What's the use of theory?

M. van Ryn, C. A. Heaney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

44 Scopus citations


The barriers to the use of theory in health education practice are addressed by exposing common misperceptions of the nature and usefulness of theory. First, the mystique of theory is addressed through a discussion of theory development and the roots of theory in everyday experience. Two characteristics of theory, generalizability across settings or situations and testability, are described and linked to benefits for practice. Second, a guide for practitioners in applying theory to each stage of the intervention process is provided. A case example illustrates how theory can guide practice as well as the benefits to be gained by applying theory to program development. Finally, the bases for common negative misperceptions of theory are identified and clarified, and the beneficial nature of theory reviewed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)315-330
Number of pages16
JournalHealth Education Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1992
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

Cite this

van Ryn, M., & Heaney, C. A. (1992). What's the use of theory? Health Education Quarterly, 19(3), 315-330.