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What is Grounded Theory?

All research is "grounded" in data, but few studies produce a "grounded theory." Grounded Theory is an inductive methodology.  Although many call Grounded Theory a qualitative method, it is not.  It is a general method. It is the systematic generation of theory from systematic research.  It is a set of rigorous research procedures leading to the emergence of conceptual categories.  These concepts/categories are related to each other as a theoretical explanation of the action(s) that continually resolves the main concern of the participants in a substantive area.  Grounded Theory can be used with either qualitative or quantitative data.


Here is an exerpt from one of our GTI Fellows, Olavur Christiansen , explaining the main differences between "classic" or "glaserian" GT, and other methods which call themselves GT. 

I have tried to explain this difference by referring to the three "hallmarks" of Glaserian GT. These "hallmarks" are unique for "glaserian GT" and sums up how Glaserian GT is different from the other versions of GT:
(1)  Many equally justifiable interpretations of the same data?
       Answer: find the core variable (the main concern and its recurrent solution) 
       as the first stage of the study, and delimit to the core variable
(2)  To "get through to exactly what is going on in the participant's recurrent solution of their
       main concern", the researcher suspends his/her preconceptions, remains open, and trusts in "emergence of concepts from the data"
(3)  Avoiding descriptive interpretations in favor of abstract conceptualizations by the method
       of constant comparison, which facilitates the discovery of stable patterns in the data (i.e., "emergence of concepts")


Here is an excellent outline of the GT process by Odis Simmons:

Proprietary – not for use or distribution without permission of author                       Composed by:   Odis E. Simmons, Ph.D.                                                                                                                                            Stages of a Classic (Glaserian) Grounded Theory Study:Stages are generally sequential, but once research process begins they are often conducted simultaneously, as the particular research requires. 

1. Preparation:    Minimizing preconceptions.    No preliminary literature review.    General research topic, but no predetermined research “problem.” 

2. Data Collection:    Most common form: intensive interviews, often combined with participant  observation.  But, any type of data can be used, including quantitative.                  Theoretical Sampling               

Initial analysis determines where to go and what to look for next in data collection.  Analysis and data collection continually inform one another. 

3. Analysis:  Constant Comparative Analysis                Relating data to ideas, then ideas to other ideas.        

Substantive Coding

Substantive codes summarize empirical substance.  Have grab, relevance, and fit.   

Sensitizing concepts:  Are “accessible” through imagery, humor, irony.           

In vivo concepts: concepts inherent to action scene (e.g. milkman’s “coffee        stop”).                        

 Open Coding                                   

Coding for anything and everything.                        The analyst asks three general questions of the data:                                   

A. "What is this data a study of?" Leads to discovery of the                                                        “core variable.” The core variable becomes the focus of                                             the research and theory.  The core variable is the variable                                                which accounts for the most variation (e.g. Milkman’s                                          “cultivating relationships”)                                   

B. "What category does this incident indicate?"                                   

C. "What is actually happening in the data?"                        

Selective Coding                                   

Usually occurs when core variable and major dimensions and                                        properties have been discovered.                                                                                      Closed coding involves limiting the coding to things related to                                         the core variable.        

Theoretical Coding       

Theoretical codes conceptualize how the substantive codes may relate to each   other as hypotheses to be integrated into the theory (see Glaser’s “theoretical coding families”). 

4. Memoing:    Memos are the theorizing write-up of ideas about codes and their relationships.      

Data collection, analysis and memoing are ongoing, and overlap.      

Memoing should take precedence, because it is the actual write-up of what is        emerging from the data and the analysis.  Data is always available, and can be        analyzed at any time.  Ideas are fragile.  They should be written down at the earliest possible time.      

While writing memos, think and write theoretically, in a "stream of consciousness" fashion, with no concerns about grammar, spelling, and such.        

This minimizes writers block.      

Memos are always modifiable as you discover more about your topic.                                     

 Integrating the Literature                                               

 Once you are confident in your theory, you can begin to                                                 analyze and integrate relevant existing literature into it.                                                Theoretical material from the literature must earn its                                                       way into your theory, just like any other theoretical                                                               construct.

 5. Sorting & Theoretical Outline:Sorting refers not to data sorting, but to conceptual sorting of memos into an outline  of the emergent theory, showing relationships between concepts. This process often stimulates more memos, and sometimes even more data collection. 6. Writing:      

The completed sort constitutes the first draft of your write-up.  From here it is merely a matter of refining and polishing your product into a final draft.




©2008 Grounded Theory Institute
Monday, June 13, 2011, Administrator