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Turner1981 Article SomePracticalAspectsOfQualitat

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Quality and Quantity, 15 (1981) 2 2 5 - 2 4 7
Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, Amsterdam - Printed in The Netherlands
University of Exeter
In the course of their research into aspects of American health
institutions and related topics, Glaser and Strauss (1964, 1965a, b)
developed an approach to the handling of qualitative data and to the
formulation of theoretical propositions which they subsequently
labelled "grounded theory" (Glaser and Strauss, 1968). By this term,
they meant "the discovery of theory from data". They advocated the
development of this approach in order to counter what they regarded as
undesirable aspects of the orthodoxy which then prevailed in sociology,
an orthodoxy which saw most research as being concerned with the
quantitative testing of hypotheses derived from the work of a few
favoured theorists. By contrast, the use of the grounded theory
approach enabled researchers to develop their own theories relating to
the substantive area which they were studying, and encouraged them to
use their creative intelligence to the full in doing so.
Although their initial formulation met with only limited interest, the
number of studies using the grounded theory approach has grown
steadily since the publication of Glaser and Strauss's methodological
treatise (see for example, "Reeves and Turner, 1972; Trimble et al.,
1972; Riley and Sermsri, 1974; Conrad, 1978; Turner, 1978; Mo,
1978; Miles, 1979; Melia, 1979; Ogier, 1979; Hawker, 1980). At the
same time there was a more general growth of interest in qualitative
approaches and in so-called "soft-data" social science (Erikson, 1978;
Whyte, 1979; Roos, 1979), perhaps stimulated by the expression of a
degree of disillusion with the more widespread quantitative methods
(Philips, 1971 ; Beteille, 1976).
0 033-5177/81/0000-0000/$02.50 9 Elsevier Scientific Publishing company
As a practising advocate of this approach to sociological research, I
am encouraged by these developments, for they seem likely to increase
the production of research which is detailed, non-trivial and of use to
lay-persons as well as to sociologists. At the same time, however, discussion with those embarking on qualitative research studies relating to a
wid'e range of substantive topics suggests that they frequently
encounter obstacles when attempting to use the grounded theory
approach because of the absence of detailed information about exactly
how qualitative data should be processed in order to develop grounded
theory. An analysis of seven texts on field methods (Sieber, 1976) highlighted this problem by pointing out that most of the publications
examined paid little attention to the problem of data analysis, rarely
devoting more than five to ten percent of their pages to the topic, and
failed to deal with many of the problems faced by researchers. More
recent work has extended the discussion of issues relating to qualitative
data analysis (Smith, 1978; Glaser, 1978; Miles, 1979) but a number of
aspects of the practical organisation of qualitative material for analysis
remain to be discussed, and it is with some of these aspects that the
present paper is concerned.
Set out below are the practical elements of a data-handling procedure
established by myself and a colleague * in 1968, immediately after
reading Glaser and Strauss's book (see Woodward, 1970). Since that
time, I have taught this procedure at graduate student and post-doctoral
levels and supervised its use in postgraduate research, as well as continuing to use it in my own research. Like Glaser (1978, p. ix) I would
not want to see an orthodoxy of approach imposed upon those using
grounded theory, and I would not suggest that the procedure set out
below is the only one which could be used: indeed there are some
points at which it diverges from Glaser's recent recommendations,
derived from his own, more extensive experience. But it is a procedure
which has been tried and found to work, and while it is set down here
primarily in order to help those embarking upon qualitative social
research, it may also serve to provoke discussion of possible improvements, or to draw out accounts of alternative procedures for handling
qualitative material.
The Use of Grounded Theory
The advantages for the researcher in using grounded theory are
many. It p r o m o t e s the development of theoretical a c c o u n t s and expla* T.K. Reeves, now Reader and Head of Research, Anglian Regional Management
Centre, Essex.
nations which conform closely to the situations being observed, so
that the theory is likely to be intelligible to, and usable by, those in the
situations studied, and is open to comment and correction by them.
The theories developed are likely to be complex rather than oversimplified ways of accounting for a complex world, and this quality is likely
to enhance their appeal and utility. A further advantage of the
approach is that it directs the researcher immediately to the creative
core of the research process, and facilitates the direct application of
both the intellect and the imagination to the demanding process of
interPreting research data.
Some reservations must be expressed. There are pitfalls for the unsophisticated in the use of the grounded theory approach, and inexperienced researchers need to remain aware of the dangers of developing indefensible arguments from their data. Brown (1973) and Trend
(1978) point to many of the dangers inherent in this approach, and in
the light of their comments, it might be suggested that the grounded
theory approach is likely to be of maximum use when it is dealing with
qualitative data of the kind gathered from participant observation,
from the observation of face-to-face interaction, from semi-structured
or unstructured interviews, from case-study material or from certain
kinds of documentary sources. By the same token, it is least useful when
dealing with large-scale structural features of social phenomena, such as
demographic trends or aspects of societal stratification systems.
While these reservations need to be borne in mind, they do not constitute major objections to the approach. It is appropriate, however, to
make one final introductory point. It is important to realise that the
grounded theorist is not able to mask poor-quality work behind an
array of impressive techniques, for what he is doing is very open to
scrutiny. The quality of the final research product arising from this
kind of work is more directly dependent upon the quality of understanding which the research worker develops during the course of the
investigation than is the case with many other approaches to social
inquiry (Glaser, 1978).
