I'm using Bloomberg and Volpe (2012) Completing Your Qualitative Disseration as a guide in this process. Below I share my interpretation of their guidance on conceptual frameworks in qualitative research.
The conceptual framework (CF) builds from the lit review and poses new relationships and perspectives to give a conceptual link between the research problem, the literature, and the methodology. It is a working tool. The researcher uses the tool to carve the findings into reasonable articulations of the new knowledge generated in the work. Through the conceptual framework the researcher also gives the wider theoretical significance of their study and its design.
The CF allows researchers to decide which paths to take and choose which questions to use. The CF scheme coordinates the examination of information in terms of the research question to instruct the way data is gathered, synthesized, and interpreted. It is the organizational lens for the project. The CF guides the research.
Thinking about the conceptual framework and building it is an iterative process. It evolves and unfolds in forward, backward, and lateral directions. The CF plays a cyclical role in being guided by and guiding the research process. It expresses the relationships among theoretical variables, constructs, and concepts. Relationships between variables, constructs, and concepts must be explicitly expressed through conceptualizations and frameworks. The point to be made is that the meaning between the elements of a conceptual framework are given meaning in its definition and that meaning potentially gives insight into the research topic.
The CF highlights useful theories to explain the investigated issues and carves out the space for determining research strategies. It gives coherence by making traceable connections from the theoretical perspective, "research strategy and design, fieldwork, and the conceptual significance of the evidence" (B&V, 2012 p. 89).
There are two goals for the CF to achieve. 1) Provide theoretical clarity of what will be investigated so that readers are clear about the research goals and approach. 2) Set the foundation for the theory and methods of the study and the evaluation of the findings.
"The CF is a practical working tool for guiding the analysis of the data collected, and it becomes the foundation for what will become the coding legend or coding scheme" (p. 89). It is fully described in narrative form and it may be diagrammatically represented. The visual device helps readers grasp the overall design of a research project with key concepts and relationships.