Empiric Knowing

Contributors: Deborah Lindell and Peggy Chinn
Updated October 27, 2022

Empiric knowing is what is often understood to be the science of nursology – the models and theories as well as research evidence that affirm the “truth value” of that which can be observed through human physical senses. The theories and models that are featured on Nursology.net represents the body of empiric knowledge in the discipline. Empiric knowledge addresses the critical questions: 1) What is this? (description of the experience) and 2) How does it work? (explanation of the experience in relation to human health). 

Nursing models and theories name the phenomena we encounter in caring for patients, describe how they are experienced in real life, and explain how these experiences contribute to a person’s well-being and experience of health.  Nursing models and theories may be very abstract and aim to provide structure or a lens for our nursing knowledge or aim to explain a phenomenon relevant to all of nursing. Or, a theory may aim to explain a specific aspect of nursing,  health, or well-being. All play a role in articulating the “world of nursing” and building nursing’s disciplinary knowledge. Nursing models and theories may arise from: observations during practice,  findings of research, thoughtful reflection, or a combination. The many nursing theories included on Nursology.net provide an overview of the empiric knowledge required to provide care. 

Empiric knowing in nursing is also considered to be that which is “objective,” meaning it can be measured and confirmed by many different observers, all of whom arrive at the same conclusions about what they are observing.  Empiric observations can be indirect, meaning that facts, measurements, behaviors that cannot be observed directly can be affirmed using tools such as microscopes. Human behavior that we can name but not “see” directly, such as stress, or anxiety, or uncertainty is also “measured” indirectly by observing characteristics that are commonly part of the thing we want to better understand.  Empiric knowing is often associated with quantitative research methods; however, empiric knowledge can be built through qualitative inquiry as well. Using empiric knowledge in practice demonstrates scientific competence. 

Primary source: Chinn, P., Kramer, M., & Sitzman, K. (2022) Knowledge Development in Nursing: Theory and Process, 11th ed. Elsevier.


Books on the development of nursology theories and models   

Gallery of Nursology Theories and Models