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Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory

A guide to qualitative research methods

Pros (advantages)

"...the researcher should not predetemine a priori about what he or she will find, and what and how social phenomena should be viewed. Therefore, the value of Grounded Theory is that it avoids making assumptions and instead adopts a more neutral view of human action in a social context. (Simmons, DE (2006). Some professional and personal notes on research methods, systems theory and grounded action. World Futures: Journal of Global Education 62, 7, 481-490.)

"Grounded theory provides a methodology to develop an understanding of social phenomena that is not pre-formed or pre-theoretically developed with existing theories and paradigms." (Engward, H (2013) Nursing standard, 28, 7, 37-41)

As an exploratory method, grounded theory is particularly well suited for investigating social processes that have attracted little prior research attention, where the previous research is lacking in breadth and/or depth, or where a new point of view on familiar topics appears promising.  (Milliken, P. (2010). Grounded theory. In N. Salkind (Ed.), Encyclopedia of research design. (pp. 549-554). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.)

Other Comments gathered from the literature:

  • Grounded theory can identify the situated nature of knowledge, as well as the contingent nature of practice.
  • Grounded theory produces a 'thick description that acknowledges areas of conflict and contradiction.
  • Grounded theory is better at determining what actually happens.
  • As a general theory, grounded theory adapts readily to studies of diverse phenomena.
  • Grounded theory can respond and change as conditions that affect behavior change.

Cons (disadvantages)

Grounded theory fails to recognize the embeddedness of the researcher and thus obscures the researcher's considerable agency in data construction and interpretation. (Bryant and Charmaz (eds.) (2007)

Other comments gathered from the literature:

  • Grounded theory methods tend to produce large amounts of data, often difficult to manage.
  • Researchers need to be skillful in using grounded theory methods.
  • There are no standard rules to follow for the identification of categories

Pros - References

Milliken, P. (2010). Grounded Theory. In Neil J. Salkind (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Research Design. (pp. 549-554). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi:

Cons - References

Feminist Qualitative Research and Grounded Theory: Complexities, Criticisms, and Opportunities. (2007). In A. Bryant, & K. Charmaz (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Grounded Theory. (pp. 417-436). London, England: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: