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What Is Grounded Theory?

When a topic has so little research documented in the literature that there is no theory to guide practice, deductive reasoning and quantitative research may not be the most appropriate types of methods. Grounded theory is a qualitative method used to identify the "main concerns of subjects and the behaviors they use to resolve their main concerns" (Artinian, 2009, p. 3). It may not be familiar to the student and to many of those in practice. The article by McBroom and Ganong (2017) in this issue used grounded theory. The authors chose to investigate the parenting of divorced mothers of children with type 1 diabetes mellitus.

Grounded theory is a qualitative research method, so the processes used are inductive, rather than deductive. Grounded theory uses data to generate theory, and ultimately, produce hypotheses that account for the behavior seen for further research and testing (Stern & Porr, 2011).

With deductive reasoning, the investigator tests the hypothesis by removing extraneous data or variables to get a clear picture of the most likely cause(es) of the problem. Inductive reasoning includes as much information as possible about each case, including the context of the cases, and then looking for similarities. When multiple participants use the same words or very similar words or behave in the same or similar ways, the researcher makes note of that. As the instances are recognized, they are given a code. Interviewing and observations over time are the classic means of generating codes, but not the only ways they can be generated. When the codes intersect and phenomena are identified, these may be the core concept or concepts identified for subsequent theory and research question generation.

In their classic Naturalistic Inquiry, Lincoln and Guba (1985) described characteristics for evaluating the trustworthiness of qualitative methods, which are the equivalents of validity and reliability criteria for research.

Designs using qualitative methods differ from quantitative, deductive methods in the following ways:

* The design of the research is focused on the research question or questions, rather than on testing hypothesis.

* The interviewer or data collector must avoid any preconceived notions about the topic, participants, and culture. The interviewer is expected to be non-directive and objective.

* The investigator's awareness of surroundings, presence of others, and the participant's non-verbal gestures and facial expressions is crucial to recording and examining the context of data. Field notes (detailed descriptions about the setting, the persons, their non-verbal expressions, and behaviors) are frequently made at each visit.

* Interviewing or other data collection methods used are to be objective and non-directive. The interviewer(s) may have an interview guide they use and can clarify a point the person makes, but their own interpretation is not interjected.

* Generally, the participant is asked to review data (member checks) to verify it is what he or she said and meant. Ideally, data are collected from participants until researchers or consultants agree there is sufficient repetition of codes so no new information is gained from additional sessions.

* Once the investigator(s) decide they have the data coded correctly, they ask experienced researchers to review their coding and conclusions (data audit).

There are several schools of grounded theory research, and methods may change based on their philosophy and outcomes. McBroom and Ganong (2017) conducted phone interviews to gather data for the study. They recorded these interviews so they could code and analyze data as described above. The authors state the study limitations clearly, which include only the mother's viewpoint being considered.

Future or additional studies could include the mother, father, the child, and siblings, or another relative or other person who has in-depth knowledge of the family and their dynamics. Similarly, the authors note that they had participant mothers from a relatively small sector of the population. Future studies might focus on a broader sample of participants, and perhaps include more social and racial diversity.

Conflict between former partners was common years after a divorce, and that this variable was likely to impact with management of the child's type 1 diabetes mellitus. In fact, the management of the disease over time, including parents, the child, teachers, and close relatives or others, is another topic for research that has scant literature. Use of qualitative methods might shed light on the individual motivation, relationships, and variables that promote or interfere with independence and self-management in young adults with type 1 diabetes mellitus.

The article by McBroom and Ganong (2017) may lead to many avenues of future research, and it may open the door to other methods and types of participants. Learning more about grounded theory and how such findings may apply to working with families and patients may improve family-centered care initiatives.


Artinian, B.M. (2009). An overview of Glaserian grounded theory. In B.M. Artinian, T. Giske, & P. Cone (Eds.), Glaserian grounded theory in nursing research (pp. 3-18). New York, NY: Springer.

Lincoln, Y., & Guba, E. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

McBroom, L.A., & Ganong, L. (2017). Mother's parenting responsibility after divorces. Pediatric Nursing, 43(6), 283-287.

Stern, P.N., & Porr, C.J. (2011). Essentials of accessible grounded theory. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.


Jean Ivey, PhD, CRNP, PNP-BC, FAANP, is a Curriculum Consultant and Part-Time Adjunct Professor, University of Alabama at Birmingham, School of Nursing, Birmingham, AL, and a member of the Pediatric Nursing Editorial Board.

Review of:

McBroom, L.A., & Ganong, L. (2017). Mother's parenting responsibility after divorces. Pediatric Nursing, 43(6), 283-287.

With Demystifying Research, nursing research leaders comment on some aspect of a research article featured in the issue, with the aim of helping the reader better understand research. Look for Demystifying Research in each issue of Pediatric Nursing.
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Title Annotation:Demystifying Research
Author:Ivey, Jean
Publication:Pediatric Nursing
Article Type:Report
Date:Nov 1, 2017
Previous Article:Mothers' Parenting Responsibility After Divorce.
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