Despite ubiquitous use of the term social support by lay people and professionals, the concept lacks clarity (Hupcey, 1998a 1998b; McHaffie, 1992). In particular, it is based on limited empirical evidence (Hupcey, 1998b) and it is easily confused with constructs such as caring (Coffman & Ray, 1999; Swanson, 1991).
Despite frequent use of this term in the literature in many countries, failure to definitively explicate the concept of social support impedes its study and measurement (Ducharme, Stevens, & Rowat, 1994; McHaffie, 1992) and limits its usefulness in nursing.
Because social support lacks clear empirical referents, researchers have recently made efforts to clarify and delineate the concept with qualitative approaches. To date, however, these findings have remained isolated, and no known attempt has been made to comprehensively interpret these results. The relatively recent techniques of meta-synthesis (Finfgeld, 2003) and concept development (Finfgeld, 2004a) provide methods to analyze and synthesize findings from multiple qualitative works to more clearly define abstract concepts and make them more readily available to practitioners, researchers, and policymakers. Thus, the aim of this project was to better delineate social support by us ing findings from linguistic concept analyses and qualitative studies.