Using grounded theory, you can examine a specific process or phenomenon and develop new theories derived from the collected real-world data and their analysis.
Grounded theory research is an inductive approach in which a theory is developed based on data. This is the opposite of the traditional hypothesis-deductive research approaches where hypotheses are formulated and are then tried to be proved or disproved.
In grounded theory, the process of collecting data, and developing theory is a continuous one and should be incorporated in the research design. The process of collecting and analyzing data is repeated until theoretical saturation is reached or no new insights will be gained from additional data.
In Situational Analysis Extending Grounded Theory with Dr. Adele Clarke, Clarke discusses situational analysis as an extension of grounded theory for analyzing qualitative data including interview, ethnographic, historical, visual, and/or other discursive materials. Clarke describes how it is especially useful for multi-site research, feminist, and critical inquiry. To dive deeper into the messy complexities in data and understand relations among the elements constitutive of the situation, watch Clarke’s webinar Situational Analysis Extending Grounded Theory.
What is Grounded Theory Approach in Research?
The grounded theory approach is a qualitative research methodology that attempts to unravel the meanings of people's interactions, social actions, and experiences. In other words, these explanations are grounded in the participants' own interpretations or explanations.
In 1967, Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss published the book, The Discovery Of Grounded Theory which introduced this method. Many disciplines have since used grounded theory, including anthropology, sociology, economics, psychology, and public health.
Qualitative research using grounded theory was regarded as being groundbreaking upon its introduction. By using the inductive methodology, data (such as interviews and observations, and on rare occasions, historical data, archival data, and more) could be analyzed as they are being collected. They sought to move away from the dominant practice in the 1950s and 60s of starting with a theoretical framework which needed to be verified. They turned that practice on its head by starting with the data to develop theory.
Grounded theory has the following salient features:
Begins with data- Researchers using the grounded theory approach typically start with a case study by observing an individual or group in action. Through an analysis of cases, researchers formulate a tentative definition of their concept. An explanation for the construct is later crafted based on this case analysis.
A personal approach- In this method, researchers study participants as they go about their daily activities, observe them interacting with others, conduct individual or group interviews, and ask participants specific questions about their observations, daily lives, experiences, or other sources relevant to the study.
The application of grounded theory qualitative research is a dynamic and flexible way to answer questions that can't be addressed by other research methods.
What is Grounded Theory in Research?
A grounded theory is often used in cases where there is no existing theory that explains the phenomenon being studied. It is also possible to use it if there is an existing theory, but it is potentially incomplete because the information wasn’t gathered from the group you intend to research.
Check out ScienceDirect's page for more examples on how grounded theory can be applied.
What are the Advantages of Grounded Theory?
Grounded theory offers various advantages.
Results reflect real-world settings
By using grounded theory, one can develop theories that are based on observations and interviews with real subjects in real situations. This results in findings that more closely reflect reality. In contrast, other types of research take place in less natural settings, such as focus groups and lab settings.
Excellent for discovering new things
The premise of grounded theory is that you discover new theories by inductive means. In other words, you don't assume anything about the outcome and aren't concerned about validating or describing it. Instead, you use the data you collect to inform your analysis and your theoretical construct, resulting in new insights.
Streamlined data gathering and analysis
Analyzing and collecting data go hand in hand. Data is collected, analyzed, and as you gain insight from analysis, you continue gathering more data. In this way, your data collection will be adequate to explain the results of your analysis.
Findings are tightly connected to the data
In grounded theory, the outcome is determined primarily by collected data, so findings are tightly tied to those data. It contrasts with other research methods that are primarily constructed through external frameworks or theories that are so far removed from the data.
Protection from confirmation bias
Because gathering data and analyzing it are closely intertwined, researchers are truly observing what emerges from data. By having a buffer, you avoid confirming preconceived notions about the topic.
Provides analysis strategies
An important aspect of grounded theory is that it provides specific strategies for analysis. Grounded theory may be characterized as an open-ended method, but its analysis strategies keep you organized and analytical throughout the research process.
Disadvantages of Grounded Theory
In addition to the multiple advantages of grounded theory listed above, there are a few disadvantages of grounded theory, and qualitative methods in general, that are important to consider.
Grounded theory is often a time-consuming process that involves collecting data from multiple sources, analyzing the data for patterns and themes, and then finally coding the data – all steps that can take significant time if not using qualitative data analysis software like NVivo.
Additional disadvantages in grounded theory include a researcher’s own biases and assumptions which may impact their data analysis and the quality of their data – whether it’s low quality or simply incomplete.
How to Use NVivo for Grounded Theory
If you’re ready to start using grounded theory, using tools like NVivo can help!
With NVivo, you can analyze interviews (and occasionally survey) data by visually exploring datasets with the Detail View feature. This ability lets you limit the amount of data you’re viewing and filter to help identify patterns in your data.
Additionally, NVivo can help with transcribing, making connections between themes and participants, and keeping your interview data organized. Learn more about how to use NVivo for interview data in Thematic Analysis of Interview Data: 6 Ways NVivo Can Help.
Learn more about how to use NVivo for grounded theory in this paper Using NVivo to Facilitate the Development of a Grounded Theory Project: An Account of a Worked Example and the video below.
Start transforming your qualitative research by requesting a free demo of NVivo today!