Conceptual research is defined as a methodology in which research is conducted through observation and analysis of information already present on a given topic. Conceptual research does not involve practical experiments. It is related to abstract concepts or ideas. Philosophers have long used conceptual research to develop new theories or interpret existing theories in a different light.

Conceptual versus empirical research: which is better?

There used to be different ways of doing research and one researcher proudly claimed to be one or the other, praising his method and despising the alternative. Today the distinction is not so clear.

What is conceptual research?

Conceptual research focuses on the concept or theory that explains or describes the phenomenon being studied. What causes disease? How can we describe the movements of the planets? What are the basic components of matter? The conceptual researcher sits at his desk with a pen in hand and tries to solve these problems by thinking about them. He does not do experiments, but he can make use of the observations of others, since this is the mass of data he is trying to make sense of. Until relatively recently, conceptual research methodology was considered the most honorable form of research: it required the use of the brain, not the hands.

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 teachers repeated his teachings until Galileo proved them wrong.

The scientific method: a bit of both

The modern scientific method is actually a combination of empirical and conceptual research. Using known experimental data, a scientist formulates a working hypothesis to explain some aspect of nature. Einstein is often cited as an example of a conceptual researcher, but he based his theories on experimental observations and proposed, real, mental experiments that would test his theories. On the other hand, Edison is often regarded as an empiricist, since the “Edisonian method” is synonymous with trial and error. But Edison appreciated the work of the theorists and hired some of the best. Random detection of countless possibilities remains valuable: pharmaceutical companies looking for new drugs do so, sometimes with great success.

Background on Conceptual Research

For example, Copernicus used conceptual research to develop concepts about stellar constellations based on his observations of the universe. In the future, Galileo simplified Copernicus’ research by making his own conceptual observations that led to more experimental investigations and confirmed the predictions made at the time. The most famous example of conceptual research is Sir Issac Newton. He observed his environment to conceptualize and develop theories about gravitation and motion. Einstein is widely known and appreciated for his conceptual research work. Although his theories were based on conceptual observations, Einstein also proposed experiments to develop theories to test conceptual research. Today, conceptual research is used to answer commercial questions and solve real-world problems. Researchers use analytical tools called conceptual frameworks to make conceptual distinctions and organize ideas needed for research purposes.

Conceptual Research Framework

The conceptual research framework is the combination of a researcher from previous research and associated work and explains the phenomenon that occurs. It systematically explains the actions needed in the course of the research study from the knowledge gained from other ongoing research and from the point of view of other researchers on the subject. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to create the conceptual research framework:

  1. Choose the research topic: before you start working on collecting any research material, you should have decided on the research topic. It is important that the topic is selected in advance and must be within your field of expertise.
  2. Collect relevant literature: once you have defined a topic, it is time to collect relevant information about it. This is an important step and much of your research depends on this particular step, since conceptual research is based primarily on information obtained from previous research. Here, gathering relevant literature and information is the key to completing a successful investigation.
  3. The material that should be used preferably are scientific journals, research papers published by recognized scientists and similar material. There is a lot of information available on the Internet and also in public libraries. All the information you find on the Internet may not be relevant or true. So, before you use the information, be sure to check it out.

Identify specific variables

Identify the specific variables that relate to the research study you want to conduct. These variables can give your research a new scope and can also help you identify how they may relate to your research. For example, consider hypothetically that you want to conduct research on the occurrence of cancer in married women. Here, the two variables you will focus on are married women and cancer. By gathering relevant literature, you will understand that the spread of cancer is more aggressive in married women over the age of 40. Here is a third variable that is age and this is a relevant variable that may affect the final outcome of your research.

What is data

Generation of the framework

In this step, we begin to build the required framework using a combination of variables from the scientific articles and other relevant materials. The problem statement in your research becomes the framework for the investigation. Your attempt to begin answering the question becomes the basis of your research study. The study is conducted to reduce the knowledge gap and make more relevant and correct information available.

Example of a conceptual research framework

Thesis statement / purpose of the research Chronic exposure to sunlight can cause precancerous lesions (actinic keratoses), cancerous lesions (basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma), and even skin lesions (caused by loss of immune function of the skin) in women over 40 years of age.

The study states that constant exposure to sunlight can cause the precancerous condition and may eventually lead to cancer and other skin abnormalities. Those affected by these experience symptoms such as fatigue, fine or coarse wrinkles, skin discoloration, freckles, and burning sensation in the most exposed areas.

Note that in this study there are two variables associated: cancer and women over 40 years in the African subcontinent. But one is a dependent variable (women over 40, in the African subcontinent) and the other is an independent variable (cancer). Cumulative sun exposure up to the age of 18 can cause symptoms similar to those of skin cancer. If this is not addressed and there is a possibility that the cancer will spread completely.

Assuming that the other factors are constant during the research period, it will be possible to correlate the two variables and thus confirm that chronic exposure to sunlight does indeed cause cancer in women over the age of 40 in the African subcontinent. Moreover, a correlational research can further verify this association.

Advantages of conceptual research

  1. Conceptual research focuses primarily on the concept of research or theory that explains a phenomenon. What causes the phenomenon, what are its basic components, etc. It is a paper and pencil based research.
  2. This type of research is largely based on studies conducted previously, no time, effort and resource-saving experiments are performed. More relevant information can be generated by conducting conceptual research.
  3. Conceptual research is considered the most convenient form of investigation. In this type of research, if the conceptual framework is ready, it is only necessary to classify the relevant information and literature.

Bibliographic References

Clark, A. (1995). I am John’s brain. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2(2), 144–148.

Clark, A. (1998). Being there: Putting brain, body, and world together again. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Wilson, R. (2005). Collective memory, group minds, and the extended mind thesis. Cognitive Processing, 6(4), 227–236.

You might be also interested in: Harvard University Research Methodology

Conceptual Research

Conceptual Research


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