Sample theoretical framework of a dissertation

The theoretical framework defines the key concepts in your research, proposes relations between them, and discusses relevant theories based on a literature review.

A strong theoretical framework gives your research direction, allowing you to convincingly interpret, explain and generalize from your findings.

Sample problem statement and research questions

Your problem statement, research questions and literature review will serve as the basis for preparing your theoretical framework.

Company X is struggling with the problem that many online customers do not return to make subsequent purchases. Management wants to increase customer loyalty and believes that improved customer satisfaction will play a major role in achieving this goal.

To investigate this problem, you have identified the following problem statement, objective, and research questions:

Problem: Many online customers do not return to make subsequent purchases.

Objective: To increase customer loyalty and thereby generate more revenue.

Research question: ‘How can the satisfaction of company X’s online customers be improved in order to increase customer loyalty?’


  1. ‘What is the relationship between customer loyalty and customer satisfaction?’
  2. ‘How satisfied and loyal are company X’s online customers currently?’
  3. ‘What factors affect the satisfaction and loyalty of company X’s online customers?’

As the concepts of “loyalty” and “customer satisfaction” play a major role in the investigation and will later be measured, they are essential concepts to define within the theoretical framework.

Sample theoretical framework

Below is a (simplified) example of how you can describe and compare definitions and theories. In this example, we focus on the concept of ‘customer satisfaction.’

2.1 Customer satisfaction
Thomassen (2003, p. 69) defines customer satisfaction as “the perception of the customer as a result of consciously or unconsciously comparing their experiences with their expectations.” Kotler & Keller (2008, p. 80) build on this definition, stating that customer satisfaction is determined by “the degree to which someone is happy or disappointed with the observed performance of a product in relation to his or her expectations.” Performance that is below expectations leads to a dissatisfied customer, while performance that satisfies expectations produces satisfied customers. Expectations being exceeded leads to a “very satisfied or even pleasantly surprised customer” (Kotler & Keller, 2003, p. 80).

The definition of Zeithaml and Bitner (2003, p. 86) is slightly different from that of Thomassen: “Satisfaction is the consumer fulfillment response. It is a judgement that a product or service feature, or the product of service itself, provides a pleasurable level of consumption-related fulfillment.” Zeithaml and Bitner’s emphasis is thus on obtaining a certain satisfaction in relation to purchasing.

Thomassen’s definition is the most relevant to the aims of this study, given the emphasis it places on unconscious perception. Although Zeithaml and Bitner, like Thomassen, say that customer satisfaction is a reaction to the experience gained, there is no distinction between conscious and unconscious comparisons in their definition. Company X claims in its mission statement that it wants to sell not only a product, but also a feeling; as a result, unconscious comparison will play an important role in the satisfaction of its customers. Thomassen’s definition is therefore more relevant to the current study.

Thomassen’s Customer Satisfaction Model

According to Thomassen, both the so-called value proposition and other influences have an impact on final customer satisfaction. In his satisfaction model (Fig. 1), Thomassen shows that word-of-mouth, personal needs, past experiences, and marketing and public relations determine customers’ needs and expectations. These factors are compared to their experiences, and this comparison between expectations and experiences determines a customer’s satisfaction level. Thomassen’s model is important for this study: it allows us to determine both the extent to which company X’s customers are satisfied and where improvements can be made.

Framework Thomassen

Fig. 1: Customer satisfaction creation (Thomassen, 2007, p.30).

Of course, you could analyze the concepts more thoroughly and compare additional definitions to each other. You could also discuss the theories and ideas of key authors in greater detail and provide several models to illustrate different concepts.

Learn more about writing the theoretical framework

Is this article helpful?
Sarah Vinz

Sarah's academic background includes a Master of Arts in English, a Master of International Affairs degree, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. She loves the challenge of finding the perfect formulation or wording and derives much satisfaction from helping students take their academic writing up a notch.


October 25, 2020 at 2:57 PM

Reading this has made me realize that writing a dissertation is more of organizing one's thoughts about a certain topic and putting it all together in a clear, concise and structured manner.

I can't thank you enough Sarah. Be blessed. You have been such a great help. I hope to learn even more from you in future.


Machumani Kiwanga
October 9, 2020 at 12:30 PM

Hi Sarah /Team
Thank you very much.I found your explanations to be very useful and educative on Theoretical framework.Be blessed.


September 9, 2020 at 8:53 PM


Am still a bit lost on how to write a good theoretical framework in engineering research. How do i lay it all out, what are the things expected to be there and which formulas and equations should I include, finally am I to formulate my own formulas on my own?


September 5, 2020 at 6:59 PM

can i have themes for theoretical framework?


Nkateko Mahlawule
September 5, 2020 at 7:29 AM

Theoretical framework was a nightmare before coming across your work. Iam very much grateful. Thank you so much. Now I am good to go


mboshono Manda
August 8, 2020 at 9:27 PM

please help, I am doing my Masters in History, but I am finding it challenging to formulate a theoretical framework. My Topic is: Civilians contribution toward the liberation struggle of Namibia. My research questions are: 1. What kind of contribution civilians made to the liberation struggle?2. What challenges did civilians face during the liberation struggle? 3. What encouraged the civilians to participate in the liberation struggle?

please assist in formulating a theoretical framework.


