Background: When a construct such as patients’ “transition to self-management” of chronic illness is studied by researchers across multiple disciplines, the meaning of key terms can become confused. This results from inherent problems in language where a term can have multiple meanings (polysemy) and different words can mean the same thing (synonymy).
Objectives: The aim of this study was to test a novel quantitative method for clarifying the meaning of constructs by examining the similarity of published contexts in which they are used.
Methods: Published terms related to the concept transition to self-management of chronic illness were analyzed using the internomological network (INN), a type of latent semantic analysis performed to calculate the mathematical relationships between constructs based on the contexts in which researchers use each term. This novel approach was tested by comparing results with those from concept analysis, a best-practice qualitative approach to clarifying meanings of terms. By comparing results of the 2 methods, the best synonyms of transition to self-management, as well as key antecedent, attribute, and consequence terms, were identified.
Results: Results from INN analysis were consistent with those from concept analysis. The potential synonyms self-management, transition, and adaptation had the greatest utility. Adaptation was the clearest overall synonym but had lower cross-disciplinary use. The terms coping and readiness had more circumscribed meanings. The INN analysis confirmed key features of transition to self-management and suggested related concepts not found by the previous review.
Discussion: The INN analysis is a promising novel methodology that allows researchers to quantify the semantic relationships between constructs. The method works across disciplinary boundaries and may help to integrate the diverse literature on self-management of chronic illness.