An Introduction to Grounded Theory

Grounded Theory is a research methodology used in social sciences in which a theory is developed from the analysis of data. It was discovered by Glaser and Strauss in 1967. Grounded Theory is used to develop concepts about social patterns and attitudes. This is done by passing a series of data through a strict series of stages, during which it is constantly compared. Generally speaking, Grounded Theory is an approach for looking systematically at qualitative data, with the aim of generating theories about people’s feelings or viewpoints on a particular issue.  

The data sources used in Grounded Theory include all resources that contain information about social interaction. Data may be collected by collecting interview transcripts, observing and recording interactions, examining literature or obtaining viewpoints and opinions from a cross section of people involved in the study. During the data collection period, data are analysed at the same time. As this is being done, the researcher looks for a core variable which will underpin the generation of the theory.

The data is coded at three levels. At the first level (Open) large quantities of raw qualitative data are analysed, line by line. At the second level (Selective), the researcher compares and contrasts the data to create categories, or clusters of data. The third level (Axial) involves the data being moved from the analysis stage into the concept and theory development stage.  The theory emerges through filtering information that is relevant to the topic being studied, while discarding superfluous information. Data is collected until such time no further information can be found. This ‘saturation’ point will signal to the researcher that no further data collection is required.

At the end of the data analysis stage the research report is written. This report will describe the theory that has been derived from the research as well as communicating the research findings. The report should include information about how the data were collected and analysed and the concepts that were developed. A grounded theory research report should contain a statement of interest, purpose, method, sampling, data generation, data analysis, findings, conclusions, implications and recommendations.

Grounded Theory works in the reverse way to more traditional social research methods. It can, however, be used to develop theories in previously unexplored or under explored areas where more research methods have failed. According to Glaser, “Grounded Theory becomes an answer where other methodologies did not work well enough.”


GLASER95A, p.15