Week 4 – Assignment: Create an Instructor’s Presentation to Teach Students about Qualitative Research Designs

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Create an instructor’s presentation to teach students about qualitative research designs. This week, you were presented with three different qualitative research designs. Determine the value of each of the five designs explored over the last two weeks, and then critique the utility of each one relative to your research problem. Create a narrated PowerPoint presentation that includes the following:

  • Cover and references slides (these do not contribute to sliding count)
  • The problem to be investigated (your problem statement from Week 1)
  • A critique of five qualitative research designs
  • Comparison and contrast of the value of these designs
  • Defense of your selection of one of the designs covered this week for your proposed dissertation research study. 
  • Note: This presentation should be usable in a teaching environment

Length: 8- to 10-slide PowerPoint narrated presentation. Speaker notes (minimum 200 words per slide)

Your presentation should demonstrate thoughtful consideration of the ideas and concepts presented in the course and provide new thoughts and insights relating directly to this topic. Your response should reflect scholarly writing and current APA standards. Be sure to adhere to Northcentral University’s Academic Integrity Policy. Upload your document and click the Submit to Dropbox button.

SAGE Research Methods Video

An Introduction to Grounded Theory

Pub. Date: 2016

Product: SAGE Research Methods Video

DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781473991798

Methods: Grounded theory, Constructivism

Keywords: practices, strategies, and tools

Disciplines: Anthropology, Business and Management, Criminology and Criminal Justice, Counseling and

Psychotherapy, Education, Geography, Health, Nursing, Political Science and International Relations,

Psychology, Social Work, Sociology

Access Date: January 13, 2023

Publishing Company: SAGE Publications Ltd

City: London

Online ISBN: 9781473991798

© 2016 SAGE Publications Ltd All Rights Reserved.

[An Introduction to Grounded Theory]

KATHY CHARMAZ: Hello. [Kathy Charmaz, PhD, Professor, Department of Sociology, Sonoma State

University] My name is Kathy Charmaz, and I am a professor of sociology and director of the faculty

writing program at Sonoma State University. In this tutorial, I will be introducing the grounded theory

method, outlining its historical emergence and defining constructivist grounded theory, a contempo-

rary form of the original method.

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: I will be covering the following main points. [Presentation Topics]

The definition of grounded theory, the emergence of grounded theory, and the constructivist turn in

grounded theory. [The definition of grounded theory, The emergence of grounded theory, The con-

structivist turn in grounded theory] I will start with a short interview excerpt and show how to proceed

with the analysis. It’s important to understand grounded theory, because it has shaped the develop-


KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: of qualitative methods and is the frequently chosen method. [An In-

terview Excerpt] Now I’m going to talk about an interview excerpt. This quote was said by a woman

who has a very serious cancer and a prognosis that

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: is not promising. So now she’s facing a much shorter life. “Whereas

I expected to live a ripe old age, I was going to live to 105, it’s like now, will I live to 60? Probably?

Probably. But I can’t take it for granted the way I used to.

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: It’s like there’s a compactness and a preciousness, and little things

have more importance. I don’t take things for granted, and it’s certainly changed how I work as a ther-

apist.” In grounded theory, we start analyzing our data by coding. So in this example, I’m analyzing

the excerpt

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: that we just talked about. [Coding the Excerpt] First, I came up

with facing a shrinking future, relinquishing assumptions of a long life, seeing preciousness and little

things, and changing ways of working. [Facing a shrinking future, Relinquishing assumptions of a

long life, Seeing preciousness in little things, Changing ways of working] These are codes that will

get me started on the analysis. [What is grounded theory?]

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: So starting with an initial definition, grounded theory methods consist

of a systematic approach to inquiry with several key strategies for conducting inquiry. [Grounded

Theory methods: Consist of a systematic approach to inquiry with several key strategies for conduct-

ing inquiry] The purpose of grounded theory is to construct new theory for the collected data that

accounts for these data.


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Page 2 of 6 An Introduction to Grounded Theory

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: Grounded theory favors theory construction over description, con-

structing fresh concepts over applying received theory, theorizing processes over assuming stable

structures. [Grounded Theory Favors Theory construction, over description, Constructing fresh con-

cepts, over applying received theory, Theorizing processes, over assuming stable structures] There

are defining features of this method. Grounded theory starts as an inductive method.

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: It’s definitely a comparative method. It’s an interactive method, be-

cause you interact with the data and with your participants and then with the analysis as you’re de-

veloping it. It’s iterative, in that you go back and forth between data and analysis, data and concepts,

your data

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: and the categories that you’re developing. Grounded theory is also

abductive, in that you may come up with some surprising findings and then have to think of all possi-

ble theoretical explanations for these findings that you subsequently go and check. [Grounded The-

ory Features, Inductive, Comparative, Interactive, Iterative, Abductive] The major grounded theory


KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: include, first of all, coding which I just talked about. And then we

move to memo writing, which is writing about our codes, our analysis, the gaps in our coding. The-

oretical sampling is one of the most misunderstood ideas about grounded theory and strategies.

[Grounded Theory Strategies, Coding, Memo writing, Theoretical sampling] Basically, theoretical

sampling means

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: sampling for your key categories. [Theoretical Sampling: Sampling

for your key categories] You have to have a tentative theoretical category to engage in theoretical

sampling. It is not the same as sampling for status requirements like gender, age, religion, ethnicity.

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: Those might be important to start with, but those are not theoretical

sampling. Theoretical sampling is about categories. And then theoretical sorting and integration

deals with the sorting of your categories and how you are putting them together to frame your theory.

[Grounded Theory Strategies, Coding, Memo writing, Theoretical sampling, Theoretical sorting and

integration] [What is the logic of the grounded theory method?]

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: What is the logic of grounded theory? It’s an iterative and compara-

tive logic, where you move back and forth between data and an increasingly abstract analysis. [itera-

tive and comparative logic] And while you’re doing that, you engage in these systematic comparisons

that I mentioned, of data with data, data with codes, codes with codes, and codes with categories.

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: This is an example of comparing data from the interview excerpt

that I just talked about. “When I look at the sunset realize it’s really very beautiful I don’t think I don’t


(c) SAGE Publications Ltd., 2017

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Page 3 of 6 An Introduction to Grounded Theory

take things for granted. I’m much more in the moment.” Here are the codes I derived from comparing

data. And you notice that I compared data between data

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: from the same person. You can also compare data from other peo-

ple, from other situations, from other incidents. But in this case I compared treasuring the moment

and living in the moment as the codes. With emerging grounded theory categories, you consider all

possible theoretical understandings

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: of the data, and then you construct a tentative category. You gather

data to fill out the properties of this category. And then you check the category against new data.

[Emerging Grounded Theory Categories, Consider all possible theoretical understandings of the da-

ta, Construct a tentative category, Gather data to fill out properties for this category, Check catego-

ry against new data] [Why is grounded theory useful?] Grounded theory offers a conceptual under-


KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: of the studied data. It provides tools for summarizing, synthesizing,

and analyzing data. I emphasize analyzing data, because grounded theory is one method that helps

you break the data apart and really look at it closely, rather than just pulling it together.

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: Grounded theory gives you focus and flexibility. [The Historical Con-

text of Grounded Theory] Now we turn to the historical context, in which Barney Glaser and Anselm

Strauss first developed grounded theory. [Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss] Research methods by

1965 were dominated

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: by quantitative methods. And qualitative research had waned, al-

though there had been such a strong tradition of qualitative research throughout the history of soci-

ology. Quantitative researchers did impose their criteria on qualitative research, and of course quali-

tative research

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: could not adhere to that of those criteria. In 1967, The Discovery

of Grounded Theory, Glaser and Strauss’s famous book, first appeared. In this book, what did they

challenge? Glaser and Strauss disputed a number of dominant assumptions in quantitative research

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: and in research more generally. First of all, they disputed views of

qualitative research as impressionistic and anecdotal. They also challenged notions of qualitative re-

search as only a precursor of forming quantitative tools. And they challenged the arbitrary division

between theory and research.

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: [Assumptions of Quantitative Research Disputed by Glaser and


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Page 4 of 6 An Introduction to Grounded Theory

Strauss, Views of qualitative research as impressionistic and anecdotal, Notions of qualitative re-

search as only a precursor of forming quantitative tools, The arbitrary division between theory and

research] Glaser and Strauss disputed the elite control theory construction. They challenged apply-

ing canons of quantitative research to evaluate qualitative research, and they also argued against

the descriptive level of many qualitative studies. [Disputed Assumptions of Quantitative Research,

Elite control of theory construction, Applying the canons of quantitative research to evaluate qualita-

tive research, The descriptive

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: level of qualitative studies] [What is constructivist grounded theory?]

Constructivist grounded theory preserved strategies of the original method, such as coding, memo

writing, and theoretical sampling, but adopts a new epistemological foundation and integrates

methodological developments of the past five decades.

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: [Constructivist Grounded Theory, Adopts a new epistemological

foundation, Integrates methodological developments of the past five decades] Constructivist ground-

ed theory adopts the abductive, emergent, comparative, an open-ended approach of the original ver-

sion. It includes Strauss’s abductive logic. [abductive logic] It emphasizes action and meaning inher-

ent in pragmatism. Constructivist grounded theory also answers

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: criticisms of the earlier versions of grounded theory it highlights

its flexibility and resists mechanical applications of the method. [Constructivist Grounded Theory,

Emphasizes action and meaning inherent in pragmatism, Answers criticisms of earlier versions of

grounded theory, Highlights flexibility and resists mechanical applications of the method] Construc-

tivist grounded theory addresses its implications for data collection. [Why has constructivist grounded

theory developed?]

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: Constructivist grounded theory places the researcher, the research

process, and product in social, historical, cultural, situational, and interactive context. Constructivist

grounded theory acknowledges the researcher’s subjectivity in social positions, and it calls for reflex-

ivity about the process

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: and about one’s own decisions. The following figure shows con-

structing grounded theory at a glance. The figure shows graphically the steps that you use and go

through as you’re doing grounded theory. It may give you a firmer idea of what I have been talking

about, but it summarizes everything I’ve

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: said in the past few minutes. [Conclusion] To conclude, this presen-

tation gives you a brief overview of grounded theory, the historical context of its emergence, and the

constructivist version of the method. For further reading, you can pursue


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Page 5 of 6 An Introduction to Grounded Theory

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: a study of grounded theory in the following three books. My book,

Kathy Charmaz, Constructing Grounded Theory. The second edition is much more in-depth and has

many more examples. Juliet Corbin and Anselm Strauss, the 2015 Basics of Qualitative Research.,

KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: which is their fourth edition, revised by Julie Corbin. And last, but cer-

tainly not least, the book that started everything, Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss, 1967, The Dis-

covery of Grounded Theory. [Further Reading, Charmaz (2014). Constructing grounded theory (2nd

ed.)., Corbin & Strauss (2015). Basics of qualitative research (4th ed.)., Glaser & Strauss (1967).

