Understanding Middle-Range Theories

Author Professor Kirby

Image result for middle range theory            Sociologist Robert Merton advocated for middle-range theory and these theories are often derived from grand theories (Liehr and Smith, 2017, p. 51). Merton explains it as a theory that lies between the minor, but necessary working hypotheses that evolve in abundance in daily research and it’s a systematic effort to develop a unified theory (Liehr and Smith, 2017, p. 51).  There are two diagrams below to be used as visual aids to help everyone better understand middle-range theories.

Middle-range theories are rooted in sociology and usually are focused on social behavior and social change. However, as a result of the influence of sociology, many critics are not in favor of the use of these theories in a different disciplinary setting. Consequently, “Thorne suggests that nurses do not simply borrow theories from other disciplines, but twist and bend them to serve the disciplinary purpose” (Liehr and Smith, 2017, p. 54). The development of this theory has led to middle range theories that are more reflective of a nursing theme than a sociology theme, such as caring and comfort theories (Liehr and Smith, 2017, p. 59). Liehr and Smith (2017), emphasizes the importance of choosing a name that describes the main ideas of the theory (p. 55).

Image result for middle range theory


Liehr, P., & Smith, M.J. (2017). Middle range theory a perspective on development and use. Advances in Nursing Science Vol. 40, No. 1, pp. 51–63.

Images retrieved from the websites below:











2 thoughts on “Understanding Middle-Range Theories

  1. Nursing theories do integrate other disciplinary methodology including philosophy, sociology, and psychology to form today’s nursing theories. Middle-range theory is between minor/concepts and conceptual model. Conceptual model is too abstract to directly guide nursing practice. It needs to be broken down for purposely utility in nursing practice. So, middle range theories are produced because middle-range theories are more concrete and narrower than grand theories; they are made up of a limited number of concepts and propositions that are written at a relatively concrete and specific level (Fawcette, 2005a). The theories direct nursing practice and research. My nursing knowledge learned from first year of nursing school, such as theory of pain, theory of comfort, theory of social support, and Watson’s human caring theory (Butts & Rich, 2018) are all middle range nursing theories, which really updated my nursing knowledge.

    Fawcettm, J. (2005a). Middle-range nursing theories are necessary for the advancement of the discipline. Aquichan, 5(001), 32-43.

    Butts,J.B.& Rich, K.L( 2018). Philosophies and Theories for advanced nursing practice. . 3rd edition. Burlington, MA. Jones & Nartlett Learning.


    • Hello
      Thanks for your feedback. Yes, Jean Watson’s theory is a middle range theory. Here is some information on the topic. Jean Watson philosophy and nursing theory of transpersonal caring list a carative factors and a hierarchy of human needs. The ethical dilemma example provided in my earlier post coincided with a number of the carative factors and all of the listed hierarchy of needs. Here are a few of the carative factors that were pertinent in Dr. Watson model: 1- cultivating sensitivity, 2- developing trust, 3- promotion and acceptance of feelings and the promotion of transpersonal education. According to Wayne (2016), the hierarchy of needs includes biophysical, psychosocial and interpersonal needs. The staff addresses the resident physical needs, some staff developed genuine relationships addressing his interpersonal and psychological needs. Also, the staff members that expressed a challenge dealing with this unique situation cultivated sensitivity, acceptance, and trust in their professional relationship after a teaching-learning experience to seek growth in their delivery of caring and acceptance. Dr. Watson’s theory informs us caring is the main focus of the nursing process, and it encourages wellness of the total person and is not limited to medical needs only (Wayne, 2016).


      Wayne, G. (2016, January 5). Jean Watson’s theory of human caring. Nurses labs, Retrieved from https://nurseslabs.com/jean-watsons-philosophy-theory-transpersonal-caring/#watson8217s-theoryand-the-nursing-process


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