1. Education
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Grounded Theory


Grounded theory is part theoretical framework and part research methodology. It combines theory and research and serves as a guide for many social science researchers in their projects.

Grounded theory is an attempt to develop theories from an analysis of the patterns, themes, and common categories discovered in observational research. This idea first emerged in Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss’ book, The Discovery of Grounded Theory in 1967 when they brought together two main traditions of research: positivism and interactionism. It emphasizes research procedures when developing theories. That is, theories should be "grounded" in research and backed by real data.

Grounded theory allows researchers to be scientific and creative at the same time, as long as the researchers follow three main guidelines:

  • Periodically step back and ask questions.The researcher needs to step back once in a while and ask the following questions: What is going on here? Does what I think I see fit the reality of the data? Data does not lie, so the researcher needs to make sure their own ideas of what is happening matches what the data is telling them, or the researcher may need to alter their idea of what is going on.
  • Maintain an attitude of skepticism.All theoretical explanations, hypotheses, and questions about the data should be regarded as preliminary, whether they come from the literature, experience, or making comparisons. They should always be checked out against the data and never accepted as fact.
  • Follow the research procedures.Research procedures (data collection, analysis, etc.) are designed to give precision and accuracy to a study. They also help the researcher break through biases and lead him or her to examine some of his or her assumptions that might otherwise be unrealistic. Therefore, it is important that the correct research procedures are followed so that an accurate conclusion is reached.


Babbie, E. (2001). The Practice of Social Research: 9th Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Thomson.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.