Grounded Theory is derived from Sociology.

It was first put forward by Glaser and Strauss in 1967.

There is some debate as to what exactly grounded theory is, but basically grounded theory is either of two different paradigms that are to be found in sociological work.

Generally speaking, grounded theory is an approach for looking systematically at (mostly) qualitative data (like transcripts of interviews or protocols of observations) aiming at the generation of theories.

Although, often, grounded theory is seen as a qualitative method, in actual fact grounded theory can be further extended.

It combines a specific style of research (or a paradigm) with a pragmatic theory of action and with some methodological guidelines.


The Purpose of Grounded Theory

The purpose of a grounded theory study is to generate, or discover, a theory.

A grounded theory is one that is inductively derived from the study of phenomena.

The theory is discovered, developed and provisionally verified through systematic data collection and analysis of data pertaining to that phenomena.

The important thing to remember is that you do not begin with a theory and then attempt to prove it, but rather you begin with an area of study and then what is relevant is allowed to emerge from your research.




The important concepts of grounded theory are:

  •  categories
  •  codes
  •  codings.

The research principle behind grounded theory is neither inductive nor deductive, but combines both in a way of abductive reasoning.

This leads to a research practice where

  •  data sampling
  •  data analysis
  •  theory development

                                    are not seen as distinct and discrete (i.e. separate) stages, but as different steps to be repeated until it is possible to describe and explain the phenomenon that is to be researched.

This stopping point is reached when new data does not change the emerging theory anymore - i.e. it has reached saturation.


Key analytic assumptions

There are 2 key analytic assumptions involved in grounded theory, namely:


Elements of Grounded Theory

Shortly before his death, Strauss named three basic elements that should be included in every piece of research that uses the grounded theory approach (Legewie/Schervier-Legewie (2004)).


Stages of Grounded Theory

There are various stages involved in grounded theory research.


Research Questions

The research question in a grounded theory study is a statement that identifies the phenomenon to be studied.


Advantages & Disadvantages

As with all research methodologies, there are advantages and disadvantages that are built into the methodology.



Grounded theory is an approach for looking systematically at [mostly] qualitative data aiming at the generation of theory.

Grounded theory categorises empirically collected data to build a general theory that will fit the data.



Glaser B.G., Strauss A.L. (1967) The Discovery of Grounded Theory. Strategies for Qualitative Research

Legewie H., Schervier-Legewie B. (2004). "Forschung ist harte Arbeit, es ist immer ein Stück Leiden damit verbunden. Deshalb muss es auf der anderen Seite Spaß machen".  Forum: Qualitative Social Research On-line Journal, 5(3), Art. 22.