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Grounded theory (GT) is a systematic methodology in the social sciences involving the

construction of theory through the analysis of data. [1][2] Grounded theory is a research
methodology which operates almost in a reverse fashion from social science research in the
positivist tradition. Unlike positivist research, a study using grounded theory is likely to begin
with a question, or even just with the collection of qualitative data. As researchers review the
data collected, repeated ideas, concepts or elements become apparent, and are tagged
with codes, which have been extracted from the data. As more data are collected, and as data
are re-reviewed, codes can be grouped into concepts, and then into categories. These
categories may become the basis for new theory. Thus, grounded theory is quite different
from the traditional model of research, where the researcher chooses an existing theoretical
framework, and only then collects data to show how the theory does or does not apply to the
phenomenon under study.[3]

Grounded theory is:

a research method that will enable you to:

develop a theory which

offers and explanation about

the main concern of the population of your substantive area and

how that concern is resolved or processed.

For example in my PhD study, the main concern of online learners is finding the time
to study and temporal integration is the core category which explains how the concern
is resolved or processed. Different types of learners employ different strategies:
Jugglers and Strugglers employ successful temporal integration strategies which
enable them to study (with more or less pain), whilst Fade-aways and Leavers are
unsuccessful and fail to complete the programme. Understanding how temporal
integration does or does not happen has implications for learning design and learner
For the nurses of Nathanials study, their main concern was moral distress and the core
For McCallins interdisciplinary teams the main concern was client service delivery
and the core category pluralistic dialoguing. We recommend that you read these
studies to get an idea of what a grounded theory is and is not.

Grounded theory is a general research method (and thus is not owned by any one
school or discipline); which guides you on matters of data collection and details
rigorous procedures for data analysis. You can use quantitative data; or qualitative
data of any type e.g. video, images, text, observations, spoken word etc.
Grounded theory is a research tool which enables you to seek out and conceptualise
the latent social patterns and structures of your area of interest through the process of
constant comparison. Initially you will use an inductive approach to generate
substantive codes from your data; later your developing theory will suggest to you
where to go next to collect data and which, more-focussed, questions to ask. This is
the deductive phase of the grounded theory process.
Grounded theory is first and foremost a research method. But the term grounded
theory is used in two ways:
If you adhere to the strictures of grounded-theory-the-research-method you will
engage in a research process that will produce;
A theory-which-is-grounded-in-data ie. a grounded theory.
Thus both the research method and the output of the research process have the same
name, which can be confusing!
Grounded theory is the study of a concept (the core category). The problem is that
from this perspective, you are not going to know what you are studying until you have
completed a significant amount of analysis: the core category is the concept to which
all other concepts relate; and its discovery signals the end of the open coding stage.
The core category names a pattern of behaviour and in this pattern you are going to
see the general implications.

Grounded Theory
The Grounded Theory approach was first articulated by Glaser & Strauss in their
1967 book The Discovery of Grounded Theory.
This book was written at a time when researchers in sociology were questioning the
assumptions of positivism. In many ways, this book can be read and understood as
a response to positivistic approaches in sociology. In fact, one of the goals of this
book was to provide a 'legitimate' approach for doing qualitative research.
Glaser and Strasss articulate an empirical approach for developing theory. At the
time, much of theory development was donea priori - before collecting and
analyzing data. Glaser and Strauss were arguing for an alternative approach, one

that involves developing theories in a way that is connected to the data collection
and analysis process.

Grounded Theory is an approach for developing theory that is "grounded in data
systematically gathered and analyzed" (Strauss & Corbin, 1994).

Common Methods used in Grounded Theory

Participant Observation. This involves the researcher immersing him or herself in
the daily lives and routines of those being studied. This often requires extensive
work in the setting being studied. This is called fieldwork.
Interviewing. Researchers using a Grounded Theory approach will learn about a
culture or group by speaking with informants or members of the culture or
group. Talking with informants is called interviewing. The types of interviews
conducted by researchers using this approach vary in degree of formality (informal
interview to semi-structured to structured interviews).
The Grounded Theory Approach
The Grounded Theory Approach involves constant comparative analysis or what
has come to be called the Constant Comparative Method.
This involves the researcher moving in and out of the data collection and analysis
process. This back and forth movement between data collection and analysis is
sometimes called an 'iteration.' Grounded theory research involves multiple
The process begins with the researcher asking a question or series of questions
designed to lead to the development or generation of a theory regarding some
aspect of social life (e.g. how do nurses see their role in the care delivery process in
primary care settings?)
This generative question, leads to the first iteration of theoretical sampling.
Identifying an initial sample of people to observe or talk to (e.g. Registered Nurses).
After collecting some data the researcher analyzes it. The process of analysis
allows the researcher to begin to develop a theory with regard to his or her
question. Based on this initial theory, the researcher decides how next to sample
(e.g. speak to nurses with varying educational backgrounds).
This is
called Theoretical Sampling.

This process of continually collecting and analyzing data and engaging in

a theoretical sampling process are critical features of the constant comparative
analysis that Glaser and Strauss describe.
The comparative process continues until the researcher reaches saturation - the
point at which there are no new ideas and insights emerging from the data.
Instead, the researcher sees strong repetition in the themes he or she has already
observed and articulated.
The process of analyzing the data also involves three level or types of coding:

open coding - where the researcher begins to segment or divide the data into
similar groupings and forms preliminary categories of information about the
phenomenon being examined

axial coding - following intensive open coding, the researcher begins to bring
together the categories he or she has identified into groupings. These
groupings resemble themes and are generally new ways of seeing and
understanding the phenomenon under study

selective coding - the researcher organizes and integrates the categories and
themes in a way that articulates a coherent understanding or theory of the
phenomenon of study

According to Charmaz:
"Grounded theory refers to a set of systematic inductive methods for conducting
qualitative research aimed toward theory development. The term grounded theory
denotes dual referents: (a) a method consisting of flexible methodological strategies and (b)
the products of this type of inquiry. Increasingly, researchers use the term to mean the methods of inquiry
for collecting and, in particular, analyzing data. The methodological strategies of grounded theory are aimed
to construct middle-level theories directly from data analysis. The inductive theoretical thrust of these
methods is central to their logic. The resulting analyses build their power on strong empirical foundations.
These analyses provide focused, abstract, conceptual theories that explain the studied empirical

Grounded theory has considerable significance because it (a) provides explicit, sequential guidelines for
conducting qualitative research; (b) offers specific strategies for handling the analytic phases of inquiry; (c)
streamlines and integrates data collection and analysis; (d) advances conceptual analysis of qualitative
data; and (e) legitimizes qualitative research as scientific inquiry. Grounded theory methods have earned
their place as a standard social research method and have influenced researchers from varied disciplines
and professions.

Yet grounded theory continues to be a misunderstood method, although many researchers purport to
use it. Qualitative researchers often claim to conduct grounded theory studies without fully understanding
or adopting its distinctive guidelines. They may employ one or two of the strategies or mistake qualitative
analysis for grounded theory. Conversely, other researchers employ grounded theory methods in
reductionist, mechanistic ways. Neither approach embodies the flexible yet systematic mode of inquiry,










that grounded theory methods can foster. Subsequently, the potential of grounded theory methods for
generating middle-range theory has not been fully realized."