The discovery of grounded theory.]



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Page 6 of 6 An Introduction to Grounded Theory

  • SAGE Research Methods Video
  • An Introduction to Grounded Theory

SAGE Research Methods

Doing Development Research

Author: Jan Kees van Donge

Pub. Date: 2011

Product: SAGE Research Methods

DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781849208925

Methods: Case study research, Focus groups, Survey research

Disciplines: Anthropology, Geography, Political Science and International Relations, Social Policy and Public

Policy, Social Work, Sociology

Access Date: January 13, 2023

Publishing Company: SAGE Publications, Ltd

City: London

Online ISBN: 9781849208925

© 2011 SAGE Publications, Ltd All Rights Reserved.

Ethnography and Participant Observation

· · What is ethnography? · · Ethnography and development studies · · Ethnography and the devel-

opment practitioner · · The distinctive contribution of ethnographic methods

What is ethnography?

Ethnographic research methods attempt to study social life as it unfolds in the practices of day-to-day life.

These methods avoid as much as possible artificial research situations. Artificiality is obvious in some in-

stances, particularly in the highly controlled experimental method, but it is found also in other methods. For

example, the interview situation in surveys using highly controlled questions is a social construction. In par-

ticipatory rural appraisal (PRA), meetings are set up specifically to ask questions that people may never ask

spontaneously. From the ethnographic point of view, the ideal is not to be noticed as an observer and to be

accepted as a normal member of social life, as this results in minimal disturbance. Such participant observa-

tion is, however, an ideal that is rarely reached in practice. Artificial research situations, to a certain degree,

usually enter the social field that is being studied. The word ‘ethnography’ emerged in the period of Euro-

pean expansion to denote the observation of exotic peoples. It is thus in its origin closely associated with the

confrontation of different cultures. The latter makes it especially relevant for development studies as a con-

frontation between cultures is inherent in development work.

Ethnography and development studies

There is widespread scepticism about the suitability of ethnographic methods in the field of development. Re-

search for development management has often to give answers to support urgent decision-making. Ethnog-

raphy, on the other hand, often requires a large investment in time. First, one must gain the confidence of the

people to be studied so that one can be near to them and therefore able to carry out the research. Second,

it often involves the need to at least get acquainted with another language. If one masters the language, one

must ideally be at home in specific group languages. Third, systematic observation of behaviour takes time.

An image is gradually built up of what is happening in a particular social setting on the basis of continued

observation.1 As research proceeds and one gathers more and more data, the question arises as to when


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Page 2 of 12 Doing Development Research

data change into insights. The moment of wider understanding usually occurs when one gets repetitive re-

sults, but it is difficult to say when exactly that happens. Boredom is often a threat to the researcher when

stories become repetitive, but that is usually the sign of understanding. In ethnographic research it is there-

fore difficult to see how far one has progressed, and this is obviously difficult to reconcile with the need for

deadlines. Ethnographic research methods were therefore a major butt of attack in Robert Chambers’s call

for more relevant development research: he argued that ‘quick and dirty’ research methods were needed if

findings were to be related to practical action (Chambers, 1974, 1983).

Nevertheless, development organizations these days increasingly commission ethnographic-style research.

A major reason for this is dissatisfaction with the PRA methods. Indeed, these can make development or-

ganizations quickly acquainted with a community, but the answers they give often lack depth. The same an-

swers emerge in many different situations; for example, wealth ranking will usually result in distinguishing a

few rich households, a large number in the middle and an underclass of extremely poor. This is compounded

by an increasing awareness that dominant interests often overshadow others in participatory meetings. The

relevance of observation, the hallmark of ethnographic methods, to check and deepen these images through

watching people and situations, taking notice of casual conversation and the divergent opinions of individuals

therefore becomes apparent.

A second major reason for development organizations favouring ethnographic-style research is the growing

awareness of the unexpected effects resulting from development interventions. The open-minded observation

employed by ethnographic methods, more than other methods, can focus attention outside the field of ex-

pected outcomes. This can be illustrated with an example (see Box 19.1).

Box 19.1 Unexpected outcomes and ethnographic methods

Family Life Training Centres were established in Central Kenya where mothers of malnourished children

could regain strength and learn about methods of nutrition. An evaluation found that these did not perceptibly

change knowledge or patterns of nutrition, nor did they have any long-term impact on the growth of children. It

found, however, that many women attending these nutrition centres were poor and in the process of divorce.

Land in Central Kenya is in the hands of men and therefore divorce provokes for women a crisis in livelihood

in this peasant society. A stay in a nutrition centre was a way to reorganize their lives. The centres had thus

no effect on malnutrition, but their establishment had important effects as shelter for women in a vulnerable


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Page 3 of 12 Doing Development Research

situation. (Summarized from Hoorweg and Niemeijer, 1981)

This finding was actually revealed through a survey, but it illustrates the need to have an open mind in planned

intervention. If one simply compares intended output with outcomes, then one must come to the conclusion

that the Family Life Training Centres are a failure. However, such a position overlooks important, unintention-

al effects of the intervention, which in this case can be valued positively. Free-ranging observation outside the

bureaucratic, programmed culture of terms of reference, etc., is particularly valuable for this.

The work of Norman Long (2001) is particularly significant in this respect. He sees development interventions

as taking place in an interface of cultures where there is a continuous adaptation, struggle and meshing of

cultural elements and social practices. The language that talks in terms of target populations and that expects

a linear process from intervention to outcomes is wanting. The intervening actors are not steering society as a

machine but are only some actors among the many in the ongoing struggles to create social practices. Long’s

perspective on planned intervention clarifies a wide spectrum of policy interventions. Such interaction at the

interface can, for example, be seen in election observation. Observers will stress neutrality: adherence to in-

ternational standards often based on human rights. However, their presence and findings play a significant

role in the ongoing local political process. Interaction between a local political culture and the political culture

of outsiders is essential to understand what is going on. There is thus a growing awareness that confrontation

between cultures is inherent in development practice.

While development practitioners may thus increasingly appreciate the value of ethnographic assessments,

they still have need of short-notice information relevant to management. To fulfil this need, researchers, es-

pecially social anthropologists, increasingly provide ethnographically inspired reports at short notice. This is

possible because the stress on the long-term commitment in ethnographic methods appears to have been

too simplistic. First, some societies are much more open than others, and this allows the researcher to enter

relatively quickly into the culture. Second, if ethnographers have done an elaborate study before, then they

can often work much faster on subsequent occasions. This is especially the case if the previous study was in

the society in question or a closely related one. Third, ethnographic methods are difficult to codify, but training

in anthropology gives people a penetrating attitude towards looking at social practices that is often referred to

as the ‘anthropological eye’.


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Ethnography and the development practitioner

The anthropological eye refers to an ability to observe oneself and the social environment. The usefulness

of this ability is not necessarily restricted to researchers but can be very beneficial to practitioners as well.

They can be participant observers in their own situation. Researchers in development are often not sufficiently

aware that the principal may direct attention to the target population, whereas participant observation in a de-

velopment project including the principal may be more productive. The probable reason for this obliviousness

to their own social context is the demythologizing, sometimes even subversive, character of exercising the

anthropological eye: if it is used in an all-embracing manner, discrepancies between what people (including

practitioners as well as the target population) say and how they act become apparent. A beautiful example of

this comes from the work of David Mosse on participatory rural appraisal methods based on his own partici-

pation in these exercises:

While from the point of view of the ‘outsider’ development workers an organized PRA is an informal

event, in social terms the PRA is often highly formal and public: PRAs are group or collective ac-

tivities; they involve important and influential outsiders (even foreigners); they take place in public

spaces (schools, temples, etc.); they involve the community representing itself to outsiders; and in-

formation is discussed publicly, recorded and preserved for use in planning. Such activities are far

from informal, everyday life. It seems highly probable that this social formality imposes a selectivity

on the kind of information which is presented and recorded in PRAs. (Mosse, 1994: 508)

A training in ethnographic methods makes journal-keeping — generally an ordinary part of development work

— a more productive exercise. Ethnographic research requires extensive journal-keeping to keep track of all

the observations. These notes usually seem random in the beginning and not leading anywhere. However,

insights into social practices often suddenly emerge from these notes. For example, I had difficulty collect-

ing meaningful statements from people while doing research in the Uluguru Mountains in Tanzania. People

talked a lot but said very little. I interpreted this as a failure on my part to penetrate that society. However,

another interpretation emerged while I was repeatedly writing about those remarks without social meaning. It

was an essential trait of that society to avoid commitment in conversation, as they did not trust each other:

people were gregarious (e.g. they came together in large numbers around Catholic churches on Sunday and

on market days), but they were extremely private as regards emotions and opinions.

An anthropological eye — and ear — entails the ability to build insights on interpretations of everyday life and


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this enriches working with research assistants who are insiders in the societies being studied. While working

in a ranching area in Namibia, we found ourselves in a situation where doubt arose about the number of cat-

tle kept on a particular farm. We heard from a neighbour that there were far more animals on the farm than

stated by the farmer in question. It also transpired then that the informant was a close friend of the research

assistant’s mother. She was a Tswana whereas the neighbour overstocking the farm was Herero. Implicit in

the remarks made was a confrontation of cultures showing distrust between the two groups.

The distinctive contribution of ethnographic methods

While ethnographic research may essentially entail an attitude rather than a set of codified methods, never-

theless, there are a number of definite elements to be found in ethnographic work.

First, ethnographers depend primarily on observation. An ethnographic approach adopts a distrust of society

as it is presented to us. On entering a community, one is presented with a particular interpretation of the social

reality. A confrontation of these ideas with observations makes this explicit. For example, in an attempt to

find the ultra-poor in Dedza district in Malawi, observing housing, clothes, etc. could identify only these. Agri-

cultural extension workers considered them as failures and thus not interesting. Chiefs wanted to introduce

relatives in the first place as benefits were expected from contacts with outsiders. On the other hand, obser-

vation is an important tool to correct preconceived ideas of researchers. For example, small livestock is often

overlooked in African rural studies, and casual observation may show the importance of goats, sheep, etc.

