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Processes For Analyzing Nursing Theory

Process for Analyzing Nursing Theory

  • Discuss     the process for analyzing and evaluating theory

With the development of many nursing theories, there arises the need to sort through the various ideas and critically analyze the worth for the profession and for personal practice. Just as any ideas should be examined before blind acceptance, so should nursing theory. A critique involves reflectively thinking about the theory and judging its value in a certain situation. A consideration regarding the contribution of the theory to body of knowledge must be made.

There have been some guidelines created to help guide the analysis of nursing theory. Some well-established criteria come from Chinn and Kramer (1998). These include clarity, simplicity, generality, empirical precision, and derivable consequences.

Clarity – To be useful, a theory must be clearly understood. Each concept in a theory must be given a theoretical definition that precisely describes how the concept is being used by the theorist. As can become obvious in usual communication, some words have different meanings to different people; this must be avoided in a theory. Concepts in a theory are related to each other through relational propositions. These too must be clearly stated. A very clear theory often could be diagrammed to show the relationships between concepts. The theory must also be consistent or congruent with the paradigm from which it arises. There should be a clear-cut, logical flow.

Simplicity – As well as being clear, a theory should be relatively simple. If a theory is too complex, it invites too many interacting factors, and the relationships between concepts become blurred. One theory cannot provide all the answers to all of the world’s problems, so useful theories are somewhat specific. Even if a theory is broad and has far reaching implications, it should be able to be described in fairly simple terms. A theory should be “clean,” it should be “tight.”

Generality – A good theory should be applicable broadly. It should not be too limited by time or situation. Take for example a simple, fictional, theoretical statement that “caring, when shown by a nurse, will enhance healing.” This theory could be evident in many different situations. It is not limited by the health problem the client has. It is clearly stated, simple, and can be generalized broadly.

Empirical precision – Earlier in this lesson, the need to test theory through research was broached. The criteria that a good theory should be testable addresses that need. To be considered valid, a theory must have research that supports its premises. To be testable, the concepts in the theory must be measurable. In the above example, the two concepts of caring and healing, though abstract,  could be operationally defined and indirectly tested. Let’s take another example however. Suppose there was a theoretical statement that said, “empowerment is good.” This statement could not be empirically tested; the concept good is a moral judgment and is too value laden to be measured empirically. There are many cultures that would not value empowerment.

Derivable consequences – This last criterion gets at the importance of the theory. It answers whether the theory should be adopted. It is well accepted that clinical practice should be based on research and theory. So each theory must be examined to see if it will lead to positive changes in practice. Chinn and Kramer (1998) go further to implore nurses to think about the social, political and environmental consequences of a theory as well. If a theory is not socially responsible, it may not be valuable for nursing.

This framework is a useful guide to analyze nursing theory. It will be used with individual theories in future lessons.

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