The relationship between theory and practice is essential to ‘applied sciences' such as public management. However, the current debate on this topic lacks empirical substantiation. Here I develop a methodology for the indication of how the theory-practice gap is actually addressed in a given subfield of management enquiry. I distinguish three archetypal strategies of relating theory to practice and develop several bibliometric indicators for them. Subsequently, I apply this methodology in a case study on the German public management debate from 1989 to 2005, a study based on bibliometric data of some 900 articles on public management. As will be demonstrated, in Germany, the theory-practice divide is predominantly framed as a problem of knowledge transfer between scholars and practitioners. Reflections on the institutional structures of public management in Germany make it clear why the transfer strategy is chosen, thus proving the validity of the suggested indicators.