Second, ethnographic research implies an open approach. It avoids as much as possible framing a research

situation beforehand, for example through formulating particular, detailed questions. Ethnographers often use

checklists to fall back on when asking questions or observing, but these should be continuously adapted in

the light of information gained. The purpose of interaction with informants is to elicit responses rather than

get answers to particular questions. The fundamental awareness in ethnographic research is that one has to

learn gradually the language that allows one to ask sensible questions as one penetrates deeper into that

society. During my research in the Uluguru Mountains in Tanzania I was regularly confronted with the remark

‘he has water’ (ana maji) or the reverse. The meaning of this statement became clear only when I discovered

how important access to a small perennial stream was for irrigating vegetable plots in the dry season. What-

ever one hears in open or loosely structured conversation should always be checked against observation. If

one works with research assistants, it is often fruitful for each to write up independently what each has seen


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Page 6 of 12 Doing Development Research

and heard and then confront each other with differences. In this way, interpretation is built up as well.

Third, ethnographic research uses the case study method. It studies particular situations in depth and makes

no claims to be statistically representative. It is wrong, however, to conclude that case studies have no wider

significance. Indeed, if a case study is merely an apt illustration of a particular point made, then its importance

is marginal. However, a good case study involves systematic analysis in depth.

This can be done in two ways. First, it is possible to collect a large number of instances that are then classified

to see particular patterns emerging. For example, in a study of land conflicts, I collected cases from regular

court sessions. These were then categorized as relating to sale of land, border disputes, inheritance, etc. It

transpired that an appreciation of inheritance and the social construction of a past was crucial to understand-

ing the number and virulence of these conflicts. Second, it is possible to study a particular situation intensively

so that a very detailed analysis emerges. This process has been dubbed by the anthropologist Geertz (1993)

as ‘thick description’. This methodology is particularly associated with the Manchester School in social an-

thropology. Gluckmann (1961: 5) gave the following concise definition: ‘The anthropological case study is a

method that seeks to illuminate principles of social organisation by examining in detail a single social event,

or case’. It is also referred to as the analysis of social drama or the extended case study method (Van Velsen,

1967). Intensive analysis of social situations leads to the emergence of a particular social structure and/or

culture. This then allows us to perceive similar or contrasting patterns in other situations (see Box 19.2 for an


Box 19.2 Anthropological case study as a method of ethnographic research

Porter et al. studied the Australian-sponsored Magharini project in Western Kenya. After a few years it ap-

peared that this project was based on wrong assumptions. Nevertheless, there were strong pressures to

continue. The authors provide an elaborate analysis of the use of surveys and cost-benefit analysis in these

struggles. Cost-benefit analysis is based on the assumption that we know future costs and benefits reason-

ably well. Its value is limited in situations where that is not the case. Nevertheless, actors in this case clung to

the arguments in the form of cost-benefits. Porter et al. then analyse it as a ritual to cope with insecurity. Prop-

er reading of this case leads to the asking of sceptical questions in any situation where cost-benefit analysis

is used. (Summarized from Porter et al., 1991)


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Fourth, ethnographic methods try to understand society from the inside. The essential question to be asked

is: How would I feel if I were in the situation of the people studied? Ethnographic research is often close-

ly related to symbolic interactionism. It tries to understand through language the lifeworld of people — their

interpretation of the world — that structures social practices (Berger and Luckman, 1966). For example, in

Africa urban migrants often continue to cultivate strong links with the rural areas from which they or their rel-

atives originate. This structures in turn investment behaviour, as shown in the following example from Buhera

in Zimbabwe:

Even after a lifetime of urban employment and urban family life, people want to be buried in their

rural homestead. Thus we can also understand a migrant worker’s effort to establish a rural home-

stead (musha) at some stage in his urban career. Although he may stay with wife and children in

town and has no economic need to supplement urban income with agricultural production, a ‘tradi-

tional’ round cooking hut has to be constructed. It is possible, therefore, to see homesteads that are

occupied by family members, or absent migrant workers who leave their fields uncultivated or hire

people to work the land for them. Building a homestead on a plot of some few acres is an expression

of a migrant worker’s membership of the rural community and, subsequently, of the naturalness of

being buried there. (Andersson, 2001: 106)

Such an interpretation of cultures is, of course, most relevant for development interventions. In the case of

Buhera district, it meant, for example, that the interest in rural links was not synonymous with an interest in

agriculture. With regard to any intervention in agriculture, it must be borne in mind that urban migration is the

dominant and most prestigious way to make a living, despite appearances to the contrary, as shown in the

building of houses.

Development interventions usually assume a logic of intention or cause and effect. Such a logic may not make

sense in particular cultural configurations. This is a field where ethnographic assessments can be a partic-

ularly potent means of analysis. This is also an area where methods can be developed that give relatively

fast results. For example, one can translate project documents into local languages and read these to key

informants to hear reactions. Another way in which the logic of development interventions can be confronted

with local cultures is through developing a set of statements that refer to the logic of the intervention. These

should be balanced, with an equal number of statements supporting or opposing the intervention. The idea

that there is a correct answer should be avoided; the statements are primarily meant to elicit responses. For



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The targeted input provision (TIP) programme in Malawi distributes free inputs ? fertiliser and seeds

? to poor households. Underlying this programme is the belief that people value growing their own

food rather than buying it and that this is especially the case for poor people. We asked respondents

to react to fifteen statements relating to this, and their responses showed a clear and consistent cul-

tural pattern.

In response to the statement: ‘Not growing one’s own food is a reason for shame’, people typically

gave responses such as the following:

‘It is shameful when you do not have your own food because whenever you go looking around for

maize to buy, people perceive you as a beggar who is totally desperate and stranded for food. This

is unlike when you have your own food whenever you have need of it.’

‘Not growing one’s own food results in a loss of trust in rural areas because the reliable source of

livelihood is farming.’

In response to the statement: ‘People who do not grow their own food are not necessarily poor’, we

had comments such as:

‘This is not true because, in a village set up, most of the people that are poor are also those who do

not grow their own food.’

‘Someone who has food is in control of the money because those who have nice clothes do not have

then to exchange their clothes into food. In fact, for someone to put on trousers means his belly is

full. Without food, the trousers will fall down. (Summarized from Van Donge et al., 2001: 20–21)

Ethnographic methods can thus be an inspiration to develop new ways of obtaining relevant cultural insights,

clarifying what is happening around development interventions. However, it is difficult to give a toolbox to that

end. First, it depends upon something that can be cultivated but not learnt: empathy with people who live total-

ly different lives from ourselves. Second, ethnographic methods often involve a cultivation and development

of observation, an essential activity in everyday life. The best way to develop an aptitude for ethnographic

research is therefore to read ethnographic studies that stimulate emulation. Above all, one should beware of

one’s own cultural dispositions. Often, a particular rationality is imputed to actors where there may be none, or

where there may be one functioning in quite different values systems. For many people, it is tempting to see

behaviour as resulting from conscious choice guided by what is perceived as immediate economic self-inter-


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Page 9 of 12 Doing Development Research

est. Such a culturally determined assumption in behaviour is common in North America and Western Europe,

but ethnography is needed precisely to set this culture in its relative place.


Ethnographic methods study the daily flow of social life.

• Ethnographic methods used to be considered unsuitable for development research as they were

time-consuming and not immediately policy relevant

• There is a growing re-appreciation of ethnographic methods in development because of: (a) the real-

ization of the limitations of PRA methods; (b) an awareness of the unexpected effects of development

intervention; and (c) the emerging view of development as a cultural encounter

• Development practitioners can benefit from training in ethnographic methods as it enriches the un-

derstanding of the situations in which they find themselves

• Good ethnography is dependent on standard techniques only to a limited degree, but it requires a

sensibility to culture, an appreciation of the value of observation and intuitive empathy. These ele-

ments are sometimes referred to as the ‘anthropological eye’, which is difficult to define

• Nevertheless, there are concrete elements that distinguish ethnography as a method: (a) a reliance

on observation; (b) an open approach in questioning; (c) a reliance on the case study method; and

(d) an understanding of behaviour from inside a society instead of imposing a logic of cause and ef-

fect on social situations


1. Ethnographic methods are closely related to the idea of grounded theory: one starts research with as few

pre-conceived ideas as possible but general concepts are formulated as they emerge from the observations

(Strauss and Corbin, 1990).



Why would development practitioners call for an ethnographic study instead of other methods when results


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Page 10 of 12 Doing Development Research

of an intervention are unexpected?


What is the benefit of ethnographic methods in the training of development practitioners (policy analysts or



Why is the idea of a cultural interface so important in development interventions and why is this relevant for

ethnographic methods?


Ethnographic study stresses observation above all. Why can this be particularly fruitful in a social situation

where normative discourses on development dominate?

Futher Reading

The best way to understand the special contribution of ethnography to development studies is reading ex-

emplary work. The following article is an ethnographic account of a development intervention in the field of

health: Yamba, Bawa(1997)Cosmologies in turmoil: witchfinding and Aids in Chiawa, Zambia,Africa, 67: (2),


The work of David Mosse is especially influential in the promotion of ethnographic methods in development

studies: Mosse, David(2004)Is good policy unimplementable? Reflections on the ethnography of aid policy

and practice,Development and Change, 35: (4), 639–673

The following book does not contain consistent ethnographic work, but it gives a superb insight based on

close ethnographic observation in the search for certainty in development interventions: Porter, Doug, Allen,

Bryant and Thompson, Gaye(1991)Development in Practice: Paved with Good Intentions, London: Rout-

ledge, Chapter VI ‘Institutions for managing uncertainty’.

The link between ethnographic methods and a general theoretical orientation stressing an actor-oriented ap-

proach can be found in: Long, Norman(2001)Development Sociology: Actor-Oriented Perspectives, London:



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Page 11 of 12 Doing Development Research


Andersson, Jens A.71(1)(2001)82–112

Berger, Peter L. and Luckman, Thomas(1966)The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology

of Knowledge, Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Chambers, Robert(1974)Managing Rural Development: Ideas and Experience from East Africa, Uppsala:

Scandinavian Institute of African Studies.

Chambers, Robert(1983)Rural Development: Putting the Last First, London: Longman.

Geertz, Clifford(1993)The Interpretation of Cultures, London: Fontana.

