What is Grounded Theory?

Grounded theory is a research methodology used mostly in qualitative research. Researchers using some other research methods build a theory about the research topic and then study the phenomenon and test the theory, whereas, in this method, a theory is developed directly from the data. According to the originators of the grounded theory, Glaser and Strauss (1967):

The aim of grounded theory is ‘’to generate or discover a theory.’’

Grounded theory ‘’is the discovery of theory from the data systematically obtained from social research.’’

Strauss and Corbin further explain the grounded theory as:

‘’A grounded theory is one that is inductively derived from the study of the phenomena it represents.’’

Glaser often states that grounded theory is not a descriptive study of a descriptive problem; it is a study of a concept.

In order to explain the phenomenon, the grounded theory suggests identifying the key factors of that phenomenon and, categorizing and analyzing them.

The traditional research process goes as follows:

  1. Choosing the research subject
  2. Offering theories about the topic
  3. Choosing data collection methods
  4. Data collection
  5. Data analysis
  6. Conclusion

In grounded theory, the second step becomes the last step.  Researchers applying this methodology usually advise avoiding the reading of preexisting theories about the topic because they may influence their work.  However, novice researchers are recommended to read up on the subject before starting their research, as grounded theory methodology requires a high level of professionalism. It deals with a larger amount of data compared to traditional research because it is not restricted by any existing theories.

This methodology is also used to clarify existing theories or expand on them.

Benefits of grounded theory

  • It ensures that researchers are not under the influence of the previous theories on the phenomenon and that they are not simply trying to ‘’prove’’ them. It brings a new approach to the research topic and lets researchers move beyond the preconceived theories.
  • It is beneficial in the areas that are not covered by other researchers and lack literature.
  • The data collected in this research speaks for itself. The findings represent the real-world behaviors, opinions, events.

Drawbacks of grounded theory

  • It might be too complex because of the extensive data available and because it is a fresh perspective on the topic.
  • Data analysis may not result in a definitive theory.
  • It may take a long time to settle down on a theory and may require additional research. Therefore, many institutions, organizations prefer traditional research.