The Basic Problem of Dealing with Research Ideas
Research is concerned neither with the production of fantasies about
the world, nor with mere mechanical fact-gathering. In social inquiry,
there is an interaction between the researcher and the world, and in this
interaction, the "quality" of the properties of the world must be recognised and respected by the researcher. Research analysis is the process
of teasing out these properties and gaining a fuller understanding of
But equally, since any phenomenon has an infinite range of characteristics, the researcher's aim must be to choose the "right" aspects, the
"right" facts to solve his research problem, and these facts are often
elusive. Glaser (1978, p. 7) and Bailyn (1977) have both recently
drawn attention in different ways to the centrality of cognitive processes in some aspects of research, and no systematic consideration of
the methods of dealing with qualitative data can ignore the way in
which these cognitive processes work. Some of the decisions about
which facts to pursue are solved for the researcher by subconscious perceptual processes which influence what is observed, and other influences are exerted upon the direction of the analysis by the limited
information-handling capacity of the human brain. The understanding
which emerges from such research must thus be considered the product
of an interaction between the researcher and the phenomena under
study. This is true of all forms of research, including natural science
investigations (Polanyi, 1958; Selye, 1964; Watson, 1968; Ravetz,
1971) and quantitative social science (Bailyn, 1977), but it is particularly apparent to and salient for the researcher pursuing qualitative
social science investigations. The competent development of grounded
theory rests, in part, upon a sensitivity to these often tacit processes of
perceiving and understanding, and upon a willingness and an ability to
bring them out into the open for discussion.
Among the many texts which have addressed the general problems of
social research, some have concerned themselves specifically with the
problems of theory construction. The majority of such discussions
focus not so much upon the problems of discovering theory, or of
encouraging the development of extended cognitive forms, as upon the
problem of ordering sets of already discovered cognitions and propositions into logically consistent constructions (Blalock, 1969; Hage,
1965; Dubin, 1969; Willer, 1967; Willer and Willer, 1973). This issue is
not unimportant, but it does not deal directly with the particular processes of research discussed by Glaser and Strauss (1968). In some
ways, it is to be regretted that there has been no serious extended discussion of the principles underlying the generation of grounded theory,
for there is an element of polemic in Glaser and Strauss's advocacy of
grounded theory which leads them at times to overstress the extent to
which existing theory can be completely ignored, and to present their
approach as a radical and novel one, rather than as a call for a reassertion of some of the more traditional principles of social inquiry.
A few writers have touched, to a greater or lesser degree, upon the
cognitive issues central to theory production, and upon ways of dealing
practically with such issues. Mills (1959), Hammond (1964), Mullins
(1971), Schatzman and Strauss (1973), Baldamus (1976), Bailyn
(1977), Barzun and Graft (1977), Lowe (1977) and Stinchcombe
(1978) are all concerned in their different ways with the basic but
crucial research problems of how to record data, how to label or
classify data in ways which facilitate the rearrangement of the material
to reveal new properties, and how to tackle this reshuffling process. The
methods used to deal with these problems have often been highly idiosyncratic, and, although the problems recur in every research project,
they have seldom been thought of sufficient importance to warrant
detailed discussion. Bailyn's account is something of a landmark in this
respect, not only because she thoughtfully reviews the cognitive processes involved in dealing with survey data, but also because she submits for consideration two possible general principles of data analysis:
first, that to be maximally useful, data must be maintained at a
"proper" level of complexity, neither too simple nor too complex; and
second, the process of analysis is to be understood as proceeding by
means of a continual interplay between concepts and data (Bailyn,
1977, p. 101) [11.
Bailyn has begun the task of discussing the cognitive implications of
everyday, practical activities in the context of survey research, but
since, for qualitative researchers, the practical details of data handling
are even more closely associated with central aspects of research cognition, some form of explication seems to be desirable, and this is
attempted below.
The recent account by Glaser (1978), which deals extensively with
some problems faced by the grounded theorist, is less helpful than
might be anticipated on this point. Glaser offers much useful comment
on matters of general research strategy, on devices for stimulating creative thought in the course of the research process and on modes of
reconciling the demands of research with other major life-concerns. His
manual is, perhaps, best thought of as a guide to the finer points of
grounded theory generation for those already thoroughly immersed in
and familiar with the process. His dense and elliptical style, which
assumes a prior familiarity with the method, seems likely to deter
rather than to help those embarking for the first time upon work of this
For those starting research, Glaser suggests (pp. 3 3 - 3 5 ) that training
seminars may be the best way of acquiring the craft of generating
grounded theory, and I have successfully organised collaborative
training seminars along the lines that he recommends. For those who do
not have access to such seminars, it may be helpful to suggest that the
central principle of the process is concerned with tackling the cognitive
problems of data analysis by bringing them out into the open. The
research data are set out on cards or slips o f paper and are thus converted into a concrete, manipulable form. The problems o f analysis thus
become more overt so that they can be more readily tackled by consciously adopted strategies, rather than by the covert, intuitive means
often used. For this reason, the qualitative researcher needs at least two
distinct sets o f notes or files for data analysis. The first, conventional,
set will, o f course, permit the recording and storage of field data in any
appropriate way which makes it readily retrievable. But the second set
of research records is the one which makes it possible to manipulate
and analyse the data collected, and to develop a theoretical understanding. Through this second set of records, the researcher develops a
gradually changing, abstract representation o f the social world in a form
which can be re-arranged to let new aspects of its properties become
evident. Also, by presenting in a visible and available form those issues
which are at the same time the most intimate intellectual property o f
the researcher and the central themes o f the emerging theory, such
records have the further advantage o f facilitating communication
between research collaborators, or between graduate student and supervisor. It is with the development and use o f this second set o f records
that the remainder of this paper is concerned. The steps set out below
present one way of developing and handling emerging theoretical
representation by means of such a set of records.
