Grounded Theory: A Guide for a New Generation of Researchers

Mengye Yu, Simon M Smith
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 16  •  2021  •  pp. 553-568

Grounded Theory (GT) has grown and developed into several strands making its application all the more problematic, argumentative and remaining potentially as a research methodology to avoid when it comes to doctoral research, early-career research. Thus, the purpose of this paper is to revisit GT as a general approach and present an evolved and more considered step-by-step guide to conduct research using this methodology. A leadership development context is applied in this paper to examine how this methodology could work for a new generation of researchers, i.e., new to doctoral research or an early career researcher.

Since its academic inception in the seminal text in 1967 (Glaser & Strauss, 1967), GT has emerged and developed to become a popular choice for researchers contemplating qualitative data approaches amongst a variety of subject backgrounds. However, the divergent development and criticized approaches within GT families can lead researchers to avoid such a research methodology. This can especially be the case within doctoral research or other early-career research. Indeed, a specific/explicit GT guideline or framework to assist doctoral students in conducting GT research does not currently exist.

There is a general review of GT approaches followed by theoretical development of a framework and an applied doctoral example.

The three evolved methods in GT research and the developed supporting author-designed three-phase research framework will contribute to two aspects. Firstly, the step-by-step guideline can reduce the sense of confusion within an area where criticisms and conflicting approaches exist. This will hopefully assist the next generation of GT researchers in conducting their research through detailed processes and applications. Secondly, there is arguably a need for more GT applications and evolvements to further enrich the body of knowledge that exists in this area and further support a diversity of subject research.

The authors outline numerous differences and similarities within divergent GT practices. By integrating Glaser’s four core principles and three evolved methods, the authors design a three-phase research framework that presents a transparent step-by-step guide. This framework attempts to mitigate criticisms within GT approaches whilst maintaining clarity, flexibility, depth, and rigour within a study.

Three GT evolvements (the two-step literature review method, two-step open-coding method, and two-step theory-constitute method) provides greater clarity within a rigorous author-designed three-phase research framework that demonstrates a transparent step-by-step guide. These techniques can encourage a new generation of GT researcher through confident and structured analytical techniques.

We hope the presented framework and concise view of GT in action will inspire other doctoral students and new GT researchers to conduct GT research following an evolved GT framework.

The debates and innovations around GT, like in this paper, are needed within a methodological society to keep the area contemporary and constantly evolving.

The framework presented will need further testing beyond the parameters set out here. We hope future research can adopt the evolved GT techniques and procedures to enforce research quality overall and inspire further GT methodological developments.

grounded theory, doctoral students, early career researchers, methodology
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