Gluckman, Max9(5)(1961)5–17

Hoorweg, Jan and Niemeijer, Rudo(1981)The Effects of Malnutrition Rehabilitation at Three Family Life Train-

ing Centres in Central Province, Kenya, Leiden: African Studies Centre.

Long, Norman(2001)Development Sociology: Actor-Oriented Perspectives, London: Routledge.

Mosse, David23(3)(1994)497–527

Porter, Doug, Allen, Bryan and Thompson, Gaye(1991)Development in Practice: Paved with Good Intentions,

London: Routledge.

Strauss, Abselm and Corbin, Juliet(1990)Basics of Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory Procedures and

Techniques, Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Van Donge, Jan Kees, Chivwaile, Mackenzie, Kasapila, William, Kapondamgaga, Prince, Mgemezulu, Over-

toun and Sengore, Noel(2001)A Qualitative Study of Markets and Livelihood Security in Rural Malawi, Module

2.2 of the evaluation of the TIP 2000–2001 Targeted Inputs Programme, Lilongwe: DFID Malawi and Ministry

of Agriculture and Irrigation Malawi.

Van Velsen, Jaap(1967)The extended case study method and situational analysis, in A.L. Epstein (ed.), The

Craft of Social AnthropologyLondon: Tavistock.

van DongeJan Kees



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  • SAGE Research Methods
  • Doing Development Research
    • Ethnography and Participant Observation
    • What is ethnography?
    • Ethnography and development studies
    • Box 19.1 Unexpected outcomes and ethnographic methods
    • Ethnography and the development practitioner
    • The distinctive contribution of ethnographic methods
    • Box 19.2 Anthropological case study as a method of ethnographic research
    • Summary
    • Note
    • Futher Reading
    • References

SAGE Research Methods

An Applied Guide to Research Designs: Quantitative,

Qualitative, and Mixed Methods

Author: W. Alex Edmonds, Thomas D. Kennedy

Pub. Date: 2019

Product: SAGE Research Methods

DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781071802779

Methods: Research questions, Experimental design, Mixed methods

Disciplines: Anthropology, Education, Geography, Health, Political Science and International Relations,

Psychology, Social Policy and Public Policy, Social Work, Sociology

Access Date: January 13, 2023

Publishing Company: SAGE Publications, Inc

City: Thousand Oaks

Online ISBN: 9781071802779

© 2019 SAGE Publications, Inc All Rights Reserved.

Quantitative Methods for Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Research

Part I includes four popular approaches to the quantitative method (experimental and quasi-experimental on-

ly), followed by some of the associated basic designs (accompanied by brief descriptions of published studies

that used the design). Visit the companion website at study.sagepub.com/edmonds2e to access valuable

instructor and student resources. These resources include PowerPoint slides, discussion questions, class ac-

tivities, SAGE journal articles, web resources, and online data sets.

Figure I.1 Quantitative Method Flowchart

Note: Quantitative methods for experimental and quasi-experimental research are shown here, followed by

the approach and then the design.

Research in quantitative methods essentially refers to the application of the systematic steps of the scientific

method, while using quantitative properties (i.e., numerical systems) to research the relationships or effects

of specific variables. Measurement is the critical component of the quantitative method. Measurement reveals

and illustrates the relationship between quantitatively derived variables. Variables within quantitative methods

must be, first, conceptually defined (i.e., the scientific definition), then operationalized (i.e., determine the ap-

propriate measurement tool based on the conceptual definition). Research in quantitative methods is typically

referred to as a deductive process and iterative in nature. That is, based on the findings, a theory is supported

(or not), expanded, or refined and further tested.

Researchers must employ the following steps when determining the appropriate quantitative research design.


© 2017 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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Mixed Methods




First, a measurable or testable research question (or hypothesis) must be formulated. The question must

maintain the following qualities: (a) precision, (b) viability, and (c) relevance. The question must be precise

and well formulated. The more precise, the easier it is to appropriately operationalize the variables of interest.

The question must be viable in that it is logistically feasible or plausible to collect data on the variable(s) of

interest. The question must also be relevant so that the result of the findings will maintain an appropriate level

of practical and scientific meaning. The second step includes choosing the appropriate design based on the

primary research question, the variables of interest, and logistical considerations. The researcher must also

determine if randomization to conditions is possible or plausible. In addition, decisions must be made about

how and where the data will be collected. The design will assist in determining when the data will be collected.

The unit of analysis (i.e., individual, group, or program level), population, sample, and sampling procedures

should be identified in this step. Third, the variables must be operationalized. And last, the data are collected

following the format of the framework provided by the research design of choice.

Experimental Research

Experimental research (sometimes referred to as randomized experiments) is considered to be the most pow-

erful type of research in determining causation among variables. Cook and Campbell (1979) presented three

conditions that must be met in order to establish cause and effect:

Covariation (the change in the cause must be related to the effect)

Temporal precedence (the cause must precede the effect)

No plausible alternative explanations (the cause must be the only explanation for the effect)

The essential features of experimental research are the sound application of the elements of control: (a) ma-

nipulation, (b) elimination, (c) inclusion, (d) group or condition assignment, or (e) statistical procedures. Ran-

dom assignment (not to be confused with random selection) of participants to conditions (or random assign-

ment of conditions to participants [counterbalancing] as seen in repeated-measures approaches) is a critical

step, which allows for increased control (improved internal validity) and limits the impact of the confounding

effects of variables that are not being studied.

The random assignment to each group (condition) theoretically ensures that the groups are “probabilistically”

equivalent (controlling for selection bias), and any differences observed in the pretests (if collected) are con-

sidered due to chance. Therefore, if all threats to internal, external, construct, and statistical conclusion va-

lidity were secured at “adequate” levels (i.e., all plausible alternative explanations are accounted for), the dif-

ferences observed in the posttest measures can be attributed fully to the experimental treatment (i.e., cause

and effect can be established). Conceptually, a causal effect is defined as a comparison of outcomes derived


© 2017 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

SAGE Research Methods

Page 3 of 6 An Applied Guide to Research Designs: Quantitative, Qualitative, and

Mixed Methods

from treatment and control conditions on a common set of units (e.g., school, person).

The strength of experimental research rests in the reduction of threats to internal validity. Many threats are

controlled for through the application of random assignment of participants to conditions. Random selection,

on the other hand, is related to sampling procedures and is a major factor in establishing external validity

(i.e., generalizability of results). Randomly selecting a sample from a population would be conducted so that

the sample would better represent the population. However, Lee and Rubin (2015) presented a statistical ap-

proach that allows researchers to draw data from existing data sets from experimental research and examine

subgroups (post hoc subgroup analysis). Nonetheless, random assignment is related to design, and random

selection is related to sampling procedures. Shadish, Cook, and Campbell (2002) introduced the term gener-

alized causal inference. They posit that if a researcher follows the appropriate tenets of experimental design

logic (e.g., includes the appropriate number of subjects, uses random selection and random assignment) and

controls for threats of all types of validity (including test validity), then valid causal inferences can be deter-

mined along with the ability to generalize the causal link. This is truly realized once multiple replications of the

experiment are conducted and comparable results can be observed over time (replication being the operative

word). Though, recently there have been concerns related to the reproducibility of experimental studies pub-

lished in the field of psychology, for example (see Baker, 2015; Bohannon, 2015).

Reproducibility could be enhanced if the proper tenets of the scientific method are followed and the relevant

aspects of validity are addressed (i.e., internal and construct). Researchers tend to gloss over these con-

structs and rarely report how they ensured the data to be valid, often assuming that a statistical analysis could

be used to “fix” or overshadow the inherent problems of the data. Bad data is clearly the issue, which lends

to a great computer science saying “Garbage in, garbage out.” To be more specific, taking the appropriate

measures to ensure design and test validity, the data will be more “clean,” which results in fewer reporting

errors in the statistical results. Although probability sampling (e.g., random selection) adds another logistical

obstacle to experimental research, it should also be an emphasis along with the proper random assignment


Although this book is more dedicated to the application of research designs in the social and behavioral sci-

ences, it is important to note the distinction between research designs in the health sciences to that of the

social sciences. Experimental research in the health or medical sciences shares the same designs, although

the terminology slightly differs, and the guidelines for reporting the data can be more stringent (e.g., see

Schultz, Altman, & Moher, 2010, and Appendix H for guidelines and checklist). These guidelines are designed

to enhance the quality of the application of the design, which in turn leads to enhanced reproducibility. The

most common term used to express experimental research in the field of medicine is randomized control tri-


© 2017 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

SAGE Research Methods

Page 4 of 6 An Applied Guide to Research Designs: Quantitative, Qualitative, and

Mixed Methods

als (RCT). RCT simply infers that subjects are randomly assigned to conditions. The most common of the

RCT designs is the parallel-group approach, which is another term for the between-subject approach and is

discussed in more detail in the following sections. RCTs can also be crossover and factorial designs and are

designated under the within-subjects approach (repeated measures).

Quasi-Experimental Research

The nonrandom assignment of participants to each condition allows for convenience when it is logistically

not possible to use random assignment. Quasi-experimental research designs are also referred to as field

research (i.e., research is conducted with an intact group in the field as opposed to the lab), and they are also

known as nonequivalent designs (i.e., participants are not randomly assigned to each condition; therefore,

the groups are assumed nonequivalent). Hence, the major difference between experimental and quasi-exper-

imental research designs is the level of control and assignment to conditions. The actual designs are struc-

turally the same, but the analyses of the data are not. However, some of the basic pretest and posttest de-

signs can be modified (e.g., addition of multiple observations or inclusion of comparison groups) in an attempt

to compensate for lack of group equivalency. In the design structure, a dashed line (- – -) between groups

indicates the participants were not randomly assigned to conditions. Review Appendix A for more examples

of “quasi-experimental” research designs (see also the example of a diagram in Figure 1.2).

Because there is no random assignment in quasi-experimental research, there may be confounding variables

influencing the outcome not fully attributed to the treatment (i.e., causal inferences drawn from quasi-experi-

ments must be made with extreme caution). The pretest measure in quasi-experimental research allows the

researcher to evaluate the lack of group equivalency and selection bias, thus altering the statistical analysis

between experimental and quasi-experimental research for the exact same design (see Cribbie, Arpin-Crib-

bie, & Gruman, 2010, for a discussion on tests of equivalence for independent group designs with more than

two groups).


