A conceptual framework is used in research to outline possible courses of action or to present a preferred approach to an idea or thought. For example, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin used the "hedgehogs" versus "foxes" approach; a "hedgehog" might approach the world in terms of a single organizing principle; a "fox" might pursue multiple conflicting goals simultaneously.
Conceptual frameworks (theoretical frameworks) are a type of intermediate theory that attempt to connect to all aspects of inquiry (e.g., problem definition, purpose, literature review, methodology, data collection and analysis). Conceptual frameworks can act like maps that give coherence to empirical inquiry. Because conceptual frameworks are potentially so close to empirical inquiry, they take different forms depending upon the research question or problem.
- Working hypothesis
- Descriptive Categories
- Practical ideal types
- Models of operations research
- Formal hypotheses
These are linked to particular research purposes such as:
- Exploration or Exploratory research
- Description or Descriptive research
- Decision making
Proponents claim that when purpose and framework are aligned, other aspects of empirical research such as methodological choices and statistical techniques become simpler to identify.
Frameworks have also been used to explain conflict theory and the balance necessary to reach what amounts to resolution. Within these conflict frameworks, visible and invisible variables function under concepts of relevance. Boundaries form and within these boundaries, tensions regarding laws and chaos (or freedom) are mitigated. These frameworks often function like cells, with sub-frameworks, stasis, evolution and revolution. Anomalies may exist without adequate "lenses" or "filters" to see them and may become visible only when the tools exist to define them.
See also 
- Michiko Kakutani (Tuesday, April 28, 2009)"The Era of Adapting Quickly", The New York Times
- Patricia M. Shields and Hassan Tajalli (2006), "Intermediate Theory: The Missing Link in Successful Student Scholarship," Journal of Public Affairs Education 12(3): 313-334. https://digital.library.txstate.edu/handle/10877/3967
- Patricia M. Shields (1998). "Pragmatism as a Philosophy of Science:A Tool for Public Administration," Research in Public Administration. Volume 4: 195-225. https://digital.library.txstate.edu/handle/10877/3954
- Examples: Applied Research Projects at Texas State University - San Marcos
- Moorstein, Mark. Frameworks, Conflict in Balance. iUniverse. ISBN 978-0595318247.
- Thomas Kuhn. (1996)The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Further reading 
- Kaplan, Abraham. (1964). The Conduct of Inquiry: Methodology for Behavioral Science. Scranton, PA: Chandler Publishing Co.
- Botha, M.E. (1989), "Theory Development in Perspective: The Role of Conceptual Frameworks and Models in Theory Development", Journal of Advanced Nursing 14(1), 49–55.
- Dewey, John. (1938). Logic: The Theory of Inquiry. New York: Hold Rinehart and Winston.