The usefulness of a theory to nursing practice

The first step in understanding a theory is to identify the components that comprise the theory. This guideline helps you identify and describe a theory by posing a set of questions to answer as you read an author’s narrative about a particular theory.
1. What is the purpose for the theory? Why was the theory created? Is the purpose broad or narrow in scope (i.e., does the theory refer to a small range of phenomena or a broad range)? Is the purpose of the theory to create meaning, describe a phenomenon, explain a phenomenon, or predict a phenomenon? Is the theory a grand nursing theory, conceptual model, middle-range theory, or practice theory?
2. What are the concepts? How many concepts are there? Are there major and minor concepts? Are there subconcepts organized under other concepts? Are the concepts broad or narrow in scope? Are the concepts abstract or concrete? Are the concepts empiric (measureable)? Are the concepts defined? Are they defined so that the meaning is clear?
3. What are the major relationships within the theory? Are some concepts included in several relationships? Do relationships create meaning and understanding? Do they describe, explain, or predict?
4. Does the author provide an outline or diagram of the theory? If yes, is the structure congruent with the narrative? Could more than one structure represent the theory? If the author does not provide a diagram, what does the theory look like to you?
5. What are the assumptions that underlie the theory? Does the author have an obvious value orientation?
Analyzing A Theory
In Parker and Smith, Chapter 3, criteria for analyzing and evaluating a theory are discussed. Now that you have learned to identify and describe the components that make up a theory, you need to analyze or critically reflect on the theory to determine how well the theory works, how the theory might be used, and how it might be further developed. As you analyze theories, there may be times you think, "This just doesn’t seem to be quite right; this just doesn’t seem to capture what I see in my practice." At other times, you might think, "Yes, this makes sense to me; this is exactly what I see in my practice."
1. How clear is this theory? Can the theory be followed? Is the explanation of the theory adequate? Are the examples and diagrams helpful?
2. How simple is this theory? How many concepts and relationships are contained within the theory? Is the theory complex? Does the theory impart understanding?
3. How general is this theory? Do the purposes of the theory apply to all practice areas or specific ones? Can this theory be used by those outside of nursing?
4. How accessible is this theory to practicing nurses? Are the concepts observable in your practice?
5. How important is this theory? Does the theory have the potential to guide nursing practice? How? Does the theory have potential to guide research? Does the theory have the potential to influence education?
Evaluating A Theory’s Usefulness To Practice
If theory is to be useful, it must be brought into nursing practice. This guideline provides a set of questions to ask in evaluating a theory for its usefulness to your own practice, and to nursing practice in general.
1. Do you like this theory? Why or why not?
2. Does this theory reflect your values and beliefs truly held in nursing?
3. Does this theory reflect the nursing metaparadigm of person, environment, health and nursing???4. How would the theory influence your nursing practice?
5. If not your practice, how could the theory guide other areas of nursing practice?
6. How would the theory influence research, education, and administration?
Sources: Parker, M., & Smith, M. (2010) Nursing theories and nurinsg practice (3rd. ed.). Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company and Chinn, P.L. & Kramer, J. K. (2011). Integrated theory and knowledge development in nursing (8th ed.). St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier..

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