26   Grounded theory revisited (2)


Speaking only for myself ...

In piece 25 I foreshadowed a discussion about grounded theory and its similarities to action research.  In particular I raised Glaser's distinction between hypothesis-testing and emergent methodologies.  I said that action research and grounded theory were emergent methodologies.

It is my intention in the next occasional piece to take the comparison further.  Before doing so it is useful if I provide a thumbnail sketch of grounded theory, Glaser style.

Grounded theory can be described as a set of overlapping stages:

  • data collection, in which the researcher observes, talks to people, and engages in whatever other data collection seems appropriate
  • note-taking, capturing the key elements of each data collection immediately afterwards
  • coding, in which the researcher writes in the margin of the notes the "categories" and "properties" contained or implied by each sentence of the notes
  • memoing, in which the researcher writes memos to herself or himself on the theoretical hypotheses arising from the coding

These four stages are almost simultaneous.  The memos progressively build the theory from the categories and properties of the coding, and the links between them.  The data are noted and coded almost as they are collected.

  • sorting begins as soon as further data add little to the emerging theory.  The memos are sorted to an order which allows the theory to be communicated clearly
  • writing the report is guided by the sorting.

This may be diagrammed as follows:

      |    data     |
       | note-taking |
        |   coding    |
         |   memoing   |
                       |   sorting   |
                                     |   writing   |
      |----- time ---->              +-------------+


As I mentioned in the previous occasional piece, there is a slightly more detailed description of this process on the web at





Copyright Bob Dick 2000.  May be copied if it is not included in any
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This may be cited as:   Bob Dick (2000)  Grounded theory revisited (2).
Occasional pieces in action research methodology, # 26.  Available online at

Version 1.2;  last modified 20020223


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