© 2017 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

SAGE Research Methods

Page 5 of 6 An Applied Guide to Research Designs: Quantitative, Qualitative, and

Mixed Methods

Figure I.2 Double Pretest Design for Quasi-Experimental Research

Note: This is an example of a between-subjects approach with a double pretest design. The double pretest

allows the researcher to compare the “treatment effects” between O1 to O2, and then from O2 to O3. A major

threat to internal validity with this design is testing, but it controls for selection bias and maturation. The two

pretests are not necessary if random assignment is used.

It is not recommended to use posttest-only designs for quasi-experimental research. However, if theoretically

or logistically it does not make sense to use a pretest measure, then additional controls should be imple-

mented, such as using historical control groups, proxy pretest variables (see Appendix A), or the matching

technique to assign participants to conditions.

The reader is referred to Shadish, Clark, and Steiner (2008) for an in-depth discussion of how to use linear

regression and propensity scores to approximate the findings of quasi-experimental research to experimental

research. They discuss this in the greater context of the potential weaknesses and strengths of quasi-experi-

mental research in determining causation.



© 2017 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

SAGE Research Methods

Page 6 of 6 An Applied Guide to Research Designs: Quantitative, Qualitative, and

Mixed Methods

  • SAGE Research Methods
  • An Applied Guide to Research Designs: Quantitative, Qualitative, and Mixed Methods
    • Figure I.1 Quantitative Method Flowchart
    • Figure I.2 Double Pretest Design for Quasi-Experimental Research

SAGE Research Methods

The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research in


Author: Kathy Charmaz, Karen Henwood

Pub. Date: 2017

Product: SAGE Research Methods

DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781526405555

Methods: Narrative research

Keywords: grounded theory, grounded theory, qualitative methods, qualitative methods, psychology,

psychology, data analysis, data analysis, coding, coding, theories, theories, data collection, data collection

Disciplines: Psychology

Access Date: January 13, 2023

Publishing Company: SAGE Publications Ltd

City: London

Online ISBN: 9781526405555

© 2017 SAGE Publications Ltd All Rights Reserved.

Grounded Theory Methods for Qualitative Psychology

Kathy Charmaz Karen Henwood


This chapter discusses the grounded theory method and its evolution over sixty years since sociologists

Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss (1967) put forth their original statement of the method. They presented

grounded theory as consisting of flexible, successive analytic strategies to construct inductive theories from

the data. Over the past few decades, many qualitative psychologists have adopted grounded theory, as we

outline below. We draw on developments in diverse sub-fields of psychology, interdisciplinary research, to

which psychologists contribute, and selected contributions from key grounded theory researchers and re-

searcher-practitioners within allied health and social disciplines.

While our chapter is targeted at issues customarily discussed about a particular methodology and set of in-

quiry methods, we limit our historical view of the method and instead write from the perspective of the pre-

sent. We want our readers to have ready, up-to-date access to the substance, character, and developing use

of grounded theory method, and to current debates about these methods. Grounded theory, as one of us

has previously argued (Henwood and Pidgeon, 2003), is not a unitary method but a useful nodal point where

contemporary issues in qualitative social science are discussed. The method originated in sociology but has

become a general method that has informed qualitative inquiry across and between disciplines. We aim to

capture fundamentals of these discussions but because of the vast number of relevant works, our review here

is illustrative rather than exhaustive.

The Logic, Emergence and Use of Grounded Theory

Grounded Theory Logic

Grounded theory methods consist of a systematic inductive, comparative, iterative, abductive and interactive

approach to inquiry with several key strategies for conducting inquiry (Charmaz, 2006, 2014, 2015a). As

grounded theorists, we integrate and streamline data collection and analysis through making systematic com-


© Wendy Stainton Rogers and Carla Willig 2017

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Page 2 of 35 The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research in Psychology

parisons throughout inquiry by interacting with our data and emergent analyses. By making comparisons, we

define the properties or characteristics of our codes and categories, discern research participants’ and our

own assumptions about the studied phenomenon, make implicit meanings and actions explicit, connect our

categories, and delineate the implications of our analyses. In addition, our comparisons lead us to identify

negative cases (i.e. cases that do not fit the patterns we define in the data) and puzzling findings.

Since its inception, a major contribution of grounded theory has been its emphasis on simultaneous data

collection and analysis. The iterative process of going back and forth between data collection and analysis

prompts us to increase both the abstract level and precision of our emerging categories. We start analysing

data from the beginning of our data collection and begin building inductive theoretical analyses but do not

stop with inductive logic. Rather, we check and refine our emerging theoretical ideas about the data while

keeping these ideas grounded in data.

In this sense, grounded theory methods are abductive (Charmaz, 2014; Richardson and Kramer, 2006;

Strübing, 2007) because we rely on reasoning to account for surprising discoveries we find in the data by

entertaining all conceivable theoretical explanations of them. Then we proceed to check these explanations

empirically through further data collection – to pursue the most plausible theoretical explanation (Deely, 1990;

Peirce, 1938/1958; Rosenthal, 2004; Shank, 1998; Stainton Rogers, 2011). Thus, a strength of grounded the-

ory is that our budding conceptualisations can lead us in the most useful – perhaps a new or unanticipated –

theoretical direction to understand our data.

Both the turn away from the positivist heritage in psychology and a growing interest in constructivism make

grounded theory particularly appealing. Researchers with either objectivist or constructivist proclivities can

adopt grounded theory strategies. Like many researchers in other fields, some psychologists such as An-

drews et al. (2009) and Scull, Mbonyingabo and Kotb (2016) continue to use Strauss and Corbin’s (1990,

1998) early texts to frame their studies. By now, however, numerous qualitative psychologists adopt the con-

structivist version of grounded theory (e.g. Buckingham and Brodsky, 2015; Byrne et al., 2011; Martin and

Barnard, 2013). The constructivist approach embraces reflexivity and takes positionality into account – of

the researcher’s starting points and standpoints before and during inquiry, as well as the conditions shaping

the research situation, process, and product. Constructivists view data as contingent upon language, co-con-

structed with participants, and rooted in relationships and the social, cultural, historical, and situational condi-

tions of its production.


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In contrast, objectivists assume that they make discoveries in a real world separate from themselves and

develop theories whose generalisations transcend particularities. How objectivists and constructivists use

grounded theory strategies differs. As constructivists avow, grounded theory is fundamentally an interactive

and interpretive method (Charmaz, 2006, 2014). Not only do we interact with our research participants but al-

so we interact with and interpret the resulting data about them through our successive levels of analysis. We

select and use grounded theory strategies according to our interpretations of the data and assessments of

our emerging analyses of them. The entire process relies on creating these interpretations. By using ground-

ed theory methods, we learn how to raise the level of abstraction at each stage of the analytic process.

Grounded theory strategies provide ways of working with data – of seeking, interrogating, managing, and con-

ceptualising data – but how we use these methods depends on our readings of our data, repeated scrutiny of

them, and nascent analyses. Thus, grounded theory is an emergent interpretive method rather than a method

of formulaic application.

This method appeals to psychologists for four major reasons: (1) grounded theory offers a rigorous approach

to qualitative analysis; (2) it fits studying meanings of experience (Rennie and Nissim, 2015); (3) it can be

used in conjunction with numerous qualitative approaches such as phenomenological psychology (Ataria,

2014), narrative inquiry (Doucet and Mauthner, 2008; Lal et al., 2012; Rice, 2009), thematic analysis (Griffith,

2016), discursive analyses (McCreaddie and Payne, 2010), participatory action research (Andrews et al.,

2009), and varied mixed forms of qualitative analysis (Ehrlich et al., 2016; Floersch et al., 2010; Frost et al.,

2009); and (4) grounded theory is useful in mixed methods studies (Butterfield, 2009). Psychologists have

been moving away from atomised analyses of individuals and moving toward understanding the varied con-

texts in which they live. Adopting the logic of either objectivist or constructivist grounded theory furthers this

move. Researchers with both epistemological leanings find that grounded theory strategies increase their ef-

ficiency and effectiveness in gathering useful data and in constructing focused analyses. These strengths

combined with the logic and rigour of grounded theory make the method a good choice for both shaping quan-

titative tools and following up on quantitative findings in mixed method studies (e.g. Kamo et al., 2015).

Using Grounded Theory Guidelines

Grounded theory studies begin with open-ended research questions to explore but follow ideas that re-


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Page 4 of 35 The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research in Psychology

searchers generate once in the field (Pidgeon and Henwood, 2004). Grounded theory guidelines invoke at

least a two-phased qualitative coding that fosters analytic treatment of processes from the start. (See Box

14.1 for an outline of grounded theory guidelines.)

Box 14.1Basic Grounded Theory Methods

General Strategies

Engage in simultaneous data collection and analysis – early data analysis informs subsequent data col-

lection, which then allows the researcher to define and follow leads in the data and to refine tentative cate-


Invoke constant comparative methods – involves making comparisons at each level of analysis, including

data with data, data with codes, codes with codes, codes with categories, category with category, category

with concept. Last, we compare our constructed grounded theory with theories and studies in the relevant


Develop emergent concepts – analyse the data by constructing successively more abstract concepts arising

from the researcher’s interactions with these data and his or her interpretations of them.

Adopt an inductive-abductive logic – starts by analysing inductive cases but checks this emerging analysis

by entertaining all possible theoretical explanations and confirming or disconfirming them until the most plau-

sible theoretical interpretation of the observed data is constructed.

Specific Guidelines

Initial coding – begins data analysis early while collecting data by asking the kind of questions Glaser (1978:

57) raises: ‘What is happening in the data?’ ‘In which major process(es) are participants engaged?’ ‘What

is this data a study of?’ ‘What theoretical category does this specific datum indicate?’ and Charmaz (2014:

116) asks: ‘What does the data suggest? Pronounce? From whose point of view? We think about how our


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Page 5 of 35 The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research in Psychology

standpoints affect what we see, hear, and record. Throughout coding, constructivists emphasise that we bring

our meanings and language to what we define as ‘in’ the data. Subsequently, we, too, are open to scrutiny.

The researcher examines the data for its potential theoretical importance, uses gerunds to code for process-

es, and remains open to all theoretical possibilities. Codes are short, analytic, and active. Line-by-line coding

fosters scrutiny of the data and minimises forcing them into preconceived categories and extant theories. In-

terrogating each bit of data for its theoretical implications begins the move from description toward conceptual


Focused coding – takes the most frequent and/or significant initial codes to study, sort, compare, and syn-

thesise large amounts of data. Focused codes become tentative categories to explore and analyse. Focused

coding expedites the research process.

