Grounded Theory Part 1: What is Grounded Theory?

Qualitative Methodology

Of the many qualitative research designs available to researchers, grounded theory is arguably the most popular. However, grounded theorists are not limited to working exclusively with qualitative data. Grounded theory was formulated by Glaser and Strauss in the late 1960s as an alternative to the positivist and deductive research designs that researchers commonly used at the time. Grounded theory gets its name from its unique inductive approach wherein the theory is grounded in the data. This means that, instead of applying a theoretical framework to the research design, data collection, and analysis, the data drive the generation of theory. This also means that grounded theory research differs from other research designs in important ways related to sampling procedures, data collection, and data analysis.

Proper grounded theory studies require ample time and careful attention to detail. These studies are not appropriate for those lacking time or hoping to finish their dissertations quickly. In fact, many grounded theory researchers who have worked in the field for years have suggested that this design is inappropriate for doctoral research. However, for those who have the time and money to dedicate to grounded theory endeavors, grounded theory offers a robust research design that can lead to new insights and theoretical propositions.

Grounded theory is used to develop new theories based on the iterative collection and analysis of real world data. This research design can be used when there is no existing theory that offers an explanation for a phenomenon you are studying, or if there is a theory but it is incomplete. For example, if there is a theory for a particular phenomenon but it was created with data from a group of participants that are not reflective of your intended study population, this may justify the use of a grounded theory approach.

Grounded theory differs from other research designs in which you would develop a hypothesis and then try to prove or disprove it. In a grounded approach data collection and analysis occur in a cyclical fashion. Once theoretical saturation has been achieved through data collection and analysis, then the researcher will do on to develop a theory from the data.

Below are a few grounded theory references:

Grounded theory research: A design framework for novice researchers – PMC (

What is grounded theory? | Evidence-Based Nursing (

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