Grounded theory

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Grounded theory is a qualitative research technique where instead of starting with a theory, the researcher beings with the data and uses the data to generate a theory. Starting with a theory before analyzing the data is not allowed. The theory is not created from analyzing research literature, but from systematically analyzing the data through both inductive and deductive reasoning.

Data analysis techniques:

  • Open coding - Data is divided into categories and analyzed for common themes.
  • Axial coding - Connections are made between categories.
  • Selective coding - Categories and connections between them form a story line to describe phenomenon.

Development of a theory - A theory, based entirely on collected data, is created to explain the phenomenon


This method was formalized in the 1960's by Anselm Strauss and Barney Glaser through their work in the study of the socialization of illness at the University of California, San Francisco.

Principal Use

While initially used in sociology, it is has been used sucessfully in anthropology, education, nursing, psycholorgy and social work. Some examples of studies using grounded theory are the ways in which scientists work, management of a difficult pregnancy, experiences with chronic illness and spousal abuse.


When current theories about something do not exist or are not adequate, this is an appropriate qualitative method to use. It is more likely research done using this method will add to the knowledge and literature, as most research builds on what has been done before.


The researcher may discover a theory that has already been discovered using more traditional research methods. There are disagreements on which data analysis approach is best. Some experts believe this method is too structured.

Examples in Informatics

  1. Principles for a Successful Computer Physician Order Entry Implementation: A three year project using qualitative methods at multiple successful sites for a grounded theory approach yielded ten general themes with 24 sub-themes.
  2. Patient-perceived usefulness of on-line electronic medical records: Employing grounded theory in the development of information and communication technologies for use by patients living with chronic illness.
  3. of grounded theory to content definition: a case study. The qualitative research principles of grounded theory afford clinicians the opportunity to participate in content definition for information systems. This article presents a case study of the application of grounded theory to develop systematically the content definition for a clinical information system in preparation for implementation on four medical-surgical units.


Wikipedia entry: Grounded Theory (Glaser)
Wikipedia entry: Grounded Theory (Strauss)
Grounded Theory, a thumbnail sketch
Practical Research: Planning and Design. Paul Leedy. 8th Edition. Chapter 7.

--JuliaWeatherby 23:30, 26 February 2007 (CST)