Sample theoretical framework of a dissertation

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

A strong theoretical framework gives your research a sound scientific basis, demonstrates your understanding of existing knowledge on the topic, and allows the reader to evaluate your guiding assumptions. It gives your research direction, allowing you to convincingly interpret, explain and generalize from your findings.

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

Sample problem statement and research questions

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 and plan to focus on 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.

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

Sample theoretical framework

2.1 Customer satisfaction
Thomassen (2003, p. 69) defines customer satisfaction as follows: “the perception of the customer as a result of consciously or unconsciously comparing his experiences with his 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 & 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.” The emphasis of Zeithaml & Bitner is thus on obtaining a certain satisfaction in relation to purchasing.

The definition of Thomassen will be used in the current study, given the importance of perception. This meshes well with the offerings of company X, which fall into the luxury category. Although Zeithaml & Bitner (like Thomassen) say that customer satisfaction is a reaction to the experience gained and focus on a certain satisfaction, there is no distinction between conscious and unconscious comparisons in their definition. Company X claims in its mission statement (see Chapter 1) that it wants to sell not only a product, but also a feeling; as a result, unconscious comparison will play an important role. The definition of Thomassen is therefore more relevant to the current study.

Thomassen’s Customer Satisfaction Model

According to Thomassen, both the so-called value proposition and other influencers 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 in this study, as it can reveal both to what extent company X’s customers are satisfied and where improvements are necessary.

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.

It is just critical that you correctly cite all of your sources sources throughout the theoretical framework; the APA Style can guide you on how to do this.

If you do not cite your sources you risk committing plagiarism. Read more about the consequences of plagiarism and how to avoid plagiarism.

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What belongs in a theoretical framework

We have also prepared a summary of everything you need to know in order to create an appropriate theoretical framework for your dissertation.

What belongs in the theoretical framework?

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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.


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.


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

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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


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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