June 20, 2020 at 2:01 PM

Thank you so much Sarah, I no longer have any issues writing my theoretical framework.


December 14, 2019 at 4:58 AM

I am really grateful to you for this educative work. Theoretical framework was a nightmare to me but now I am alive. It was explained is simple English free of PHD grammatical complications.
May God bless you.


August 18, 2020 at 5:34 PM

Would help me plz cuz I can't handle it , I have to finish my dissertation but I do have pblm with theoretical framework


Kole faloye
November 5, 2018 at 11:31 AM

Pls, may I know if more than one theoretical framework can be discussed on a subject matter? My area of specialization is Teaching English as a Second Language... My problem statement comprises using digital interactive models etc to improve spoken English of undergrads..


Samantha Mendaros
Samantha Mendaros (Scribbr-team)
November 6, 2018 at 12:48 PM

Hi Kole! Our senior editor Shane has answered your questions:

Can a paper contain more than one theoretical framework (TF) chapter or section? Usually, no. Typically, the TF is given all at once, so two separate TF chapters or sections would normally be best merged into one (note that it's fine to have a single TF chapter with several sub-sections).

Can a paper's TF discuss more than one theory, perspective, field of study or subject? Yes. All of the key concepts and theories that you need to clarify or define for your paper can appear in the TF.

It might be helpful to review Scribbr's resource explaining TFs. It's short and helpful, and it may offer you some clarity about how to move forward with this section of your paper:

Good luck with your paper!


Aliyu Abdullahi
March 11, 2018 at 6:15 PM

Very interesting piece.


November 12, 2017 at 12:32 PM

hey sarah can you help me in making my theoroyical framework?/


Wouter Koekoek
Wouter Koekoek (Scribbr-team)
November 20, 2017 at 10:48 PM

Hi Melanie,
Unfortunately, we are not allowed to help you write the framework. Did you already find the articles on our website regarding the theoretical framework? That might help you :).


Andrew Joel
November 3, 2017 at 5:15 AM

Hi Sarah,
Your writing is precise and straight to the point.

I'm set to go on with my writing after reading your work.



Arjan van Laak
Arjan van Laak (Scribbr-team)
November 4, 2017 at 11:50 AM

Hi Andrew,
That's good to hear and thanks! If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact us :)
Cheers, Arjan


October 9, 2017 at 5:10 AM

it was very helpfull and it made me understand what really a theoretical frame work is


Kehinde Ogunronbi
October 3, 2017 at 2:23 AM

All thanks to you
it's really a way forward


September 2, 2017 at 9:34 PM

It has help me
iam now able to understand the research steps.


Wouter Koekoek
Wouter Koekoek (Scribbr-team)
September 4, 2017 at 3:54 PM

Hi Moses,
I am glad to hear that!


August 30, 2017 at 5:40 PM

thank u. I got whatever i want


nurudeen mohammed
August 18, 2017 at 1:15 PM

I found your guide very useful. Thank you very much. Please continue the good work.


Wouter Koekoek
Wouter Koekoek (Scribbr-team)
August 23, 2017 at 7:35 PM

Thank you! I'm happy we could help you :).


caroline Mapungwana
July 27, 2017 at 6:40 AM

thanks so much l can now write my project


Jidda David
July 4, 2017 at 10:29 PM

Very helpful to me. Thank you so very much


Azunna C.
July 4, 2017 at 4:47 PM

Indeed your article is helpful. Thanks.


May 9, 2017 at 7:07 AM

Thank you Sarah, this does help a lot.


Mohammed Iya
April 10, 2017 at 11:55 PM

Very beautiful. Iam enlightened.


Tim Irimu
April 8, 2017 at 4:48 PM

Thank you Sarah, the write up has given me good understanding on the subject


Joseph Nyongesa
February 19, 2017 at 11:23 AM

good insight madam.


February 6, 2017 at 5:38 AM

Thanks a lot for information. Precisely explained. Helps a ot


January 4, 2017 at 11:56 AM

Thanks!this really helped


November 18, 2016 at 12:57 PM

Eye opener 


Titus Mpemba
November 8, 2016 at 3:58 PM

Sarah, you are not just knowledgeable. You are awesome. Your article was so much helpful in my academic move.


Amina Suwaid. kano
October 24, 2016 at 2:47 AM

Thank you so much. The article is so detailed and comprehensible. I now know the problem with my theoritical framework.


October 4, 2016 at 3:25 AM

Thanks Sarah, your article was helpful!


Ibrahim Aminu Batagarawa
February 28, 2016 at 5:25 PM

Oh! Thank you very much Sarah for your lovely writing on the sample theoretical framework. It really gave me a sense of direction.


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