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Operational or Conceptual Definition in Research Research Paper

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The conceptual definition is “a working definition specifically assigned to a term or concept” (Bailey, Field, Froggatt & Krishnasamy, 2010). This method of definition is used in cases of disagreement or confusion on the meaning of a term. The definition usually presents the reader with an understanding of the term or concept and channels efforts in the development of actual measures. On the other hand, the operational definition describes the operations undertaken to measure the concept or terms in the conceptual definition (Bailey, Field, Froggatt & Krishnasamy, 2010).

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In the research, variables should be defined using both ways. The working definition gives the reader the meaning of the terms and concepts used by the researcher. This helps the reader to have a clear understanding as he or she goes through the research. Also, the conceptual definition is mainly essential in research work as it helps the reader to understand the meaning of the researcher especially on the terms or concepts that may have different meanings or that may be conflicting (Bailey, Field, Froggatt & Krishnasamy, 2010).

The use of working or conceptual definition also helps in increasing the reliability of the research findings as different concepts may cross-serve each other. The definition thus helps the reader in the interpolation of the variables. On the other hand, the use of operational definition in a research paper to define the variables would help the reader in understanding the operations or steps used by the researcher in measuring the concepts.

The operational definition aims at specifying the exact events or activities that the researcher used in measuring the conceptual definitions that further increase the understanding of the reader of the research. The two methods of definition thus cannot complement each other in research work.


Bailey, C., Field D., Froggatt, K., & Krishnasamy, M. (2010).The nursing contribution to qualitative research in palliative care 1990-1999: A critical evaluation. Journal on Advanced Nursing, 40(1):48-60.

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