The Stages of Grounded Theory
The following discussion attempts to deal with the difficulties posed
for starting qualitative researchers by the absence of detailed guidelines
for the handling of data. It does so by setting out a series of nine stages
in the handling of grounded theory, which are extracted from Glaser
and Strauss's account (1968), but which, in some cases at least, seem to
need additional clarification. The nine stages are set out briefly in
Table I [ 2].
We now consider each of the stages in Table I in turn, paying most
attention to the first stage, since that is the one least discussed by
Glaser and Strauss, and also the one with which students starting
qualitative analysis seem to find the most difficulty.
Schematic List of the Stages in the Development of Grounded Theory (extracted from Glaser
and Strauss (1968))
Main activity
Develop Categories
Use the data available to develop labelled categories
which fit the data closely.
Saturate Categories
Accumulate examples of a given category until it is clear
what future instances would be located in this category.
A bstraet Definitions
Abstract a definition of the category by stating in a
general form the criteria for putting further instances
into this category.
Use the Definitions
Use the definitions as a guide to emerging features of
importance in further fieldwork, and as a stimulus to
theoretical reflection.
Exploit Categories Fully
Be aware of additional categories suggested by those
you have produced, their inverse, their opposite, more
specific and more general instances.
Note, Develop and Follow-up Links between Categories
Begin to note relationships and develop hypotheses
about the links between the categories.
Consider the Conditions under which the Links Hold
Examine any apparent or hypothesised relationships and
try to specify the conditions.
Make Connections, where relevant, to Existing Theory
Build bridges to existing work at this stage, rather than
at the outset of the research.
Use Extreme Comparisons to the Maximum to Test Emerging Relationships
Identify the key variables and dimensions and see
whether the relationship holds at the extremes of these
S T A G E 1. D E V E L O P C A T E G O R I E S
In this initial stage, the researcher is presumed to have carried out a
certain amount of fieldwork, and to have collected some data, typically
in the form of transcribed tape-recordings, or field-notes. At this point,
the very first task to be tackled is the tentative labelling of the phenomena which the researcher has perceived, and which he considers to be of
potential relevance to the inquiry in hand [3]. In following the procedure myself, I deal with the material paragraph by paragraph, numbering the paragraphs for reference purposes. Starting with the first
paragraph of the transcript or notes, | ask "What categories, concepts or
labels do we need in order to describe or to account for the phenomena
discussed in this paragraph?" When I think o f a label, I note it down on
a 5" by 8" file-card, together with the number of the paragraph, and
file the card [4]. ! then check whether further cards are needed to note
further potentially significant phenomena referred to in this paragraph.
I generate cards with titles o f categories until I am satisfied with my
coverage of that paragraph, until ! seem to have noted all of those
features which are of significance to me, and then move on to the next
The labels used in this categorisation may be long-winded, ungainly
o r fanciful at this stage, and they may be formulated at any conceptual
level which seems appropriate, but it is crucial that they should possess
one essential property: as far as the researcher is concerned, the label
should fit the phenomenon described in the data exactly. If the fit is
not perfect, the words used should be changed and rechanged and
adjusted until the fit is improved, for the value of the whole approach
depends upon having this goodness of fit as the basis o f the subsequent
operations [51.
Table I!A gives an example of a paragraph taken from a set o f postgraduate field-notes which I have used on several occasions in classroom
exercises. Working on my own, ! would probably have produced three
or four categories, with their corresponding cards, from such a first
paragraph, depending upon my interests at the time. But to illustrate
the importance of the part played by t h e categorisers in interaction
with such material, I note in Table IIB the categories I have accumulated for this paragraph from three classes of six or seven postgraduate students as they discussed the material in successive years.
Table IIB represents the product of the interaction of 18 to 20 imaginations and intellects with the paragraph in question, and is .obviously too
much for such a brief note to '"bear" in an actual investigation, but it
illustrates the way in which a wide range of concepts fitting the data
under scrutiny may be produced. Which of the categories developed to
encompass a paragraph like this subsequently turned out to be useful
would depend upon the investigator's interests and upon the pattern of
subsequent data. In this case, the concept relating to the significance of
A. First Paragraph from a Set of Fieldnotes used for Analysis in Grounded Theory ClassExercises
Paragraph 1
A row o f lorries varying between 30 and 50 queue up every morning in front of the factory
to obtain their cement. All lorry drivers and owners place great importance to be first in the
queue as this means getting served first. This has added importance in times of cement shortages
when the cement outflow from the factory to the private sector is rationed and when the prices
of cement are high. In addition to cement customers who come from all over southern regions
of the country, there is also a set of lorry owners stationed in H . . . who act as transport agents
for other customers. Porcelli is one of these transport agents.
