Pergamon PII: SOO20-7489(96)00024-7
hf. J. Nurs. Stud,Vol 34, No. I, pp. 7683, 1997 (0 1997 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved Printed in Great Britain 00X-7489/97 %17.00+0.00
The evaluation of nursing theory: a method for our madness
Sharon L. Dudley-Brown
Assistant Professor, University of Maryland School of Nursing, Department of Material and Clinical Health, Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A. (Received 20 March 1995;revised 13 January 1996;accepted 11 March 1996) Abstract
The profession of nursing has, in recent years, been trying to further develop, test and use proposed nursing theory. To utilize theory appropriately, in all domains of practice, education and research, it is important to know how to describe, analyze and evaluate theory. Evaluation of theory both within and among cultures should be a goal for the future of nursing to further advance the science of nursing. From a philosophical and historical standpoint, this paper attempts to define theory, including nursing theory, and then analyze criteria for the evaluation of theory. Finally, a more comprehensive set of criteria for the evaluation of theory is proposed, which may stimulate more informed decisions regarding the choice of nursing theory for use in practice, education and research, and from which may emerge new theories for and of nursing consistent with the ’90s and beyond. 0 1997Elsevier ScienceLtd. All rights reserved. Keywords: Nursing theory; theory evaluation; culture
One of the recent trends in the nursing profession in most, if not all, cultures is to produce, utilize, and practice research-based nursing care. Inherent in this goal is the continued development and testing of nursing theory. In order to utilize nursing theory appropriately it is important to know how to describe, analyze, and critique (evaluate) theory. While empirical testing of theory is important, it is but one part of the evaluation of theory. Meleis (1985) states that theory evaluation provides for constructive criticism, further theory development, and helps the evaluator develop an appreciation for the process of theory development. Essentially, one main purpose of evaluation is to allow for an informed critique of theory before (and after) conducting research, and before the application of a theory in practice or educational settings. While evaluation of theory is a combination of both subjective and objective findings, it is the premise of this paper that this objectivity can be accomplished through the use of criteria for evaluation that are acceptable to the profession yet culturally and geographically transferable. This paper will attempt to first define theory, including nursing theory, and then analyze criteria for the evaluation of theory already in the literature. In addition, a com76
prehensive set of criteria for the evaluation of theory will be proposed.
Definitions of theory
Defining theory is the first step towards developing a set of criteria for the evaluation of theory. Many of the early definitions of theory in the nursing literature were influenced by the Logical Positivistic Received View (Suppe, 1977), where the focus was on structure and process. The Received View definition of theory is a definition of scientific theory, where the relationships between phenomenon and a set of statements are specified. The Received View advocates that theories must be formalized, axiomatized and in the language of mathematics and formal logic (Webster et al., 1981). For example, McKay (1969) defines theory as “a logically interrelated set of confirmed hypotheses” (p. 394), while Jacox (1974) defines it as “a systematically related set of statements including law-like generalizations that are empirically testable” (p. 324). These definitions are consistent with the Received View philosophy on theory at the time. Chin and Jacobs (1983) define theory as “a set of concepts, definitions, and propositions that projects a systematic view...
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