Memo-writing – involves writing analytic notes to oneself throughout the research process to raise the analyt-

ic level of the emerging theory, identify tentative categories and their properties, define gaps in data collection,

delineate relationships between categories, and engage in reflexivity about the research process. Memos be-

come increasingly theoretical as analysis proceeds.

Theoretical sampling – entails seeking specific data to develop the properties of categories or theory, not to

achieve representative population distributions. Researchers also use theoretical sampling to learn the range

of variation of the studied category or process and to specify connections between categories.

Saturating theoretical concepts – means that gathering more data reveals no new properties of a theoreti-

cal category nor yields further insights about the emerging grounded theory.

Theoretical sorting and integrating – consists of weighing, ordering, and connecting theoretical memos (1)

to show how the theory fits together, (2) to explicate relationships between theoretical categories or between

the properties of one theoretical category, (3) to specify the conditions under which the category(ies) arises

and (4) to state the implications of the theorised relationships.

Coding defines and designates what the data indicate and are about. Traditional grounded theory coding has


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Page 6 of 35 The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research in Psychology

favoured examining actions and events rather than the entirety or unity of research participants’ narratives.

Initial coding opens the data to in-depth views. Line-by-line coding works well with interview and textual data.

It forces us to look at bits of data anew, dissect them, and label them. Incident-by-incident coding provides

a strong basis for making comparisons between data, particularly with intensive interview and ethnographic


After engaging in initial coding, we adopt the most frequent and/or significant initial codes as focused codes

to examine large amounts of data. From the beginning, we compare datum with datum, datum with code, and

code with code in written memos, or extended notes.

Memo-writing is the pivotal analytic step between coding and writing drafts of papers. Because memo-writing

encourages us to stop and think about our data, codes, and/or emerging theory, we write them throughout the

research process. Memos may range from fleeting ideas (Strauss, 1987) to analytic statements that take a

code apart and explore its potential for development as a theoretical category (Charmaz, 2014). Memo-writ-

ing prompts us to develop our ideas about our codes and to treat significant ones as tentative categories to

explore and to check through further data-gathering. As a result, later memos are more analytic and often

serve as sections of the first draft of the research report.

After establishing some tentative categories, we conduct theoretical sampling to collect more data to fill out

the properties of a theoretical category, find variation in it, and delineate relationships between categories.

This sampling keeps the analysis grounded and makes it fit the studied phenomenon. As grounded theorists,

we presumably sample until we achieve theoretical saturation, which means that we see no new properties

of the theoretical category, its variations, or connections between categories. Criteria for saturation rest on a

researcher’s claims but not all claims to saturation are merited. An analysis with several major categories that

rests on skimpy data can hardly be saturated.

After we have created a set of memos, we sort them to fit our theoretical categories and to integrate the theo-

retical framework of the analysis and then write the first draft of the report. Standard grounded theory practice


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includes creating the theoretical explication before revising the piece for a particular audience and positioning

it in the literature. These practices encourage us to develop our ideas first and then compare them with earlier

theories and studies.

In essence, grounded theory is a method of data analysis with the intent of constructing theory. Until recently

(Charmaz, 2014, 2015b; Charmaz and Belgrave, 2012; Clarke, 2005; Doucet and Mauthner, 2008; Scheibel-

hofer, 2008), grounded theorists gave scant attention to data collection and some have reduced concerns

about it to slogans such as Glaser’s (2001: 145) ‘All is data’. These grounded theorists argue that the qual-

ity and quantity of data is not problematic if the analyst achieves ‘saturation’ of categories. Yet they do not

delineate useful criteria for what should constitute either viable categories or saturation. Consequently, some

grounded theory studies skimp on data collection and tout description as theory.

Emergence and Evolution of the Method

Glaser and Strauss (1967) developed qualitative inquiry by offering systematic guidelines for managing and

analysing qualitative data. They departed from mid-twentieth century conventions about conducting research

because they advocated: (1) integrating data collection and data analysis, (2) constructing theories from qual-

itative research grounded in data rather than deducing testable hypotheses from existing theories, (3) treat-

ing qualitative research as rigorous and legitimate in its own right, and (4) eschewing notions that theory-

construction belonged to an elite few. Their ideas challenged conventional positivist notions of qualitative re-

search as impressionistic, a-theoretical, and biased, and undermined traditional assumptions about academic

turf and hierarchies.

The objectivist and constructivist threads in grounded theory have their antecedents in Glaser and Strauss’s

contrasting intellectual heritages. Glaser drew on his rigorous training in quantitative methods and imported

positivist assumptions of objectivity, parsimony, and generality into grounded theory. Strauss brought the

pragmatist emphases on agency, action, language and meaning, and emergence to grounded theory, all of

which support its constructivist leanings. Both Glaser and Strauss saw grounded theory as a method that fa-

cilitated studying processes.


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Since 1967, each founder took grounded theory in different directions. Glaser (1998, 2003, 2013) still adheres

to positivist principles of discovery, generality, parsimony, and objectivity and emphasises neutrality of data,

variable analysis, and an authoritative researcher. He has, however, disavowed the quest for a basic social or

social psychological process as forcing the data into a preconceived framework, rejected line-by-line coding

in favour of incident-by-incident coding, and reversed his earlier insistence that participants will tell the re-

searcher what concerns them. For over a decade, Glaser (2003) has advocated using grounded theory meth-

ods to discover how research participants resolve a main concern rather than to study processes. Glaser’s

commitment to comparative methods has become more explicit over the years; his defence of small samples

has grown more strident, and his dismissal of typical methodological concerns such as attention to accuracy,

standpoints, and reflexivity has become more transparent.

Strauss (1987) moved the method toward verification and with Juliet Corbin (Strauss and Corbin, 1990, 1998),

added technical procedures that sparked Glaser’s (1992) attack that their method was not grounded theory.

Strauss and Corbin’s techniques made the method more formulaic because researchers could apply these

techniques to their data, rather than developing emergent ideas – and analytic strategies – from their interpre-

tations of data. Corbin (2008, 2009) has expressed regret that readers see their earlier books as rule-bound

and prescriptive. She also has redefined her perspective on inquiry in these books as dated. Corbin’s (Corbin,

2009; Corbin and Strauss, 2008, 2015) recent shifts bring her closer to the constructivist approach.

Glaser’s version of grounded theory remains positivist while Corbin’s has become notably less so. Charmaz’s

(2000, 2006, 2014) distinction between objectivist and constructivist grounded theory provides an epistemo-

logical handle for moving grounded theory out of its positivist roots and further into interpretive social science.

She adopts grounded theory strategies for coding, memo-writing, and theoretical sampling but shows how

the resulting theory is constructed rather than discovered. A constructivist grounded theory is located in time,

space, and circumstance, rather than general and separate from its origins, and aimed toward abstract un-

derstanding rather than explanation and prediction. Constructivists assume that (1) researchers are a part of

what they see, not apart from it; (2) facts and values are connected, not separate; and (3) views are multiple

and interpretive, not singular and self-evident. These assumptions lead to reflexivity about producing data,

constructing theories, and representing research participants.

Clarke (2005; Clarke et al., 2015) extends grounded theory by integrating postmodern premises in her expli-

cation of situational analysis. She rejects twentieth-century grounded theory assumptions of generality, truth,


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discovery, and objectivity in favour of situated grounded theory analyses that take into account positionality,

relativity, and reflexivity. Like numerous other scholars (e.g. Bryant, 2003, 2017; Charmaz, 1990, 2000, 2006;

Henwood and Pidgeon, 2003, 2006; Tweed and Charmaz, 2011), Clarke sees grounded theories as con-

structed, not discovered. She states that researchers already have theoretical knowledge and likely consider-

able knowledge about their substantive areas and specific research situation before entering the field. Con-

sistent with Strauss’s intellectual legacy, Clarke (2005) not only constructs situational analysis from symbolic

interactionist sociology and pragmatist philosophy, but argues that symbolic interactionism and grounded the-

ory form a theory-method package in which ontology and epistemology are co-constitutive and non-fungible.

Her position (1) builds on the pragmatist agenda of empirical study of experiences and practices in obdurate,

but multiple realities; (2) assumes that perspectives on these realities, including researchers’, are partial, situ-

ated, and constructed; and (3) takes the situation of inquiry as the unit of analysis. Clarke augments grounded

theory analytic strategies with maps depicting complex situations, social worlds/arenas, and positions taken

and not taken.

Grounded theory methods offer a path toward constructing theory, but not a direct route. If grounded theory

methods point the way to theorising, why do numerous grounded theory studies remain descriptive? Three

fundamental problems impede theoretical development. First, many grounded theorists do not attain the inti-

mate familiarity (Blumer, 1969) with their studied phenomenon that permits looking at it from multiple perspec-

tives and getting beneath the surface. Instead, their view remains partial and superficial. If so, they reproduce

common-sense understandings of the phenomenon (Silverman, 2013) rather than regard such understand-

ings as problematic objects of inquiry to take apart and begin to conceptualise. Subsequently, the finished

categories remain mundane, descriptive, and devoid of theoretical incisiveness. A lack of intimate familiarity

also reduces the researcher’s awareness of the range of variation of the phenomenon, its reach, and connec-

tions with other phenomena and levels of analysis. Some grounded theorists (e.g. Glaser, 2003) express less

concern about limited data collection. They argue that the inherent modifiability of a grounded theory allows

extending or refining a theory later. Perhaps. But does it occur? Usually not. Thus, researchers need to aim

for thoroughness and theoretical understanding of variation.

Second, the analytic process starts with coding in grounded theory but most qualitative coding remains topi-

cal, descriptive, and general. This coding leads to synthesising, sorting, and summarising data. All are useful

but do not foster raising specific questions about the data and codes to take them apart and define what con-

stitutes them. While coding, we define points and moments in the data that suggest analytic leads or illumi-


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nate telling issues. What we do during initial analytic stages informs what we can develop later in the analytic


Third, many researchers who claim grounded theory do not move back and forth between collecting data and

refining abstract categories. The logic of grounded theory calls for successively raising the level of abstrac-

tion of the analysis through interrogating it with emergent questions, filling and checking categories through

theoretical sampling, and asking which theories best account for this analysis. If a researcher’s main category

is descriptive, theoretical sampling remains at a low level of abstraction and, moreover, many researchers

who claim to adopt grounded theory strategies do not conduct theoretical sampling at all. Recognition of the

problems above can prompt researchers to pose theoretical questions and pursue theoretical connections.