Source." Former factory manager who is embarking here upon a discussion of Porcelli's activities in the area.
B. Categories Generated (to be placed on cards) by Three Successive Classes of Students Analysing the Paragraph Above as a First Step in the Analysis of the Complete Account of Porcelli's
Cement shortage
Competitive behaviour among lorry drivers
Many agents transporting cement
Greater intensity of competition caused by cement shortage
Customers transporting their own cement
Role o f factory
Significance of queue system as a means o f distributing scarce resources
Economic context o f scarcity
PorceUi's role
Significance of time in relation to the queue
Routinised pattern for the distribution of goods
Importance of priority position in queue
the queuing system is one which seems to have been particularly fruitful, and that relating to the role of Porcelli is another. The first concept
has properties which make it easy to generalise from, so that it may be
linked to aspects of economic and political theory, while the second is a
much more locally tied idea which develops in the light of subsequent
data analysed. Figure 1 represents a file card showing a number of the
entries made relating to Porcelli's role in the situation under analysis.
In explaining aspects of this situation he is clearly a key figure, but if
we wish to develop more general formulations to embrace other versions of this very specific local category, we need to decide whether we
can see him as prototypical of some more general type, describable perhaps as "Third World entrepreneur" or as "Transport owner occupying
a significant position in Third World settings".
Figure 1 illustrates, in addition, a scheme for numbering cards for
Brief reminder
Card 10
Location in
field notes . . . . . . .
local transport agent
engaged in reciprocal political
intimidates some locals : eg lorry drivers
Para. 11
reciprocal economic enterprises
Para 1G
excessive influence with police ; eg incident
of police inspector
Para. 27
makes counter-announcements to the factory
with : Card
14, C a r d
See also C a r d 4 4 ?
Fig. 1. Example of Qualitative Data Category Card, showing Types of Information
cross-reference purposes. This scheme may have to be supplemented,
when the number of cards has grown, with an index o f card names and
numbers to help locate a particular card. Alternatively the cards may be
filed alphabetically.
Some category labels represent conceptual notions which the
researhcer finds particularly elegant or appealing, but frequently these
cards receive only one entry and prove to be irrelevant to the remainder
of the inquiry because the phenomena to which they refer do not recur.
The act of generating these category cards may, however, make the
researcher sensitive to the potential significance of these ideas in some
future investigation.
Other category labels may take the form of lengthy, ungainly titles,
produced because it is difficult to find a more concise form of words
which fits the phenomenon in question precisely. If these categories are
important ones which recur, they can be refined and expressed more
succinctly as the analysis proceeds. For example, I have one card which
was initially labelled:
"A cceptance of partial view of problem obscuring wider view.
Or/confusion of one factor with another (synecdoche?)"
To this, later in the analysis, ! added:
"Ignoring the beam because of concentrating on the mote"
Later still, this category card was combined with two others which l
felt dealt with essentially the same phenomenon:
"Acceptance of partial view of problem obscuring wider view of
"Chain phenomena"
Finally the term:
"Decoy phenomena"
was felt to e m b o d y the crucial features of concern to me in all of these
cases, and this term was subsequently defined more precisely and
incorporated into the emerging theory (Turner, 1976, 1978).
Other cards come to be seen by the researcher as forming part of a
group or a cluster, and this perception, too, can be noted on the card.
Thus, having produced the following category label:
"Ambiguous interpretation of evidence in loosely structured situation"
I later realised that many of the categories in this particular inquiry
related to forms of information difficulties, which were assigned numbers, and I was able to add the note "Information difficulty 16" to the
card. As a result of such cross-referencing, the emerging analysis had the
useful property that it did not merely refer in an aggregate way to
general information difficulties, but pointed also to an array of recognisable types of such difficulties which rendered it both more revealing
and more convincing. If I had begun with the idea of looking for information difficulties and simply checked off the numbers of confirming
instances found, I would have produced a final total, but ! would have
had no greater understanding of what might be called the " t e x t u r e " of
the phenomena being counted.
Having dealt in some detail with the first and most opaque step in a
grounded theory analysis, we may look more briefly at the remaining
eight stages, which Glaser and Strauss deal with more fully than the
first (Glaser and Strauss, 1968), and to which Glaser has also made
more recent reference (Glaser, 1978).
Stage 2. Saturate Categories
This term is used by Glaser and Strauss to refer to the process o f
accumulating additional examples o f categories until the researcher feels
confident that he or she is fully aware of what is meant when any new
phenomena encountered are classified into the category in question.
Stage 3. AbstractDefinitions
When the stage of "theoretical saturation" has been reached - it will
occur at different stages for different categories, and its recognition is a
matter of personal judgement for the researcher - the exacting task
must be tackled of stating explicitly, in terms of an abstract definition,
those qualities which are, up to that point, being recognised implicitly
when a new case is classified into the category concerned.
