Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Inside the Black Box: Revealing the Process in Applying a Grounded Theory Analysis

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Inside the Black Box: Revealing the Process in Applying a Grounded Theory Analysis

Article excerpt

As I have taught courses on qualitative inquiry, I often use two kinds of texts to teach analytical methodology: (a) original writings proposing new methods, and (b) studies that utilize those methods. The former helps me to explain the rationale and philosophy behind the methods, and the latter helps students to see the results of using a particular approach. My experience has demonstrated that most of these latter studies deservedly focus on context, findings, and discussion. Though researchers seem to agree on the importance of getting the methods right in a study (Berg, 2007; Denzin & Lincoln, 2005; Merriam, 1998; Patton, 2002), application of qualitative analytical methods seldom receive the type of attention in published articles that one might give in a traditional dissertation. Original papers proposing methods certainly give this sort of attention to detail of process, but such manuscripts are necessarily devoid of the rich context present in a research study, making it difficult to see the situational constraints and considerations of implementing a specific analysis. Yet, the problem, as Tracy (2010) recently pointed out, "research on learning...demonstrates that novices and advanced beginners in any craft...rely heavily on rule-based structures to learn" (p. 838). The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how to conduct a specific qualitative analysis in the context of a single study. Specifically, this article focuses on a generic grounded theory analysis, as outlined by Glaser and Strauss (1967), Strauss and Corbin (1990), and Charmaz (2002).

The data collected for this study were not originally intended to be used in a grounded theory analysis. A critical eye will quickly reveal that there are problems with such an approach. First, because of the way qualitative data are often collected, the analytical method used actually influences data collection. Thus, applying an analysis post-hoc may violate epistemological and methodological assumptions. Second, as rich as the data may be, they may be insufficient for satisfying the concerns or recommendations of a particular approach, such as Spradley's (1980), which requires researchers to return to the studied environment after initial analysis and ask clarifying questions of participants. Despite these valid concerns, my students have found it useful to be able to see how a particular analytical approach is carried out within the specific context of a study. It is equally beneficial to reveal the oft-hidden thinking behind one's analytical procedures.

The significance of this paper is in shifting the focus on providing rich data explaining how I applied recommended procedures in the context of a study through a grounded theoretical analysis, rather than the implications of the study itself (though I personally think the implications of the example study are intriguing, too). I first provide a brief discussion of grounded theory and its theoretical and methodological considerations. Based in this literature, I then present the step-by-step process I conducted to use grounded theory in analyzing a single interview. This analysis is followed by a discussion of the findings and how I refined them. Finally, the article concludes with personal insights and concerns over using a grounded theoretical approach to data analysis.

To better understand grounded theory, the following section briefly discusses its roots and theoretical assumptions. This is followed by practical recommendations for analytic procedures.

Grounded Theory

"Theory must fit the situation being researched, and work when put into use."

(Glaser & Strauss, 1967, p. 3)

Glaser and Strauss (1967) invented grounded theory a theoretical approach that systematically bases itself on the empirical world in order to find emerging theories that can then be applied for interpretation. This does not mean that grounded theory is to be used for testing theories. …

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