The Take-Up of Grounded Theory in Psychology and Emergence of Qualitative


Why and how has grounded theory come to have a place in psychology? What role has it played in the emer-

gence of qualitative psychology? In this section, we trace grounded theory’s insertion into, and influence upon,

psychology’s methodological repertoire as it has expanded to include qualitative approaches and methods.

It took 20 years for grounded theory to come to psychologists’ attention; however, having done so, it rapidly

came to occupy a position in the vanguard of psychologists’ qualitative approaches and methods.

The Earliest Grounded Theory Impetus: Clinical/Practitioner Psychology

The first psychologists who took up grounded theory principles and practices did so in the late 1980s (Rennie

et al., 1988). These psychologists worked primarily in the clinical psychology (mental health) research arena,

and articulated two key areas of methodological concern: (1) the need to seek out and utilise holistic methods

for understanding and representing clients’ and research participants’ lived experiences and actions, in situ,

and in their full complexity and (2) the importance of fostering forms of theorising within psychology for those

seeking to combine their clinical/practical interests and academic research. Qualitative methods, and in par-

ticular grounded theory, were deemed to be important in both regards.


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Researchers such as Rennie et al. found themselves outside the mainstream of an academic clinical psychol-

ogy preoccupied with conducting controlled experimental studies – as was the discipline of psychology as a

whole – and with emulating the standards and practices of a laboratory-based, natural science. This situa-

tion persists to some extent, as the research concerns and priorities of academic clinical psychologists resist

change for institutional reasons. More recently, however, new demands significantly undercut, or at least in-

terrupt, traditional priorities. Clinical psychology research must now show itself to be more directly relevant to

patients’ expressed concerns, as well as applying itself to the development and evaluation of treatment regi-

mens and psychological/mental health services.

This latter situation has considerably strengthened the hand of those advocating the need for clinical (and

its later derivative, health psychology) to adopt more flexible, qualitative, and contextualised methods. They

afford a better fit between clinical psychologists’ theories and practices and the meanings their clients assign

to their experiences and problems. Hence, qualitative research methodologies and methods have gained ac-

ceptability, noticeably as part of clinical and health psychology’s development in the UK and beyond. Ground-

ed theory is one of the most popular and widely well-regarded of such methods (Marks and Yardley, 2004;

Slade and Priebe, 2006) and has generated many valuable studies (e.g. Bennett et al., 2007; Horne et al.,

2012; Jacobson, 2009; Priya, 2010).

Questioning Scientific Orthodoxy, Expanding Psychological Methods: Critical

Groundwork for Grounded Theory in the UK

Interest intensified in grounded theory from the early 1990s in the UK, as part of more general arguments

for challenging scientific/methodological orthodoxy and creating a space for qualitative research within an ex-

perimentally, quantitatively and statistically defined discipline (Henwood and Nicolson, 1995). A major con-

cern was with the unnecessary narrowness of psychology’s preoccupation with the control, prediction, and

measurement of human behaviour and individual cognition. Social psychologists who critiqued ideas typically

taken for granted within psychology about the practices and procedures of knowing and science (Harré and

Secord, 1972; Gergen, 1973, 1982; Parker, 1989) – and who are now often known as social constructionists

and critical psychologists (Stainton Rogers, 2011) – did the early groundwork. Proposals for an early progen-

itor of qualitative psychology, in the form of an approach called ‘ethogenic’ psychology (Harré et al., 1985),


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were also put in place. Research following this approach would analyse meaningful activity in situ, along with

participants’ everyday understandings or subjective accounts. Intelligibility and orderliness of conduct would

be established in relation to normative expectations, and its predictability by positing ‘real’ generative psy-

chological mechanisms and structures as opposed to abstract cause–effect (or in behavioural terms, stim-

ulus–response) sequences. Although ethogenic psychology never really took hold, it flagged the possibility

of psychologists refusing to privilege modernist/dualistic practices such as the measurement of behaviour

over the study of meaningful conduct and people’s subjective accounts, and the use of non-objectivist inquiry

methods. In this way, it established the context of critical debate about psychological science, and prepared

the foundation for grounded theory to enter UK (and later, North American) psychology.

Grounded Theory and Qualitative Psychology

In the contributions that made grounded theory visible in the UK (and later in US psychology), Henwood and

Pidgeon (1992, 1995, 2003) argued directly for the uptake of grounded theory in psychology, as part of their

wider observation that psychology had too long neglected the potential benefits of qualitative research ap-

proaches. In making this claim, Henwood and Pidgeon echoed a major argument of critical, social construc-

tionist and ethogenic psychologists – that psychology’s (dualistic) way of defining itself as an objective science

opened up serious gaps in the logic and practice of psychological science. Additionally, they pointed out how

grounded theory was a tried and tested qualitative social research method, developed within a cognate dis-

cipline (sociology), epitomising many of the real potentials qualitative research offered to psychology. Shortly

thereafter, Smith, Harré and Van Langenhove (1995) forecast the possibility of fundamentally changing the

discipline of psychology through qualitative research methods. By including Charmaz’s (1995b) chapter on

grounded theory in their edited volume, they brought the method into the classroom and increased its visibility

among disciplinary colleagues.

Grounded theory offered psychologists a set of clearly articulated principles and practices for working outside

the confines of their discipline’s highly prescriptive quantitative stance. This method provided an entrée into

the rigorous work of empirically gathering and analysing initially ill structured qualitative data, and of making

sense of them in theoretical terms. It opened up a no less trustworthy or valid, but far more creative and ex-

ploratory logic of inquiry than hypothetico-deductive theory and practice. It provided individual researchers

with a set of working principles and practices aimed at both ‘disciplining’ and ‘stimulating’ the theoretical imag-



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Psychologists using grounded theory could inquire into research problems with substantive relevance to spe-

cific problem domains (sometimes called ‘real world’ inquiry). As specified by grounded theory, one’s primary

concern must be developing a close and meaningful understanding of a particular, substantive problem or

social arena (e.g. the involvement of patients in decisions about their care; the introduction of new technology

into a clinical setting; the management of risks in hazardous industries). Out of such understanding comes

the possibility of research knowledge of close relevance to the lives of people inhabiting such domains, and

also to the work and decisions of practitioners and policymakers dealing with problems people encounter in

their everyday worlds.

Grounded theory’s specific intellectual antecedents in American pragmatist philosophy and the symbolic in-

teractionist perspective (Blumer, 1969; Mead, 1934) provided a further reason for its relevance to psychology,

and role in stimulating the development of qualitative psychology. This linkage should not be surprising since

both look back to the late-nineteenth-century psychological writings of Dilthey, who insisted that it would be

mistaken to pursue causal explanation at the expense of understanding or verstehen, and that psychological

and social investigations, alike, should ask questions about the creation of meaning. Pragmatist philosophy in-

stantiates the idea that the value of any theoretical proposition or explanatory claim depends less on testing it

against some absolute, transcendent reality, and more on considering the kinds of actions and consequences

it allows for as people encounter and negotiate their empirical world (what, as a meaningful construction, it

is ‘good for’, Camic et al., 2003). Symbolic interactionism articulates a coherent justification for studying how

and why people come to attach meaning to their own and others’ conduct, other objects of experience, and

their efforts at understanding, and representation (Blumer, 1969). Symbolic interactionism takes action as a

central concern. Thus, the combination of symbolic interactionism and grounded theory creates the potential

for forging stronger links between psychology and sociology.

Grounded theory, then, provided a serious option to those psychologists who found themselves too con-

strained by psychology’s traditional experimental and psychometric outlook. It posed a new mode of inquiry,

creditably located in more expansive and constructive discussions of how to pursue human inquiry. It allowed

psychologists to contemplate – many for the first time – how they might undertake exploratory research using

qualitative, real world data, and with the goal of understanding and theorising about people’s lived experi-

ences and meaningful worlds, so that their research might – in the manner highlighted by Dey (2004) and

Punch (2005) – make some contribution to the ways in which people live with their daily problems. Although

ethogenic psychology tried to achieve some of these goals earlier, especially centring the study of the mean-


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ingfulness to people of their conduct and experiences in their everyday worlds, its designation as a separate

type of psychology had, perhaps, not helped to sustain it within psychology’s institutional structures.

What seems to have happened in the case of grounded theory is that initial interest in, and discussion of,

grounded theory’s potentials has translated into considerable demand to know ‘how to do’ psychological re-

search using the method. The demand has come from clinical and health psychology research, as already

noted, but also from social, critical, and applied psychology (see Charmaz, 2005, 2011b, 2017 for develop-

ing a critical grounded theory). The plethora of edited, introductory compilations of qualitative psychological

methods texts appearing rapidly since the earliest days almost invariably continue to dedicate a chapter to

grounded theory (e.g. Harper and Thompson, 2011; Smith, 2015; Smith et al., 1995; Wertz et al., 2011; Willig,

2001b, 2013), as have texts developed to support training in inter- and multi-disciplinary human and social

research including psychology (e.g. Silverman, 2016). Increasingly, such chapters also draw upon a body of

original research studies, a selection of which we feature to exemplify specific methodological points through-

out the remainder of this chapter.

No discussion of qualitative psychology can overlook its global reach, and with it the increasing adoption of

grounded theory methods around the world. Although early studies largely reflected methodological develop-

ments in the UK and North America, both robust studies using grounded theory (e.g. Atari, 2014; Rihacek and

Danelova, 2016; Scull et al., 2016; Tuason, 2013; Veale and Stavrou, 2007) and contributions advancing this

method (e.g. Hallberg, 2006) now appear from around the globe. Important contributions have been made

in a number of areas, including suffering and trauma. Whether or not psychologists happen to be clinicians,

they often have the privilege of being a part of breaking silences and giving research participants a space and

time for reflection to share and transcend their suffering (e.g. Priya, 2010; Rosenblatt, 1995). Priya (2010),

for example, not only constructed the categories of his analysis but also developed a research relationship

through ‘empathetic witnessing’ that supported his participants’ reaffirmation of a valued moral status.

Atari (2014) conducted 36 phenomenological interviews with Israelis who had experienced terrorist attacks

and afterward developed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She used grounded theory to analyse their

fragmented traumatic memories. Atari aimed to learn about their subjective experience, including that of their

bodies. She argues that the fragmented bodily memory ‘functions as a black hole’ and also accounts for the

individual’s feeling the traumatic experience over and over again. This type of analysis not only conceptualis-

es research participants’ stories of their experience, but also holds significant implications for practitioners.


