Why concept analysis?

Posted on May 14, 2013 by


Concept analysis continues to be a cornerstone of many doctoral programs, but as important as this activity is, very few reach a level of development that is suitable for publication. The current featured article, titled “Concept Analysis: Method to Enhance Interdisciplinary Conceptual Understanding” explains an approach to concept analysis that can enhance the quality and worth of this very important activity.  The author of this article,  Susan Bonis, has one of the best explanations about “why” this is so important, and has provided this interesting background about her work:

It is an honor to have this article published in ANS. This method of concept analysis is a critical component of work related to understanding, defining and describing the foundation of nursing knowledge: What is nursing? What is the unique contribution of nursing to the health care arena? What is nursing research? What is nursing knowledge? Although these are not new questions, they are questions that arise almost daily. How do we respond?

This method of concept analysis is one means to provide clarification to these questions. A previous article, Knowing in Nursing: A Concept Analysis (Bonis, 2009, JAN, 65(6)) provided interesting insight to nursing knowledge, as well as to the knowledge base of other disciplines. According to the Sue-Bonis-300findings of that concept analysis, the essence of nursing is personal knowing, or the individual experience of health and illness, of medicine is technical/procedural knowing, and of behavioral health is knowing as a cognitive process. As you can see from the findings of this study, the knowledge base of each discipline is unique; therefore, the contribution of each discipline to the health care arena is unique.

Understanding how concepts are used within disciplines is critically important for nurse researchers, who tend to ‘borrow’ research instruments from other disciplines. How a concept is understood and used in nursing is not necessarily the same as how that concept is understood and used in other disciplines.  For example, the Empathy Quotient was developed by Simon Baron-Cohen (psychologist) as a diagnostic tool to differentiate between the cognitive processes related to empathy in normal-functioning adults and those with Asperger’s syndrome. Although it is a beautiful tool and very useful for diagnostic purposes, it would not be appropriate for a nurse researcher interested in understanding more about empathy as a personal experience for nursing student to use the Empathy Quotient. To do so would be a contribution to the foundation of knowledge for behavioral science, not to the foundation of nursing knowledge.

I experienced a similar situation in seeking to understand more about contentment as a quality of life for parents of children on the autism spectrum. Four research instruments focused on contentment have been developed in the behavioral sciences; each one is a diagnostic tool to measure the cognitive processes that describe depression. It would be inappropriate for me to use any one of those instruments, even though they clearly are used to measure contentment. The conceptual understanding of contentment varies greatly between nursing and behavioral science. Behavioral science uses contentment as a short term cognitive response to events in the moment. In nursing, contentment is used to describe a way of being that evolves over time; a phenomenon at a much higher level of abstraction (but then again, that brings us to another discussion related to phenomenological issues in nursing research. We’ll save that for future discussion!).

What are your thoughts on concept analysis prior to instrument selection? Are we contributing to the knowledge base of another discipline when we borrow research instruments? What about interdisciplinary collaboration? What are the challenges?

Thank you for reading the article! I hope to dialogue on this critical matter in nursing research.