Importance Of Conceptualization In Social Research

When conducting research, it is very important that there be a unified understanding of key concepts, or variables. This is very important when conducting research because the researcher could be discussing a concept, in the context of their understanding, whereas others outside of the study, the audience, may have a completely different understanding of that concept. Differences in the understanding of these key concepts will render the research invalid and unreliable. For example, if I wanted to count the number of families in a certain area, what the audience might classify as a family may be completely different than what the research team classifies as a family. And then, you have discrepancies in the research.

The purpose of this image is to show the many different family forms that not everyone may classify as a "family"

Do you consider all of these forms a family? Maybe you do, but someone else might not. Vice Versa.  

Conceptualization is the process in which the researchers identify key concepts used in the research and provide a unified explanation of those concepts so that both the research team and the audience is on the same page. This process of conceptualization is important when coming up with your research question and survey questions. Let’s think in terms of The Tiny Children’s Garden. Our hypothesis is that by building an accessible garden in the Washington Park community, we believe that there will be an increase in community involvement in environmental participation. But what if we, as researchers, have a different understanding of accessibility or community involvement in environmental participation than others and have applied our understanding to the research? Then, what if we took our understanding of these key concepts and used that to come up with our survey questions? Those being surveyed wouldn’t be answering the questions based on your understanding of the key concepts, but based on their own understanding of the key concepts. Our research would lose its validity and reliability, as it’s not good enough to use your own conceptualization of a concept, while assuming others conceptualize the concept in the same way. The process of conceptualization ensures that the research team and the audience are on the same page when it comes to understanding these key concepts.

Questions to consider….

  1. Why is the process of conceptualization so important in social research?
  2. What negative consequences could we face if we do not conceptualize key concepts in our research?
  3. What other terms might we want to conceptualize when conducting our community based participatory research?


  • Nikolle

    I think you did a really good job of explaining the idea of conceptualization. Like with your example of how to define ‘family’ . Everybody defines family differently. If a researcher only defines family one way then they are missing the other possibilities of represented families. I think another thing to point out about this garden is the name. Just because we are called the Tiny Children’s Garden, doesn’t mean this garden is meant for only Children. This is a community garden where everyone is welcome.

  • Suprasanna Aryal

    “What other terms might we want to conceptualize when conducting our community based participatory research?”

    We might want to emphasize on our definition of “accessible garden”. Being located at an accessible area in the community alone is not sufficient to ensure an increase in community participation. We would need to ensure that community members strongly feel the need to participate and that they have the sense of ownership and belonging.

  • Arieanna Morris

    One way to make sure our concepts aren’t misinterpreted by the people taking the surveys is to make sure the questions and concepts are worded in a way the surveyors will understand. In order to make sure the participants will interpret the questions and concepts the way the researcher intended them to be, we could follow certain guidelines. Guidelines for surveys would include avoiding long questions, double barreled questions, ambiguous questions, general questions, leading questions, negative questions, or questions with technical words. By following these survey guidelines, we may be able to eliminate some of the complications surrounding conceptualization.

  • Hayley Winker

    The process of conceptualization is so important in social research because it breaks down big concepts and research ideas into a more common language that can be understood by a wider group of people. It allows the important concepts to be framed in a way that is accessible to both the researchers and the people that are being studied. It will allow for better communication between the two parties that will lead to more accurate results.

  • Amy Yates

    The idea of conceptualization is important in social research because so many terms are, or can be, ambiguous. By conceptualizing unclear, or misidentified terms the researcher is allowing the experiment to be recreated and thus reliable and valid. Another reason it is important is so that if the researcher is having someone help collect data or if there are self-administered data, each respondent knows exactly what is being asked and therefore can answer more accurately., which also contributes to the validity of the results.

  • liaguir

    “What negative consequences could we face if we do not conceptualize key concepts in our research?”

    A consequence I can think of when not conceptualizing (labeling) key concepts is that you could be missing out on important information. Having your concepts already layered out after a while of observation is great, but its a never ending process. Conceptualization is a never ending process throughout a research because there are always new experiences and ideas to discover throughout the way that can potentially benefit your research.

  • Breanne Burton

    Conceptualization is important because we do not want to misconstrue concepts or ideas and we want our readers to have clearly defined ideas so they can make sense of them. Plus, when something is conceptualized, it allows for researchers to better understand and study that concept because they have defined it, thus conceptualization is important.

  • Danielle Kulina

    I think conceptualization is very key especially if we want this project to be successful. I think your example of the definition of a family was an excellent way to convey the idea of conceptualization. Everyone may have different ideas/definitions for different terms. I think an important term we may want to conceptualize is “sustainable” especially when it comes to the garden. We all (not just in the class, but everyone involved in this project) come from different backgrounds which may alter our ideas of what sustainability is and how this garden does just that.

  • Razan Mansour M

    Another term we want to conceptualize when conducting our community based participatory research in Washington Park is “sustainable community engagement.” The idea of making The Tiny Children’s garden sustain is an essential concept that we need to plan for. Every member of the community should contribute to the garden not once but make it a lifetime engagement.

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