Concept Analysis and the Advance of Nursing Knowledge: State of the Science

J Nurs Scholarsh. 2018 Jul;50(4):451-459. doi: 10.1111/jnu.12386. Epub 2018 Apr 24.


Purpose: Despite an overwhelming increase in the number of concept analyses published since the early 1970s, there are significant limitations to the impact of this work in promoting progress in nursing science.

Design: We conducted an extensive review of concept analyses published between 1972 and 2017 to identify patterns in analysis and followed this with exploration of an exemplar related to the concept of normalization to demonstrate the capabilities of analysis for promoting concept development and progress.

Methods: Scoping review of peer-reviewed literature published in the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL) in which the terms "concept analysis," "concept clarification," and "concept derivation" appeared in any part of the reference. The original search returned 3,489 articles. This initial pool was refined to a final sample of 958 articles published in 223 journals and addressing 604 concepts. A review of citations of the original analysis of the concept of normalization resulted in 75 articles selected for closer examination of the process of concept development.

Findings: Review showed a clear pattern of repetition of analysis of the same concept, growth in number of published analyses, preponderance of first authors with master's degrees, and 43 distinct descriptions of methods. Review of the 75 citations to the normalization analysis identified multiple ways concept analysis can inform subsequent research and theory development.

Conclusions: Conceptual work needs to move beyond the level of "concept analysis" involving clear linkage to the resolution of problems in the discipline. Conceptual work is an important component of progress in the knowledge base of a discipline, and more effective use of concept development activities are needed to maximize the potential of this important work. It is important to the discipline that we facilitate progress in nursing science on a theoretical and conceptual level as a part of cohesive and systematic development of the discipline.

Clinical relevance: The absence of effective concepts impedes the ability to recognize, discuss, define, and conduct studies important to clinical practice and research. This article reflects the pressing need as well as the potential for concept analysis work to be approached in a way that promotes nursing science and enables conceptually sound research to improve clinical care.

Keywords: Concept analysis; research methods; theory construction/theory testing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Concept Formation
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Knowledge
  • Models, Educational
  • Models, Organizational
  • Nursing Administration Research*
  • Nursing Theory*
  • Philosophy, Nursing