Conceptual Significance

What is your topic’s “Conceptual Significance”?

This article addresses the difficulty students typically face when addressing the third, conceptual part of the four-part research question the “Craft of Research” in Chapters 3-5 recommends:

  1. Concept/Topic, what you are writing about: “I am working on the topic of … ”
  2. Practical Question, what you don’t know about it: “Because I want to find out … ”
  3. Conceptual Significance, why you want your reader to know and care about it: “In order to help my reader understand better …
  4. Practical Application, To put it to good use: “So that readers might …”

This is because the conceptual part is what relevant professionals are discussing and often at very high levels of abstraction and so something we likely don’t know much about yet. In this article I will recommend that you first review the concept and then consider a number of classroom examples.

For your homework, write up your current research question following this model, then follow the advice below, then revise your research question, and in particular, it’s third, conceptual part

Wrap your head briefly around some theory

  • Definitions can help. In the Oxford and Reverso dictionaries you will how the term “problem” has both an everyday and a special, research meaning
  • Discussion can help, too. Chapter 4 of “The Craft of Research” advises you to build on your initial personal interest by exploring how relevant professionals are discussing it, and in particular, how they are discussing it in conceptual terms

Find your audience directly

I have found that searching for “conceptual frameworks for understanding/analyzing YourTopic“, will return articles using such specialized language, as we researchers do, and that if you select from these results carefully, make a leap in your imagination, and even consider changing your topic to engage what relevant professionals are taking about your paper will be far more fun, interesting, and relevant as an academic paper and as a guide to your studies and career preparation; what follows are the results of classroom discussion, including an indication of directions students might go next as well as commentaries on method:

  • “conceptual frameworks for understanding wine marketing” (Ophélie) led to articles like Wine service marketing, value co-creation and involvement: research issues and would lead her to move beyond her general questions (“What are the reasons? Instability? Difficulty of export?) to engage the conceptual issues being discussed by relevant professionals, including, how best do we distinguish among channels, levels of service, consumer involvement and value creation properties

Your initial questions are always good, because they get you started, but relevant professionals are two steps ahead of us: they have been discussing the issues that matter to them for some time and are in conversation with each other, so if we want to join them we must make the leap from the good place wherever we happen to have been to the even better place we want to be among our future peers

  • “conceptual frameworks for understanding customer centric experiences” (Noé) would lead him to discover a Customer Centricity White Paper and so make the leap from his present discussion of effectiveness, “enabling new levels of performance in marketing, sales and customer service,” to a far more complex analysis of different and competing conceptual frameworks, including the difference between “service-profit chain thinking” and “customer centricity”

Describing just one model is a great start, but engaging a business problem’s complexity will likely involve exploring it from different perspective, using different tools — which is what we do when we prepare a Literature View — as you will see in step 4 of this model of writing tasks from UT Sydney: From Explanations to a Thesis

  • “conceptual frameworks for understanding bitcoin” (Nils and Thomas) would lead them to such articles as A Conceptual Framework for the Regulation of Cryptocurrencies and so to complement a discussion of fabulous money to be made with a discussion of regulation, illegal activities (dealing with “vices and virtues separately”) and the use of gaming strategies to think through the issues

We typically start off with some excellent basic idea, like making a pile of money with bitcoin, but as soon as we look at the matter closely we find discussion of all these things we don’t know about and in highly technical language, too: how is one to know (and why go to the trouble?) I’d recommend that you first survey 4-5 pages of Google results to see if they have in fact interpreted your search team correctly and delivered high-level discussion of concepts currently discussed by relevant professionals, to see patterns in those results suggesting a community of professionals talking about similar things, and to find research papers of some 20-30 pages that appear to have been written for you and in an accessible way: develop a general idea before digging down into any single article, and then go back and open a dozen windows to narrow your selection to 2-4 articles to start

  • “conceptual frameworks for understanding autonomous automobiles” (Maxime and Loris) will likely lead them to articles like A Framework for Analyzing and Calibrating Trust in Automated Vehicles and so replace discussion of such factors as “love of the natural sound of a motor, the pleasure of driving a normal car, and the reliability of electric vehicles,” with a far different conceptual framework of “calibrated trust,” and drivers who “know exactly what their vehicle is and is not capable of, then they are more likely to react properly and be prepared when handover requests or other unexpected circumstances might occur…”
  • “conceptual frameworks for understanding auto emissions scandals” (Henri) would likely lead him to study Dissecting Corporate Sustainability Reporting: VW Emissions Scandal case and so away from the scandals themselves to consider the advantages of discussing the history of corporate sustainability reporting, the dimensions of communications, reputation efficiency, competitive advantage, and strategy, such concepts as “asymmetry”.

When you find scholarly articles by relevant professionals discussing concepts, such as “regulation” or “calibrated trust”, you will have the problem of how best to note, outline, explore, and respond to them, and for that you do well to develop an outlining strategy such as I offer here and here to the end of managing complexity; I am advising you to work strategically, to slow down, make considerate choices, and organize your materials first in the manner of a survey, second in the manner of a comparison, third to the end of selecting 3-5 concepts (you can’t possibly explore all) that you think might prove helpful, and finally, fourth, digging down to explore case studies, counter-examples, etc., and so in depth: look before you leap!

  • “conceptual frameworks for understanding green finance” (Marie) would likely lead her to consider an OECD study, Cities and Green Growth: A Conceptual Framework, which offers a conceptual framework of cities viewed in ecological terms, their responses to climate change, and uniquely urban circumstances.

Often, students will start off with an idea conceived narrowly, but by seeking relevant concepts will stumble upon a rich literature discussed in another field: here, an interest in green finance turns out to be part of an especially rich discussion in the fields of urban studies or geography that may well recommend shifting your topic dramatically if you want to take full advantage of a scholarly community and, for some, leading to a change in academic major and career goals

Reformulating Your Research Question

Revise your research question and with special emphasis on revising the third, conceptual part …

  1. Concept/Topic, what you are writing about: “I am working on the topic of … ”
  2. Practical Question, what you don’t know about it: “Because I want to find out … ”
  3. Conceptual Significance, why you want your reader to know and care about it: “In order to help my reader understand better …
  4. Practical Application, To put it to good use: “So that readers might …”

Where will we go next?

I will invite you again to wrap your head around the sentences you will find in the Conceptual Problem and Significance Worksheet and use them to discuss your topic’s conceptual dimensions critically

More generally, you will want to consider the intent and form of the Literature Review: