Skip to main content

Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory

A guide to qualitative research methods

The Process

According to Bernard, the grounded theory process is 'deceptively simple':

1. Produce transcripts of interviews and read through a small sample of text

2. Identify potential analytic categories (that is, potential themes) that arise

3. As the categories emerge, pull together all the data from those categories and compare them

4. Consider how categories are linked together

5. Use the relations among categories to build theorectical models, constantly checking the models against data, especially against negative cases

6. Present the results of the analysis using quotes from the interviews that illuminate the theory (exemplars)

Bernard, H. Russell (2000). Social Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. London ; Thousand Oaks : SAGE. (pp. 443-444)

Comparison of Two Schools of Grounded Theory*

Glaser and Strauss (1967) Strauss and Corbin (1990)
Starts with a general idea of where to begin Starts with a general idea of where to begin
Uses neutral questions Uses structured questions
Development of conceptual theory Conceptual description (description of situations)
Development of theoretical sensitivity (the ability to perceive variables and relationships) from immersion in data Development of theoretical sensitivity from methods and tools
Theory is grounded in the data Theory is interpreted by the observer
A basic social process should be identified Basic social processes need not be identified
The researcher is passive, exhibiting disciplinary restraint The researcher is active
Data reveals theory Data is structured to reveal theory
Coding and continuous comparison of data enable patterns to emerge Coding is defined by technique, leading to micro-analysis of data word by word
Uses two coding phases to develop concepts that expain the phenomena: simple (breaking data down into small segments and group into similarities that begin to describe patterns in the data) and substantive (open or selective choosing of a core category and relating other categories to it to expore emergent patterns) Uses three types of coding: open (identifying, naming, categorising, describing phenomena), axial (the process of relating codes to each other) and selective (choosing a core category and relating other categories to it)
Regarded as the "true" grounded theory Regarded as a form of qualitative data analysis rather than grounded theory

*From Engward, H (2013). Understanding Grounded Theory, Nursing standard, 28, 7, p. 39.

Grounded theory process

Lehmann (2001a) describes the grounded theory process as a spiral that starts by collecting ‘slices of data’ in a substantive area of enquiry, which are then codified and categorised in a continuous process that moves toward saturation and results in the theoretical densification of concepts represented by a substantive theory. Figure 5.2, “Grounded theory’s building process" (Lehmann, H. P. 2001a, A Grounded Theory of International Information Systems, PhD Thesis, University of Auckland, New Zealand) represents this iterative process.


Figure 5.2. Grounded theory’s building process (Lehmann 2001a).