For example, in the categories associated with the Porcelli example
noted above, one category card produced had the title:
"Battle for control over a marginal area"
The definition produced for this category read:
"Many forms of authority relate to territorial areas: this leads to
particular attention centering upon the boundary areas between two
authorities' territories. This category refers to a situation in which a
marginal territory, not clearly under the control of either of the two
parties adjacent to it, forms the basis of a power struggle between the
two parties."
It can be seen that the task of producing definitions for the categories
which have arisen from the data is a demanding one, but it is crucial to
the analysis, and often develops a deeper and more precise understanding of the nature of the phenomena being examined. Very frequently it will be found that the "theoretical saturation" previously
perceived was spurious in that more than one type o f instance has been
classified under the given heading, because o f a superficial examination
of the events concerned. In such a case, in the light o f the more detailed
examination which the process of definition provokes, the two distinct
but related phenomena need to be separated out and dealt with individually.
Stage 4. Use the Definitions
When a definition has been produced, it will both sensitise the
researcher to recognise further instances of the phenomenon in question and stimulate further thinking. The category defined above was
derived from an examination of a quarrel over a queue for cement in a
Third World country, but in its new form, it suggests possibilities for
the extension of the inquiry in a number of directions. This is the process that the close examination o f the data is intended to stimulate.
When it happens, ideas, the most precious resource o f the researcher,
start flowing. They nee'd, of course, to be disciplined by being set up
against experience of t h e real world, by being subjected to empirical
test; but without the idea in the first place, the discipline of checking
would achieve nothing. Glaser (1978) has coined the term "drugless
trip" for the stimulating and productive intellectual processes which
occur when the process o f writing in a fairly restricted way about
definitions spills over into a more extensive and more discursive discus-
sion of the data and of the patterns of ideas needed to order the material collected. The energy of a "drugless trip", he suggests, should not
be dissipated by talking about the ideas: when the ideas start to flow,
write them down until all the links and insights have been captured.
Then talk to your friends or colleagues about them.
Stage 5. Exploit Categories Fully
If we wanted to develop further the category from the Porcelli case
mentioned above, we could note that the particular struggle mentioned
is one between a legal body, the company, and a semi-legal entrepreneur. This might lead us to ask questions about situations in which
such struggles might occur between other kinds of social entities:
between two legal bodies (say, between two companies); between two
nations (for example, between Morocco and Spain over the Spanish
Sahara); or between two people (between two tenants in a house over
access to the bathroom). We could note that all of these examples relate
to territory, and we could query whether, and thereby sensitise ourselves to the possibility that, marginal and disputed areas might exist
which do not relate to physical territories, but to other features of the
world, as, for example, to personal autonomy, or to time. Thus, for purposes of comparison, we might examine the characteristics of a dispute
between, say, a nurse and a nursing sister over activities in the nurse's
private life - how far can the sister intervene? - or over working time,
about whether the nurse should stay to work additional overtime [6].
We could also try to ask what properties of a marginal territory
might lead it to become involved in a dispute, and we could suggest the
possibility that, although territories are in principle allocated unambiguously, marginality comes about either because there is an
ambiguity over the allocation of authority (which probably fits the
bathroom and the cement queue disputes) or because the two parties
base their claims on different aspects of the same area. Thus, for example, Spain defended its possession of the Spanish Sahara on the basis of
present occupation of the area, while Morocco claimed it on behalf of
the indigenous inhabitants of the area. The nurse points to her right to
leisure time, while the senior nurse stresses that her staff have an obligation to assist with an urgeht situation on the ward.
What we have been doing here is building somewhat speculatively
upon a Single theoretical concept or category, one of not a very high
order of abstraction. From this base, we have produced a number of
related possible categories; a number of directions of thought; and a
number of provisional hypotheses. It is somewhat artificial and slightly
arbitrary to carry out such an exercise with a single category, but it
does illustrate some of the possibilities which the statement of the
properties of a theoretical category in a clear and abstract form makes
available. The abstract formulation frees us from the concrete instance
which has served to generate it, and enables us to look for similar
clusters o f properties at higher or lower conceptual levels, or in relation
to different social entities. The exercise thus suggests a number of
categories logically related to the initial one, but categories which are,
at the moment, merely empty, labelled boxes, with no empirical content. If we feel that some of these categories are likely to be important
for our investigations, the process of clarifying them and setting them
out in this way will sensitise us to their possible existence, so that we
are on the look-out for them when they do occur.
It is possible that the kinds of category exploitation which I have
been outlining in the last few paragraphs represent a kind o f activity
which Glaser advises the analyst to avoid, labelling it "logical elaboration" (Glaser, 1978, pp. 4 0 - 4 1 ) . It is certainly true, as Glaser suggests,
that there is a danger from such elaboration of exceeding the bounds of
the data and building up speculative theoretical edifices upon a flagmentary empirical base. But since there is a sense in which all theory
contains the potential for exceeding the bounds of the data from which
it was generated, it does not seem possible to avoid all forms of "logical
elaboration", or to maintain rigorously the distinction which Glaser
makes between "conceptual elaboration" which he regards as vital, and
"logical elaboration" which is undesirable. For some beginning
researchers, grasping the possibility o f constructing a series of abstract
elaborations which facilitate the perception of similarities between
phenomena which were initially regarded as different and non-comparable is the step which helps them to begin to think theoretically. It
might be suggested that the ability to construct a range of abstract
variations upon a given concrete piece of evidence is one of the skills
that the theorist must learn to develop. If this point is accepted, we
could then take from Glaser his warning that excessive logical elaboration in the absence of data may produce a thin, poorly grounded and
unconvincing theory.
