data.


The observation method is a qualitative data collection method that requires the researcher to study the behaviors of research variables in their natural environments to gather relevant information that can serve as empirical data.

Main Differences Between Conceptual Research and Empirical Research


Conceptual research is a type of research that is usually related to abstract ideas or concepts, while empirical research is any research study in which the conclusions of the study are drawn from evidence verifiable by observation or experience, rather than theory or pure logic.


Conceptual research has to do with abstract ideas and concepts; however, it does not involve any practical experiments. Empirical research, on the other hand, involves phenomena that are observable and measurable.

Type of studies

Philosophical research studies are examples of conceptual research studies, while empirical research includes both quantitative and qualitative studies.


The main difference between conceptual and empirical research is that conceptual research involves abstract ideas and concepts, while empirical research involves research based on observation, experiments, and verifiable evidence.

The Scientific Method: A Bit of Both

Modern scientific method is actually a combination of empirical and conceptual research. From known experimental data, a scientist formulates a working hypothesis to explain some aspect of nature. Then, it conducts new experiments designed to test the predictions of the theory, to support or disprove it. Einstein is often cited as an example of a conceptual researcher, but he based his theories on experimental observations and proposed experiments, real and thought, that would test his theories.

On the other hand, Edison is often considered an empiricist, with the “Edisonian method” being a trial-and-error term. But Edison appreciated the work of theorists and hired some of the best. Random screening of a myriad of possibilities remains valuable: pharmaceutical companies looking for new drugs do so, sometimes with great success.

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Bibliographic References

“Empirical Research: Definition, Methods, Types and Examples” QuestionPro, 14 Dec. 2018.

“Conceptual Research: Definition, Framework, Example and Advantages” QuestionPro, 18 Sept. 2018.

Patrick, M. “Conceptual Framework: A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Make One.” SimplyEducate.Me, 4 Dec. 2018.

You might also be interested in: Research Design: Cross-Sectional Study vs Longitudinal Study

Conceptual Research and its differences with Empirical Research

Conceptual Research and its differences with Empirical Research. Photo: Unsplash. Credits: Mimi Thian @mimithian

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