Step 4: Develop the Theoretical or Conceptual Framework As your literature review is being developed, the synthesis of the research findings should be organized around a viable theoretical or conceptual framework. The review and critique of existing literature should build a logical framework for the research, justify the study by identifying gaps in the literature, and demonstrate how the study will contribute to knowledge development. Development of this framework, which follows the literature review, posits new relationships and perspectives vis-à-vis the literature reviewed, thereby providing the theoretical or conceptual link between the research problem, the literature, and the methodology selected for your research. In this way, this framework is the scaffolding of the study, drawing on theory, research, and experience, and as such, becoming the heuristic device or model that guides your study. Most important, it becomes a working tool consisting of categories that emanate from the literature. These categories then become the repository for reporting the findings and guiding data analysis and interpretation. You may be thinking that this still sounds very abstract, and with good reason.Experience has shown that the theoretical or conceptual framework is one area that many doctoral candidates struggle with as they begin to prepare for their dissertation research. Melding a theoretical or conceptual framework explicitly within the dissertation displays scholarly maturity—that is, increased capacity to think about the conceptual background and context of the research. Students are expected to raise their level of thinking from micro (content) to meta (process) levels of conceptualization. Engaging with the framework is an essential prerequisite for doctoral students, as this is the means through which to articulate the wider theoretical or conceptual significance of their research, their chosen research design, their study’s findings, and how their study makes a contribution to knowledge. As research practitioners, we recognize the significance of seeking intellectual rigor and the role of theoretical or conceptual frameworks in achieving this. We have also observed how students encounter difficulties in conceptualizing the framework vis-à-vis their own research. The reason for this knowledge gap is that the term is a somewhat abstract notion, conjuring up a “model” or “diagram” of some sort. Moreover, there do not appear to be uniform and consistent definitions, and discussions in the literature are often not clear, precise, or fully explained. Moreover, oftentimes experienced researchers and advisors themselves encounter challenges in guiding candidates as to what constitutes a rigorous and meaningful theoretical or conceptual framework (Anfara & Mertz, 2015; Ravitch & Riggan, 2017).These respective difficulties result in large part from research methodology texts lacking a common language regarding the nature of theoretical and conceptual frameworks
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the synthesis of the research findings organized around a viable conceptual framework