Stage 6. Note, Develop and Follow-up Links between Categories
When we have worked through Stages 1 to 5 for a number of the
categories arising from the data which we are examining, we begin to
perceive links of various kinds. We will feel fairly confident about
attributing causal properties and causal direction to some o f these links,
while other links will be more tentative ones, which we may wish to
regard as hypothetical while we seek additional data to confirm or deny
the existence of the kind of relation we postulate.
An example of the first kind of linkage can be taken from the study
discussed above. The case data collected made it very clear that there
was a cause-and-effect relationship between the shortage of cement and
the action of the factory management in instituting a lorry queue to
share out the cement. At a slightly higher level of abstraction, this relationship could be expressed as one in which a "shortage of resources"
led to the "institution of a shortage allocation mechanism", but the
expression of such a provisional relationship provokes other questions,
such as whether there are other possible outcomes arising from a shortage of resources, whether queuing is the only form of shortage allocation mechanism which might be adopted, or whether there are other
options, such as rationing, restriction of demand by price increases, etc.
Stage 7. Consider the Conditions under which the Links Hold
This line of thought then raises the further question of the conditions under which one outcome occurs rather than another, and at this
point we have spilled over quite naturally into postulating linkages
between categories of the second, hypothetical type. If any of these
linkages seem relevant to the pursuit of our research, we can look for
further instances, using a number of approaches. We can, for example,
set up tentative typologies. Or better, we can base our typologies upon
data collected from disparate areas about the varieties of shortages, and
about the varieties of resource allocation mechanisms which exist or
which are likely to exist. Having made such connections, we might
perhaps want to draw upon those aspects of economic demand theory
which deal with such issues as the allocation of resources.
Stage 8. Make Connections, where relevant, to Existing Theory
It should, by now, be readily apparent that there is a considerable
difference between the procedure set out here, in which the researcher
approaches existing bodies of theory with questions and propositions
arising from the researcher's own detailed examination of a body of
data, and the alternative approach of beginning with a body of theory,
and courting the danger o.f trying to squeeze the data, willy-nilly, into a
form which fits the theory. In the first approach, we already have
criteria for deciding whether or not existing theory has anything useful
to contribute to our problem, and the suitability of the theory is
assessed by these criteria, whereas, by contrast, the second approach
weights the suitability and admissability of data by reference to criteria
developed from theory, and this second path is not one which is likely
to lead to discoveries about the world.
What is the nature of the theory that is likely to be developed using
a "grounded" procedure? The researcher should be warned that when
such an approach as has been detailed here is applied to a new area
which the researcher is entering, a large number o f categories are likely
to be developed in the early stages. But, because the number of categories .generated is a function o f our interaction with the data, as we keep
our particular zone of interest in mind, we find that, after a while, we
begin to build up a vocabulary of basic categories or concepts which
serves to express all that we feel is important and relevant about the
area in question, so that we need to add to the vocabulary much more
rarely. At this stage, the linkages which we see or suspect between the
different sets of categories begin to clarify, and we can readily start to
separate them out into differing clusters. Various physical activities
such as sketching diagrams of the links, writing about them, or sorting
the file cards into groups may be helpful in this process of crystallisation. When the emerging relationships are specified, they form the
nucleus o f a theoretical statement which, in its initial form, may not be
very elegant, but which nonetheless has as its major attributes:
(1) A closeness of fit with the area being studied which renders it
understandable to lay participants in that area. Thus Glaser and Strauss,
in pursuing their research into the care of dying patients (Glaser and
Strauss, 1965a, b), found that nurses could readily recognise, understand, use and correct the Glaser and Strauss theory about the behaviour of those dealing with dying patients. Similarly, and again because
o f this closeness o f fit, writings o f m y own which I regard as thoroughly
sociological are offered on a technology course as teaching material
which is readily comprehensible to technology students (Turner, 1976).
(2) A degree of complexity. The emerging theory is likely to have a
rather messy degree of complexity so that it is unlikely to fall readily
into a set o f simple logical propositions which express its essence. But
it should reflect, as faithfully as the researcher can manage, the complexities of that portion o f the world which has been studied. Because
of this characteristic, other people are likely to recognise this account
o f a portion o f the world, and when they tell y o u this, or add their own
confirming instances to y o u r formulation, y o u r confidence in the
theory will be that much increased (although, o f course, it is necessary
to try to recognise and, if possible, to allow for the propensity which
many people have to agree with any formulation which appears to bring
clarity to an area of confusion). Alternatively, the new theoretical
account may be recognised but rejected by others who know the area
concerned, and when this occurs the researcher has to ask the questions
basic to all scientific enquiry: "Are they wrong, am I wrong, or is there
some difference between the two sets of understandings which accounts
for the difference in view?"; and "What kind of evidence do we now
need to collect to settle this point to our joint satisfaction?". If answers
can be found for questions of this kind, the theory may need modifying
as a result, but with or without the modification, it will be stronger as
a result of such testing.
