University of Michigan

     National Center for Postsecondary Improvement

        Project 5.3 on Student Learning and Assessment

Conceptual Models

 A conceptual framework can guide your research by providing a visual representation of theoretical constructs (and variables) of interest. 

 In order to design a conceptual model, you will first need to conduct a thorough review of the literature.  Search peer-reviewed journal articles, books/monographs, conference papers, and other relevant references.

 Next, organize the literature around your topic.  Begin to develop research questions or objectives based upon theory.

“Theories present a systematic view of phenomena by specifying relations among variables using a set of interrelated constructs/variables, definitions and propositions (Kerlinger, 1979).” 

- From Creswell (1994, p. 82) -


Templates for Conceptual Models

 If you decide to use a diagram, place the dependent variable on the right side and the independent variables toward the left.  Insert arrows to represent the hypothesized relationships between variables – use one-way arrows leading from each determining variable to each variable dependent on it.

 The following models are not meant to exhaust the possibilities of connecting independent and dependent variables, more complicated models employ multiple independent and dependent variables.  For example, two-headed arrows connected by a curved line can be used to show unanalyzed correlations between variables.

             Figure 1: Conceptual Model – Template

            Figure 2: Conceptual Model – Measurement Considerations

 Develop survey questions and objectives based upon the theory you used to construct the model.  It may be useful to add individual variables to your visual picture. 


 Asher, H.B. (1984). Causal modeling.  Sage University Paper series on quantitative applications in the social sciences, 07-003. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

 Creswell, J.W. (1994).  Research design: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

 Kerlinger, F.N. (1979).  Behavioral research: A conceptual approach.  New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

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