Nursing Research and Theories

  • RESEARCH – Process of inquiry
  • THEORY – Product of knowledge
  • SCIENCE – Result of the relationship between research & theory
  • To effectively build knowledge to research process should be developed within some theoretical structure that facilities analysis and interpretation of findings.
  • Relationship between theory and research in nursing is not well understood.
Relationship Between Theory and Research
  • Research without theory results in discreet information or data which does not add to the accumulated knowledge of the discipline.
  • Theory guides the research process, forms the research questions, aids in design, analysis and interpretation.
  • It enables the scientist to weave the facts together.
  • The relationship is direct and positive
  • The choice of a research design depends on the question asked and the current state of theory development. (Kaiser Permanente, 2009)
  • Theory and its associated research design may be
    • Descriptive
    • Correlational
    • Experimental
Theories from Nursing or Other Disciplines
  • Nursing science is blend of knowledge that is unique to nursing and knowledge that is borrowed from other disciplines.
  • Debate is whether the use of borrowed theory has hindered the development of the discipline.
  • It has contributed to problems connecting research and theory in nursing.
Historical Overview of Research and Theory in Nursing
  • Florence Nightingale supported her theoretical propositions through research, as statistical data and prepared graphs were used to depict the impact of nursing care on the health of British soldiers.
  • Afterwards, for almost century reports of nursing research were rare.
  • Research and theory developed separately in nursing.
  • Between 1928 and 1959 only 2 out of 152 studies reported a theoretical basis for the research design.
  • In 1970’s growing number of nurse theorists were seeking researchers to test their models in research and clinical application
  • Grand nursing theories are still not widely used. In 1990’s borrowed theories were used more.
  • Now the focus of research and theory have moved more towards middle range theories
Purpose of Theory in Research
  • To identify meaningful and relevant areas for study.
  • To propose plausible approaches to health problems.
  • To develop or refine theories
  • Define the concepts and proposed relationships between concepts.
  • To interpret research findings
  • To develop clinical practice protocols.
  • To generate nursing diagnosis.
Bordage (2009) explainsuse of conceptual frameworks in research
  • Allow researchers to build upon one another’s work; thereby building a body of knowledge
  • Programmatic, conceptually based research helps accumulate deeper understanding over time and this moves a discipline (such as nursing) forward.
Types of theory and corresponding research

  Type of theory
Type of research
  • Descriptive
  • Explanatory
  • Predictive
  • Descriptive or explanatory
  • Co relational
  • Experimental
How Theory is used in Research
Causal theory of planned behaviour
Theory Generating Research
  • It is designed to develop and describe relationships between and among phenomena without imposing preconceived notations.
  • It is inductive and includes field observations and phenomenology.
  • During the theory generating process, the researcher moves by logical thought from fact to theory by means of a proposition stated as an empirical generalization.
Grounded Theory Research
  • Inductive research technique developed by Glazer and Strauss (1967)
  • Grounded theory provides a way to describe what is happening and understanding the process of why it happens.
  • Methodology – The researcher observes, collects data, organizes data and forms theory from the data at the same time.
  • Data may be collected by interview, observation, records or a combination of these techniques.
  • Data are coded in preparation for analysis.
  • Category development – Categories are identified and named
  • Category saturation – Comparison of similar characteristics in each of the categories
  • Concept development – Defines the categories
  • Search for additional categories – Continues to examine the data for additional categories
  • Category reduction – Higher order categories are selected
  • Linking of categories – The researcher seeks to understand relationships among categories
  • Selective sampling of the literature
  • Emergence of the core variable – Central theme are focus of the theory
  • Concept modification and integration – Explaining the phenomenal
Theory testing research
  • In theory testing research, theoretical statements are translated into questions and hypothesis. It requires a deductive reasoning process.
  • The interpretation determines whether the study supports are contradicts the propositional statement.
  • If a conceptual model is used as a theoretical framework for research it is not theory testing.
  • Theory testing requires detailed examination of theoretical relationships.
Theory as a conceptual framework
  • Problem being investigated is fit into an existing theoretical framework, which guides the study and enriches the value of its findings.
  • The conceptual definitions are drawn from the framework
  • The data collection instrument is congruent with the framework.
  • Findings are interpreted in light of explanations provided by the framework.
  • Implications are based on the explanatory power of a framework.
A Typology of Research
  • Testing
  • Analyzing
  • Experimentation
  • Deducting
  • Deductive research
  • Quantitative research
  • The scientific method
  • Theory / hypothesis testing
  • Assaying
  • Refining
  • Interpreting
  • Reflecting
  • Inducing
  • Inductive research
  • Qualitative research
  • Phenomenological research
  • Theory generation
  • ‘Divining’; ‘heuristic’ research
Guidelines for writing about a research study’s theoretical framework
In the study’s problem statement
  • Introduce the framework
  • Briefly explain why it is a good fit for the research problem area
  • At the end of the literature review
  • Thoroughly describe the framework and explain its application to the present study.
  • Describe how the framework has been used in studies about similar problems
  • In the study’s methodology section
  • Explain how the framework is being operationalized in the study’s design.
  • Explain how data collection methods (such as questionnaire items) reflect the concepts in the framework.
  • In the study’s discussion section
  • Describe how study findings are consistent (or inconsistent) with the framework.
  • Offer suggestions for practice and further research that are congruent with the framework’s concepts and propositions.
The relationship between research and theory is undeniable, and it is important to recognize the impact of this relationships on the development of nursing knowledge. So interface theory and research by generating theories, testing the theories and by using it as a conceptual framework that drives the study.
  1. George B. Julia , Nursing Theories- The base for professional Nursing Practice , 3rd ed. Norwalk, Appleton and Lange.
  2. Polit DF, Hungler BP. Nursing Research: Principles and Methods. Philadelphia: JB Lippincott Company; 1998.
  3. Burns N, Grove SK. The practice of Nursing Research. 4th Ed. Philadelphia: WB Saunders Publications; 2001.  
  4. Treece JW, Treece EW. Elements of Research in Nursing (3rded.). St. Louis: Mosby; 1982.
  5. Nursing Research Series. Essentials of Science: Methods, Appraisal and Utilization. Kaiser Permanente. Northern and Southern California Nursing Research, 2009. Available at
Publications on Nursing Research and Theories
  1. The relationship of nursing theory and research: the state of the art
  2. Middle range theory: spinning research and practice to create knowledge for the new millennium


Post a Comment