Grounded theory definition

A theory is discovered or created using grounded theory. As a result, it is produced inductively from the phenomena being researched. The theory is developed and verified through a process that involves systematic data collection and analysis linked to the current phenomena. (Evans, 2017). As a result, the study begins with the study area and what is learned during the research process rather than developing the theory and concentrating on its validation. The fundamental ideas that are significant to this theory are codings, codes, and categories.The conducted research through the grounded theory is neither deductive nor inductive, but there is a combination of all these two to have reasoning, which is abductive. Hence, the attainment research practice is the one where there is no discrete and distinct data analysis and sampling and theory development (Evans, 2017). Various steps have to be repeated to ensure that there is a chance to explain and describe the phenomenon, which is being researched. The end of the research is when obtained new data does not contribute to any significant changes in the theory. As such, the saturation point is reached.

Key words: grounded theory, inductive and deductive study, data sampling and analysis, codes and codings, categories, abductive reasoning, qualitative research, theory development, and category development.


Sociology is the main root of the grounded theory. As such, this theory was coined in the past by Strauss and Glaser in 1967 (Johnson, 2015). Debate exists on the meaning and understanding of the concepts of grounded theory. However, this theory is associated with two unique paradigms, which exist within the sociological work. Thus, grounded theory depicts a unique approach, which entails a systematic view of the qualitative data with an aim of generating different theories. Such a theory combines a paradigm or unique research style with methodological guidelines, as well as pragmatic theory of action. Hence, researchers in the field of sociology have found the methodology as a good approach to use in conducting their research work.

Grounded theory depicts a progressive integration and identification of the meaning categories, which are obtained from data. As such, it acts as the process of identification of the category and integration to have a product, which is the theory. Therefore, the method of grounded theory creates an opportunity for individuals to see the categories and establish relationships and links in these categories (Goulding, 2017). It provides the explanatory framework, which assists in the comprehension of the phenomenon, which is under investigation. Researchers that adopt grounded theory embrace key strategies, which include theoretical coding, theoretical sampling, and constant comparative analysis.

Grounded theory is situated in several paradigms that include constructionist, positivist, and post-positivist. The basic stages of the grounded theory are data gathering, the categorization and codification, memos, classification, theoretical formulation, and the review of the literature of the provided topic. These are the key stages, which are followed by the researchers who focus on conducting qualitative studies that are based on this theory.

Origin of grounded theory

The theory is based on the philosophical foundations, which relate to the symbolic interactionism (Hall, Griffiths, & McKenna, 2013). The concepts of George Herbert Mead (1934) on the symbolic interaction theory provided the basis for the establishment of the grounded theory. The theory of George focused on the discussion of the process that is used by people in giving meanings to objects, words, situations, and symbols. John Dewey and Charles Darwin were the main influencing factors for the theoretical work, which was conducted by George Mead.

The origin of the grounded theory was the mid-1960s after the groundbreaking work, which was conducted by the medical sociologists Anselm Strauss and Barney Glaser. Such was followed by the subsequent publication of the discovery of the grounded theory. Glaser indicated that the discovery of the theory was during the process of his doctoral work development at the University of Columbia (Johnson, 2015). He produced the first draft of the discovery, which he shared with Strauss. On receiving the draft, Strauss made some comments and added additional material. Later, Glaser and Strauss had a disagreement on the key nature and status of this theory, which resulted into a discontinuation of their professional collaboration. In spite of this, Glaser has ensured that he retained the substance and spirit of the original work he did on this theory. The subsequent publications, which he made in relation to this theory, had detailed accounts of the key principles, which include the distinguishing of the grounded theory as a significant research methodology.

Evolution of grounded theory

Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss are the key factors, which contributed to the evolution of this theory. After the development of the theory in 1964, these social scientists focused on ensuring that the theory was adopted in the research field of the sociology. They held a proposal that the use of the systematic methods created an opportunity for the qualitative inquiry that led to the development of the theoretical explanations on the issue of human interactions (Hall et al., 2013).

Prominent contributors of grounded theory and their major contributions

The prominent contributors of the grounded theory are the sociologists Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss (Goulding, 2017). Their engagement in this scholarly work is based on their dissatisfaction with the nature of the existing theories, which are dominant within the field of sociological research. Hence, their argument was that researchers should be accorded a method, which would ensure that they use data as way of generating a theory to ensure that new theories had a chance of being developed. The theories were tied to the context of their development. As such, they are grounded on the data used to formulate them.

