A theory is a set of proposals that try to offer a rational or plausible explanation of a particular phenomenon. Research is a systematic investigation into resources and materials to establish facts and draw new conclusions. Conversely, practice involves the act of implementing knowledge obtained from experience and training into use. Theories provide basic concepts and suggest ways for people to make sense of research data. Knowledge is not static but instead develops continuously by asking questions and seeking answers. Continuous development of knowledge through theory, research, and practice equip professionals from diverse fields with adequate expertise in dealing with emerging challenges in their respective fields.
The relationships among theory, practice, and research is reciprocal and cyclic. Practice in any given field produces research questions and knowledge for theory. On the other hand, research provides basic guidelines to practice. It helps refine or replace outdated practices. Research also enhances knowledge through theory development, while theory directs research and improves practice. Hence, in this case, both theories and research provide an essential foundation and set the goals for practice. Simultaneously, practice acts as a source of questions to be addressed by research. Therefore, the relationships among theory, practice, and research are reciprocal in that each enlightens the other in the development of knowledge in all fields (Kumar, 2019).
Historically, practice came first, and theory was extracted from it. Past experiences and in-depth observations developed to become interventions which subsequently became theories. However, over the years, many have concluded that theory guides practice (DeNisco & Barker, 2015). This is because practice cannot position itself without the regulation of theoretical questions that direct the research. Without theory, information may be gathered but without any exact way of expounding on the different observed occurrences. In this regard, the purpose of theory is to predict anticipated results. Some theories are suitable in particular settings when deducing a specific behavior or a set of actions. Hence, theory guides practice because it provides insights that assist in interpreting diverse phenomena contextually. On the other hand, practice is a testing ground for theories where only those theories found to be fundamental to practice can continue and progress. Practice is also a basis for new theories as discoveries emerge on a daily basis.
Also, the relationship between theory, research, and practice is symbiotic, implying that advancement in one automatically necessitates a modification in the others. Theories provide a complex and comprehensive conceptual understanding of things that cannot be pinned down. For instance, how organizations work, why people interact in particular ways, or how societies work. Theories give the researchers diverse ‘lenses’ to look at complex problems and social issues by focusing their attention on different aspects of data and providing a context for conducting their analysis. Therefore, theories are used to help design a research question, direct the selection of relevant data, interpret the data, and propose justifications of the underlying influences or causes of observed phenomena. Alternatively, theories are tested through research studies. As researchers continue conducting empirical research to evaluate theories to prove their validity, some theories may be modified or rejected if multiple extensive studies have negative findings (deductive reasoning). Equally important, new theories may emerge from research studies (inductive reasoning) which may in turn continue updating practice (Maxfield & Babbie, 2017).
In conclusion, practice relies on theories and research to guide what should be done, when to be done, why it should be done, and the means of doing it. On the other hand, practice provides questions that are addressed in research and theory. This proves that the relationships among the three elements are dynamic and flow in all directions. Each of these factors informs and supports the other in applying and developing knowledge in diverse fields.
DeNisco, S. M., &Barker, A. M. (eds) (2015). Advanced Practice Nursing: Essential Knowledge for the Profession. Clinical Nurse Specialist, 23(1), 45.
Kumar, R. (2019). Nursing Research & Statistics.Jaypee Brothers Medical Publishers.
Maxfield, M. G., &Babbie, E. R. (2014). Research methods for criminal justice and criminology.Cengage Learning.