Stage 9. Use Extreme Comparisons to the Maximum to Test Emerging Relationships
At this point, our gradual progression has brought us to a discussion
of the use of the "constant comparative m e t h o d " which Glaser and
Strauss advocate (Glaser and Strauss, 1968). They suggest that, in order
to try to determine the limits of the propositions developed in the
emerging theory, an active search should be made for confirming and
disconfirming instances. Further, they suggest that this should be done
by identifying the central proposition or propositions of the emerging
theory, specifying the key variables and dimensions which are likely to
affect these propositions, and then trying to seek out situations in
which the various variables are pushed to their limits, in order to check
whether or not the original effects still hold.
Perhaps because I have been reluctant to follow the advice expressed
very forcibly in Glaser's most recent publication (Glaser, 1978), to concentrate and focus emerging theoretical statements until they relate to a
single social phenomenon, and preferably one that can be expressed as a
gerund: "dying" (Glaser and Strauss, 1965a, b), "negotiating" (Glaser,
1978); or perhaps because I have been interested in phenomena which
more naturally fell into more extensive patterns, I have not, in m y own
work, had propositions which I wished to press in this manner. As a
result (and it may well be that m y own work has suffered from this
omission) this final stage of the process of grounded theory generation
is one on which I cannot c o m m e n t from personal experience. For those
who do wish to explore and buttress central propositions of their
emerging theory in this manner, however, the logic of Glaser and
Strauss's .formulation is clear enough. The reasoning is again basic to all
scientific inquiries, and runs thus:
If we are interested in a particular kind of social behaviour, such as
"complaining", and we have explored this behaviour principally under
certain conditions of relative status, how does the activity vary if our
subject is complaining to someone of equal status, to someone of lower
status, or to someone of higher status? Will our emerging theory predict
variations here, and are they borne out if we seek out instances of
hospital patients complaining to their fellow patients, to the domestic
staff in the hospital, or to the surgeon who is about to operate on
them? Would we expect that the religion of one or both parties would
change the observed behaviour, and could we check out our predictions
by seeking out an all-Jewish hospital, or an all-Catholic hospital, and so
In one sense, this is the kind of question that statistically-based
survey analyses are designed to handle, and the option is open to the
regearcher, at this stage of theoretical development, to look for large
numbers o f similar cases in order to try to confirm or disconfirm
propositions which have emerged from a small number of cases, or to
try to look at the effect on the central behaviour pattern, of variables
which are difficult to pin down on the basis o f a few cases. But there is
an alternative option, for the researcher who has developed a complex
theory which is comprehensible to people in the area to which it relates,
which fits their situation closely, may feel that sufficient confirmation
can be developed b y the expenditure of research resources in a different
direction. Thus, he may want to solicit feedback from other social
scientists working in and familiar with the field dealt with by the
theory, or from lay-people familiar with the field. Or he may be content to gain confirmation of points which seem to be insecure by
carrying out relatively small-scale survey investigations (Arnold, 1970;
Finsterbusch, 1976a, b). The more it becomes possible to predict
behaviour in fields remote from those in which the initial data were
gathered, selected on the grounds that they take certain of the variables
to extremes, the more confidence will it be possible to place in the
theory. Glaser and Strauss's b o o k The Awareness of Dying (1965)
demonstrates this process very well.
Relationship of the Procedure Outlined to Survey Research
Those newly embarking upon the qualitative analysis o f research data
are sometimes uncertain of the relationship of the material processed
by such procedures as those set out above to the material gathered and
examined by the more widely used survey research methods. I would
suggest that the processes underlying the procedures described above
run through all research, survey and otherwise, so that in this sense, we
are discussing two aspects o f a single phenomenon.
Good survey research does not spring into existence in a vacuum, but
depends upon the researcher being able to ask the "right" questions,
questions which are of theoretical relevance, and questions which are
understandable in and crucial to the substantive area under investigation. Survey research cannot, o f course, be atheoretical, for even if
there appears to be no theoretical content, the key, face-sheet variables
which appear and which are manipulated as a matter of course in all
survey research themselves constitute a theoretical base, one which
postulates that the relevant behaviour can satisfactorily be accounted
for on the basis of various permutations of age, sex, occupation,
religion and so on (Baldamus, 1976, pp. 132-4).
If good questionnaires are to be developed for high-quality survey
research, it is essential that the research worker be familiar with the
area which he or she is researching. While it is possible that a person
with long experience and intimate knowledge of a particular area might
be able to develop a good questionnaire without further investigation,
most researchers will have to carry out a preliminary study, particularly
if they are interested in a theoretically underdeveloped area. The processes of grounded theory outlined above apply perfectly to the activities carried out by researchers having a preliminary "look round" and
finding out about the area before "research proper" starts. Many survey
investigations merely provide quantitative evidence of imperfectly
analysed concepts developed intuitively and in an unaccounted-for
manner in this preliminary pilot or pre-pilot stage. Applying the procedure outlined above to this stage seems likely to improve the quality of
subsequent survey work.