Glaser and Strauss, in 1967, used an inductive approach to develop the theory from data (Hall et al., 2013). Glaser focused on the aspect of theoretical sensitivity, which resulted in the emergence of the Glaserian grounded theory. On the other hand, Strauss focused on qualitative analysis, which led to the development of the Staussian grounded theory. Kathy Charmaz (2000), who was constructionists, indicated that the theories were based on the researcher's constructions from the interactions with participants and the environment as a converse of the theory being discovered (Charmaz, 2001). Another constructionist, Corbin, depicted that the researchers acted as analytical instruments. As such, he promoted the use of the memos as a way of reflecting on the interactions and findings (Corbin, 2017). Further, Corbin engaged in work with Strauss on issues related to symbolic interactionism. Ralph, Birks, and Chapman (2015) engaged in the process of developing the methodological dynamism concept. Such involved gathering researchers from different generations and ensuring that they interact within the existing environment to establish the moments and engage in the interpretation of the philosophical perspectives in a congruent manner as based on the grounded theory as the key methods. Schatzman was also involved in the work of dimensional analysis and Clarke contributed in situational analysis.

Applications of grounded theory Healthcare Management

In healthcare management, grounded theory has been adopted by the researcher as a means of examining the preparedness of the needs of the nursing home (Laditka et al., 2008). Such was based on the experiences, which were incurred during the Hurricane Katrina refugees for the shelters provided for the nursing homes of the victims.

The other application is the examination of the use of the bedside shift reports as a way of ensuring that patients are kept safe within the health care facilities (Groves, Manges, & Scott-Cawiezell, 2016). The methodology helps in gathering data and analyzing to offer a theory on the safety of the patients.

Limitations of grounded theory

All the research methods have limitations. As such, grounded theory also has its unique limitations. The first limitation is the epistemological roots. Grounded theory is linked to the positivist epistemology, which makes it to sidestep the reflexivity questions. As such, it is impossible for the researcher to prevent or detect the researcher-induced bias (Scott, 2017). The other limitation is the preoccupation, which is linked with the uncovering of the different social processes that limits the rate of the applicability of the theory in the phenomenological questions of research. The data that is obtained through this method is subjective, which makes it complex to determine its validity and reliability in the information and adopted approach. The situation is complex because of the diversity in the interpretation of the methodology.

Summary discussions

Grounded theory provides a good approach, which is used to systematically look at the qualitative data with a purpose of developing theory (Wiesche, Jurisch, Yetton & Krcmar, 2017). The categories of the grounded theory are collected to ensure that the general theory is established, which fits the data. However, over the years there are different versions of the grounded theory that emerge. Hence, researchers using this theory have a chance to choose between abbreviated and full versions. The theory assists in mapping the categorization of the individual experiences and the theorizing of the contextualized social processes. A social constructionist or realist approach could also be adopted in the grounded theory. Nevertheless, grounded theory is in a state of continuous evolution, which implies that there is a chance to have further varieties of this theory in the future.

The methodology of grounded theory is widely used in the collection and analysis of the data in the area of qualitative research. As such, the theory can be considered as a framework, which is used in the process of designing the study, collecting and analyzing data with a sole purpose of developing the middle-range theories (Ahmed & Haag, 2016). Therefore, the outcome of the study is termed as the grounded theory that comprises of the categories, which are interrelated. In the past, studies on grounded theory methodology were based on the fieldwork data, but at the present time there is the use of the interviews in the process of data collection and analysis. An interest is also growing in the use of the visual data that includes films and pictures. The origin of the methodology of the grounded theory was sociology, but it is currently being applied in various disciplines. The widened application goes along with new developments, modifications, and innovations that ensure that there is a variation on the methodology of grounded theory.

The specific features of the methodology include the coding procedures that have a comparative analysis approach, theoretical sampling, and writing of the memo (Scott, 2017). The theoretical sampling approach demands that the insights obtained from the theoretical analysis should be adopted in the subsequent process of data collection. Therefore, in the research process, data analysis and collection interact and alternate.

Data analysis entails having different coding ways, which ensures that the researcher has the ability to develop abstract conceptual reflections and ideas, which are embodied within the codes and are later transferred to the categories. The analytical process ensures that there is a step-by-step categories development, which is grounded in the data (Ahmed & Haag, 2016). The development of categories involves the comparisons of various stages, which include difference sample cases, data pieces, categories, and codes in the analysis process. Hence, the methodology of grounded theory could also be termed as the constant comparative method. In the entire process of research, the researcher is involved in writing memos and ensuring that there is a good track of the conceptual ideas development, practical to-dos, and methodological reflections. Currently, there is software, which the researchers can used to assist them in the process of the entire qualitative data analysis.


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Adopting Classic Grounded Theory. Grounded Theory Review, 15(2), 76-92.

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Goulding, C. (2017). Navigating the Complexities of Grounded Theory Research in Advertising.

Journal of Advertising, 46(1), 61-70. doi:10.1080/00913367.2017.1281775

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Clinical Nursing Research, 25(5), 473. Doi: 10.1177/1054773816630535

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Personal Selling & Sales Management, 35(3), 262-273. doi:10.1080/08853134.2014.954581

Laditka, S. B., Laditka, J. N., Xirasagar, S., Cornman, C. B., Davis, C. B., & Richter, J. V. E.

(2008). Providing shelter to nursing home evacuees in disasters: Lessons from hurricane Katrina. American Journal of Public Health, 98(7), 1288-1293.

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