Grounded theory is to generate or discover a theory. Its focus is to obtain an abstract analytical schema of a phenomenon that related to a particular situation (Creswell, 1998). However, Strasuss and Corbin ((1998) explicitly pointed out that the value of the grounded theory lines in its ability not only to generate the theory but also to ground that theory in data .

Denzin and Lincoln (1994) stated that grounded theory method of research consist of systematic inductive guidelines for collecting and analyzing data to build theoretical frameworks that explain the collected data. What are exactly specific natures of grounded theory?

Glaser (1978) list four features:

  1. A theory must have fit: A grounded theory is faithful to the everyday realities of a substantive area, i.e. a grounded theory must be carefully induced from diverse data
  2. A theory must have relevance: Grounded theory arrives at relevance because it allows core problems and processes to emerge. The grounded theorist must search for and discover the relevance of his or her data.
  3. A theory must work: A theory should be able to explain what happened, predict what will happen, and interpret what is happening in an area of substantive or formal inquiry.
  4. A theory must be readily modifiable: The generation is an ever modifying process and nothing is sacred if the analyst is dedicated to giving priority attention to the data.

Strauss and Corbin (1998) added two additional features of grounded theory. They said that theories are always traceable to the data that gave rise to them, and grounded theories are very fluid, because they embrace the interaction of multiple actors, and because they emphasize temporality and process.

What are other important property of grounded theory? (Notes in ADTED 550 discussions)

  1. Grounded theory has the power of transcending
    • The generative nature always takes it beyond the substantive area being studied.
    • It transcends specific data collection methods
    • The analyst is constantly going beyond his data to new problems and ideas, and constantly puts him beyond his previous analysis.
    • Grounded theory is transcending also in the sense that it conceptualizes the data.
  2. Grounded theory requires constant comparative analysis
    • A central feature of this analytic approach is a general method of constant comparative analysis.
    • Group comparisons are conceptual: they are proceeded by comparing diverse or similar evidence indicating the same conceptual categories and properties, not by comparing the evidence for its own sake.
    • Comparative analysis takes full advantage of the interchangeability of indicators, and develops, as it proceeds, a broad range of acceptable indicator for categories and properties.

Data Analysis of Grounded Theory
The primary method of analysis is a continuous coding process. Analysis will begin with open coding - the data are examined line by line to define actions or events within data. This coding analysis will likely lead to "refining and specifying any borrowed extant concepts" (Strauss and Corbin, 1998). Next is the analysis of axial coding, which is aimed to make conceptual connections between a category and its subcategories. Then, concepts and sub-concepts are further defined by selective coding, "an integrative process of selecting the core category, systematically relating it to other categories, validating those relationships by searching for confirming and disconfirming examples, and filling in categories that needed further refinement and development" (Strauss and Corbin, 1998).

Codes and categories will be sorted, compared, and contrasted until all the data are accounted for in the core categories of the grounded theory paradigm model, and no new codes or categories can be produced, i.e. saturation. The researcher also needs to write analytic and self-reflective memos to document and enrich the analytical process, to make implicit thoughts explicit, and to expand the data corpus. Analytical memos consist of questions and speculation about the data and emerging theory.

Creswell (1998) described the following process of data analysis in grounded theory:

  1. Open coding: Categorizing the information and examining properties and dimensions of the data
  2. Axial coding: Identifying a central phenomenon, exploring causal conditions, specifying strategies, identifying the context and intervening condition, and delineating the consequences for the central phenomenon identified.
  3. Selective coding: Identifying a story line and writing a story that integrating the categories in the axial coding; presenting the conditional proposition or hypotheses.
  4. Visually portraying a conditional matrix that elucidates the social, historical, and economic conditions influencing the central phenomenon.

Creswell (1998) described the general structure of grounded theory as follows:

  1. Introduction: problem and questions
  2. Research procedures: grounded theory, data collection, analysis, outcomes
  3. Open coding
  4. Axial coding
  5. Selective coding and theoretical propositions and models
  6. Discussion of theory and contrasts with extant literature


Creswell, J. W. (1998). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five traditions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (1994). (Eds). Handbook of Qualitative Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Glaser, B. (1978). Theoretical sensitivity. Mill Valley, CA: Sociology Press.

Patton, M. Q. (1990). Qualitative Evaluation and Research Methods ( 2nd ed.). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.