• end of life;
  • nursing theory;
  • qualitative research


Title. The use of theory in qualitative approaches to research: application in end-of-life studies.

Aim.  This paper is a report of an analysis of the use of theory in qualitative approaches to research as exemplified in qualitative end-of-life studies.

Background.  Nurses researchers turn to theory to conceptualize research problems and guide investigations. However, researchers using qualitative approaches do not consistently articulate how theory has been applied, and no clear consensus exists regarding the appropriate application of theory in qualitative studies. A review of qualitative, end-of-life studies is used to illustrate application of theory to study design and findings.

Data sources.  A review of theoretical literature was carried out, focusing on definitions and use of theory in qualitative end-of-life studies published in English between 1990 and 2008.

Discussion.  The term ‘theory’ continues to be used in a variety of ways by theorists and researchers. Within the reviewed end-of-life studies, the use of theory included theory creation or provision of a comparative framework for data analysis and interpretation.

Implications for nursing.  Nurses who conduct qualitative studies should examine the philosophical and theoretical bases of their selected methodological approach, articulate a theoretical framework that fits the phenomenon being studied, and adopt a critical, flexible and creative attitude when applying theory to a study.

Conclusion.  Theory can be put to several uses in qualitative inquiry and should guide nurse researchers as they develop and implement their studies. Nurse educators who teach qualitative approaches to research should emphasize a variety of ways to incorporate theory in qualitative designs.