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Grounded Theory Qualitative Research: An Overview

Grounded Theory Qualitative Research

When you have a set of real-world data, you can use the analysis to create new theories and examine further parts of some processes and any phenomena that occur. Using grounded theory as the approach, anything that is drawn from it is based purely on data. 

For those who are familiar with it, this is the exact opposite of how a traditional research approach happens. Whereas with a traditional approach, the hypothesis is developed first and then goes through disproving or proving. 

What are the benefits of grounded theory?

Grounded theory has many applications, but specifically within the education research field. But what are the benefits? 

Less Confirmation Bias

When hypothesizing, there is a tendency for some people to find results that directly support their theory. Typically, this isn’t done on purpose; it is part of the confirmation bias that many people have. Keeping in mind that data collection and analysis are tightly linked, using grounded theory can prevent confirmation bias and lead to a reduction in preconceived beliefs about the topic. 


Within the grounded theory, several methods are used to improve how data is structured, called selective coding, which will improve both data collection and analysis. As the data is collected, you will analyze it with immediacy, and then you’ll learn from that data. Once that data is collected, analyzed, and learned from, you’ll collect more data and repeat the same process – until there is nothing further to be extrapolated from the data. It is a streamlined process that makes the act of collecting, analyzing, and learning more efficient. And, when compared to other methods, where the theory is posed, and then the data is collected in a rinse-repeat action, grounded theory is the better option for many applications. 

Findings and Data 

There are some research approaches, those that have external research frameworks that they rely on, where the theory and the data become further removed. The reason for this is that the theory is poised first, and the data is collected to prove or disprove it. Whereas with grounded theory, the data is used to work backward to a conclusion. 

What this means is that when using grounded theory, the data and the findings are more closely linked, and one could argue that they are more valuable or more likely to be accurate and relevant. 

Accurate Representation 

Going back to the point that we just made in Findings and Data, when a theory is developed using grounded theory, they are taken directly from real-world settings and participants. Observations and in-depth interviews will give you a more accurate representation of the real world. All of this culminates in having more accurate findings and, following on from that, more substantial theories. Many other research approaches take place in focus groups or other unnatural settings, which means the answers in some circumstances might not be accurate at all. Ideally, when performing a study, you want the most accurate information and outcome, and that is possible with grounded theory. 

New Discoveries

Perhaps one of the most significant benefits of using grounded theory is that you are more likely to make new discoveries. The reason for the new discoveries is that you’re working with a robust research method. In practical terms, it means that there is no preconceived hypothesis to prove or disprove, i.e., you won’t be aiming to validate or invalidate a theory; you are following what the data tells you, not the other way around. And when a question doesn’t lead you, and you are looking at data, you have more opportunities to discover new things. 

Like with every method, there are some limitations of grounded theory, but they don’t outweigh the benefits. The first limitation is that collecting data can be time-consuming for the simple fact that you don’t know how much data you will need to collect until you hit theoretical saturation. There can also be some challenges when it comes to comparisons as you go (which is why software is a good option). 

What are the fundamentals of grounded theory?

As we have discussed, the indicative nature of grounded theory means that it is a theory developed from data rather than collecting data to uphold or discredit a theory. However, some other fundamentals of grounded theory are essential to note. 

Theoretical integration: developing a theory that correctly explains the data. 

Theoretical saturation: the point at which no new relationships, discoveries, or concepts come from the data. 

Theoretical sampling: Researchers can focus on the vital parts of the phenomenon and collect data to further develop the theory through theoretical sampling. 

Coding and analysis: Coding identifies and labels the concepts within the data, while analysis looks at how the concepts are related. There are several forms of coding and analysis: selective coding*, axial coding, and open coding are some of the techniques used. 

Theoretical sensitivity: Through training, knowledge, and experience, a researcher can interpret and recognize relationships and patterns in the data presented. 

*Selective coding is the last stage of coding when using grounded theory, and it pulls in all subcategories and categories through both axial and open coding and presents a central phenomenon and theory. The main goal of selective coding is to discover the core category. There are a couple of principles of selective coding: reflect often, be systematic with selective coding (document), be selective with data, and avoid pile-ups perhaps the most essential is open-mindedness to the possibility of new discoveries that may come from the data. The last part is something that doesn’t typically happen with many other research methods.  

Where can grounded theory be applied in real terms? Grounded theory excels in studying a wide range of social phenomena, including social relationships, work, education, and health. In real terms, here is what it looks like: 

  • Studying the way teenagers interact with social media
  • Studying how people with chronic illness experience the world 
  • Study into how small businesses are impacted by globalization

All in all, grounded theory can offer significant insight into many different areas of life. 

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