After concluding such an initial exploratory stage, the course of
action which is most appropriate for the researcher depends upon the
questions to be asked, and upon the aims of the research. If the questions to be asked are essentially those of what has been called "sociography", questions about the incidence of a particular form of behaviour
over a wide area, then survey methods would seem to be the appropriate tool to use. If, however, there are further theoretical and practical
problems which require the elaboration of the theory beyond the state
which it has attained in the pilot stage, then it is possible to gather
further data, guided by the developing grounded theory, and thus to
extend the existing theory further.
The quantitative and the qualitative modes of research, however, are
not polar opposites, and there is no need to pursue one to the exclusion
of the other, for at any stage, emerging questions may be quantified by
the use of survey-based techniques, if this is thought appropriate (see
for example, Suttles, 1968): the use of multiple methods for the study
of a single phenomenon has recently been advocated, so that a composite or "triangulated" outcome can be developed, after conflicting
observations arising from the different approaches have been resolved
(Trend, 1978).
This p a p e r has p r e s e n t e d practical details o f a tested and tried p r o c e dure w h i c h it is h o p e d will be o f use to researchers facing the p r o b l e m
o f analysing qualitative data, and p a r t i c u l a r l y to t h o s e i n t e r e s t e d in the
use o f g r o u n d e d t h e o r y . Behind the p r e s e n t a t i o n o f this p r o c e d u r e lies a
c o n c e r n t h a t the processes o f research should be as o p e n as possible, so
t h a t n e i t h e r the p r o c e s s e s o f research n o r their findings are s u b j e c t e d to
m y s t i f i c a t i o n s w h i c h conceal their true n a t u r e f r o m o t h e r researchers,
f r o m the subjects o f research, or f r o m t h o s e seeking to u n d e r s t a n d the
research findings w h e n t h e y are r e p o r t e d . T h e r e is, o f course, an e l e m e n t
o f risk in a d v o c a t i n g such f r a n k n e s s , for the r e s e a r c h e r w h o lays his
p r o c e d u r e s o p e n to public s c r u t i n y m a y s u d d e n l y discover t h a t , like the
e m p e r o r , he has n o clothes. But it w o u l d seem, in general, t h a t the
interests o f social research can o n l y be f u r t h e r e d b y m o r e discussion o f
the details o f research p r o c e d u r e s , p a r t i c u l a r l y t h o s e w h i c h are close to
the creative c e n t r e o f t h e o r y building.
1 The process of "double fitting" between data and concepts which Baldamus suggests to be pervasive in research analysis is clearly closely related to the matters
touched on by Bailyn's second principle (Baldamus, 1976, pp. 29 and 40).
Roethlisberger, ruminating upon the process of research, has suggested that it is
important "to treat the territory as complex and keep the map simple"
(Roethlisberger, 1978, p. 139). This seems to be less useful than Bailyn's notion
of maintaining the appropriate degree of complexity, and the unenthusiastic
reception given to the analytical sections of Roethlisberger's book may derive in
part from the fact that'he followed his own precept rather than Bailyn's (Whyte,
1978; Roy, 1980).
2 In one sense, Table I covers the whole of the process of the generation of
grounded theory, from initial data analysis to final theory development, but it is
more appropriate to regard the steps set out in this table as a sequence of operations which need to be iterated, either in whole or in part, many times during a
research study. Glaser's (1978) account of strategies of grounded theory development is more concerned with strategies for differing kinds of iterations of
these basic stages than with an explanation and discussion of the stages themselves.
3 The significance of this initial step, which can appear to the beginner trivial, or
frustatingly difficult, or both, has been set out very clearly in a natural science
context by Selye:
"The human brain is so constructed that it refuses to handle thoughts unless
they can be wrapped up more or less neatly in individual idea-packages. It is
astonishing how much confusion has been caused by the failure to understand
the following three simple facts:
(a) Thoughts, like fluids, can be adequately handled (isolated, measured,
mixed, sold) only when put up in individual containers.
(b) The thought-packages contain previous experiences; only the selection
within the wrapping can be new. We can have no thoughts of things whose likeness we have never perceived before.
(c) The thought-packages, the idea-units, are very loosely bound together and
their contents are not h o m o g e n o u s . . . " (Selye, 1964, p. 268).
4 Glaser (1978, pp. 7 1 - 7 2 ) expresses a preference for writing category titles or
"codes" in the margin of carbon copies of field notes, subsequently cutting up
these carbons for sorting, and he declares that index cards are a hindrance. I find
his suggested method cumbersome and unworkable, but the precise technique
chosen is clearly one of convenience and personal taste.
5 Since the process described is dependent upon the interaction of researcher and
data, it is possible that someone with interests in conversational analysis or
ethnomethodology might find enough material in such a first paragraph to occupy much of their enquiry, but I am assuming that, in general, those who use the
present approach are more likely to be interested in what we might call the
"topics" of interaction than to wish to concentrate exclusively upon an analysis
of the finer and more detailed questions of how, in particular situated contexts,
particular "topics" are introduced and handled by members of the culture being
studied, or by the researcher in his field-notes.
6 Since writing this paragraph, I have encountered a recent article which makes
precisely this transition from concepts generated in relation to territory to the
use of the same concepts in relation to time, drawing parallels between frontier
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