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Approaches to Implementing Grounded Theory in Original Research Studies

One important message in introductory chapters on grounded theory as a methodology within qualitative psy-

chology concerns the do-ability of research using grounded strategies and methods. Another concern is how

researchers conduct original grounded theory over time, across a range of different sub-areas of psycholog-

ical research, and in the form of smaller and larger scale studies by single researchers (e.g. Griffith, 2016;

Lois, 2010; Priya, 2010; Tuason, 2013); students and their supervisors (e.g. Hussein and Cochrane, 2003;

Qin and Lykes 2006; Tweed and Salter, 2000); collaborative research partnerships – frequently between clin-

icians and academics (e.g. Borrill and Iljon-Foreman, 1996); and as part of funded psychological and multi-

disciplinary projects often having a medical focus (e.g. Nielsen et al., 2013; Yardley et al., 2001), although not

always (Cox et al., 2003, Eaton and Sanders, 2012; Henwood and Pidgeon, 2001).

Looking across this range of studies, grounded theory ideas and practices have now been implemented and

used in psychology, and in multidisciplinary studies involving psychology, in at least three different ways: (1)

as a methodological approach supporting research that distinctively differs from traditional quantitative, hy-

pothesis testing, experimental, psychological studies; (2) as a set of research principles and practical meth-

ods for describing, understanding and explicating substantive problems in less distinctive ways in its method-

ological approach to the quantitative, psychological mainstream; and (3) as a means of beginning an in-depth,

qualitative investigation so that inquiries produce outcomes well-grounded in data, while other complementary

approaches and methods are used to complete the theoretical explication and interpretation. This diverse set

of interests is one reason behind the continuing, robust commitment shown in the perspective and methods of

grounded theory within psychology, while consideration of these interests can illuminate debate about certain

common practices.

Grounded Theory as a ‘big Q’ Qualitative Methodology

Willig (2001a) and Stainton Rogers (2011) introduce the terms ‘big Q’ and ‘little q’ to highlight the major differ-

ences brought to the tasks of designing, executing and reporting psychological studies when working outside

the canon of hypothetico-deductive method. Willig describes the meaning of the two terms as follows: ‘“big Q”

refers to open-ended, inductive research methodologies that are concerned with theory generation and the


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exploration of meanings, whereas “little q” refers to the incorporation of non-numerical data techniques into

hypothetico-deductive designs’ (Willig, 2001a: 11). The place of grounded theory studies within this schema

is clear: they cannot be ‘little q’. Accordingly, Willig (2001a) depicts grounded theory as the first of her ‘big Q’

methodologies enabling psychologists to explore ‘lived experiences and participants’ meanings’.

In discussing the position of grounded theory within Willig’s schema, characterising grounded theory as more

‘inductive’ in nature does not mean reverting to a naively dualistic way of thinking about qualitative inquiry.

Grounded theory procedures and practices are inductive in the sense of not seeking to confirm extant theory.

But, they are also much more because they involve pushing understanding forward and theorising through

intensive engagement with data, investigating its potentially varied and multiple contextual meanings, and

checking to see whether the categories hold up. Within psychology, Henwood and Pidgeon (1995, 2006)

have referred to this mode of inquiry as more ‘exploratory’ and ‘generative’, and as involving a ‘flip-flop’ be-

tween data and its conceptualisation. Willig (2001a) describes the qualitative inquiry process as epitomised

by grounded theory as more ‘investigative’ in nature, always seeking to find out answers to questions, and

never merely seeking to find out whether a single hypothesis is false or true when tested against a particular

sample or quota of data.

One arena illustrating how psychologists have harnessed the exploratory/generative and questioning/inves-

tigative potential of grounded theory as ‘big Q’ psychology is critical, qualitative social psychological (specifi-

cally feminist) studies into women’s life experiences and mental health (e.g. Allen, 2011; Bennett et al., 2007;

Hussein and Cochrane, 2003; Martin and Barnard, 2013). Qin and Lykes’s (2006) study exemplifies this ap-

proach. They used grounded theory to construct a critical feminist analysis from 40 interviews of 20 Chinese

women graduate students about their experiences before and after coming to the US. Qin and Lykes identify

a major process that these students experienced, ‘reweaving a fragmented self’, which includes three sub-

processes. First, ‘weaving self’ refers to integrating traditional Chinese values into oneself, such as the high

value placed on education, and being in a web of relationships that both sustained, yet constrained these

women. Second, ‘fragmenting self’ depicts the discomfort and disparagement these women had endured in

Chinese society and the self-questioning and critical consciousness it evoked in them. Third, ‘reweaving self’,

involves reuniting the fragmented aspects of self to create a new and expanded self in the US. Yet these

women also experienced racism, poverty, isolation, and an awareness of being cast as different and other in

their host country.


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Qin and Lykes’ study illustrates grounded theory logic because they: (1) conceptualise a problematic process,

(2) define the sub-processes constituting this major process, (3) treat and analyse these sub-processes as

categories, (4) specify how the sub-processes evolve and are linked, and (5) outline the implications of their

study. Grounded theory provides strong methodological tools for such research because the constructed the-

ory is rooted in the experiences, meanings, and actions of the studied individuals.

The big Q/little q distinction encapsulates grounded theory’s potential in supporting the practice of more ‘criti-

cal’ forms of applied, social and health/clinical psychology. Grounded theorists and critical psychologists’ con-

cerns overlap as both seek to introduce a freshness and newness into arenas of investigation that are not well

served by working within the parameters of normal, theory-testing, quantitative experimental science. Both

specifically question reliance upon forms of prior theorising – and also reality-defining forms of public dis-

course (e.g. Hallowell and Lawton, 2002) – that embody dominant frames and values. Grounded theory also

offers a specific set of principles and practices that can strengthen critical psychologists’ goal of understand-

ing and explicating people’s own life experiences, everyday problems, and the complexity of psychological

and social processes within particular, substantive inquiry domains.

Grounded Theory Forms Outside ‘big Q’ Psychology Within Psychology and

Related Disciplines

In order to include recognisable forms of grounded theory studies lying outside the concerns and achieve-

ments of critical psychology, we now consider how social psychologists in other disciplines and practitioner-

researchers have used grounded theory methodology and method. Medical sociology and symbolic interac-

tionist social psychology have had a long and vibrant history of grounded theory studies (e.g. Corbin and

Strauss, 1988; Charmaz, 1991, 1995a, 2011a). These areas share overlapping interests with psychologists

as evidenced in the work of Charmaz and Lois, which we discuss in greater detail.

In a demonstration project (Wertz et al., 2011) illustrating five different ways of doing qualitative analysis in

psychology with the same data, Charmaz (2011a) shows how grounded theory strategies lead to substantive

theorising. The primary data consisted of two young women’s personal accounts of an unfortunate event and

subsequent interviews of them (although Charmaz also made comparisons with her own data). Teresa, who

had aspired to becoming a professional opera singer, wrote about her experience of losing her voice after


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having surgery for anaplastic cancer of her throat. Gail wrote about injuring her arm just after she had made

the gymnastics team at her college.

Charmaz begins with broad sensitising concepts such as identity and meaning, and explores possible con-

nections with time. Her initial codes include ‘voice and self merge’, ‘defining certain impairment’, and ‘experi-

encing forced loss’. Two major processes emerged through the analysis, losing and regaining a valued self.

Charmaz focused the analysis on effecting intentional reconstruction of self after loss and distinguished be-

tween losing a valued self in a context of an uncertain future and experiencing a disrupted self with certain

recovery. Conditions of uncertainty and awareness of permanent loss profoundly affect a person’s meanings

and actions. Under these conditions, regaining a valued self depended on facing loss, relinquishing the past

self, drawing on lessons from the past, and realigning one’s earlier dream with the present situation. Charmaz

constructed her analysis from the perspectives and experiences of the studied individuals. Grounded theory

provides a lens for seeing beyond established professional concepts rather than only seeing through them.

Jennifer Lois’s (2010) study of homeschooling mothers is an exemplar of grounded theory research, reason-

ing, and theorising. Consistent with Barney Glaser’s question about what kind of study does the data indicate,

Lois discovered that her data led her in an unexpected direction. She began her research with an interest in

the emotion work of homeschooling mothers and thought she had a study of domestic labor. As she proceed-

ed, she discovered that the inordinate amount of time that homeschooling took was a crucial issue for these


Conceptions of the quantity of time devoted to homeschooling and the emotion work involved could not ac-

count for all of Lois’s data. She imparts what can be transformative methodological advice when she says:

‘You should keep coming back to the quotes that won’t leave you alone’ (in Charmaz, 2014: 194). One home-

schooling mother of 12 children told Lois that being around children all day was not easy, and acknowledged

that she could send them off to school. This mother stated, ‘But what else was I going to do with my time?

Hey, I could sit down and watch soap operas in the afternoon, but what better thing to do than to give it to

your children?’

Lois sensed that the quote above was significant and defined it as unresolved data for which she needed

to theoretically account. She followed abductive reasoning (Peirce, 1938/1958) to account for the puzzling

finding. Lois sought more data to explore the meanings of such statements. When she examined these data

she realised that her questions about mothers’ quantity of time had only touched the surface of their temporal


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experiences (in Charmaz, 2014: 196).

After identifying ‘Subjective sense of time’ as a major theme in her data, Lois searched existing theoretical

understandings about it. Was she theoretically contaminated by the literature in this field? No. In keeping with

Henwood and Pidgeon’s (2003) concept of theoretical agnosticism, Lois maintained a critical view of the liter-

ature and an open eye on her data. She used ideas from the literature to sensitise her to possible meanings

of time. Yet she was consistently informed by her data and her emerging analysis of them and constructed

the category, ‘time sacrifice’.

Many grounded theorists would have stopped with this category. One could rather easily define what time-

sacrifice meant in the data, spell out its properties, show how the mothers became immersed in it, explain

how it occurred, and outline its consequences. Such an analysis would produce a competent paper. But Lois

did much more.

Instead of simply producing an analysis about time sacrifice, Lois built on both the extant literature and her

data. She conducted some new interviews with focused questions to explore time sacrifice. How did Lois ac-

count for her findings? She realised that the mothers’ daily temporal experiences and their meanings of them

not only resulted in their ‘manipulating temporal experience to manage their selves, but also to manage their

emotions’ (in Charmaz, 2014: 196). Their meanings and actions resulted in a particular type of construction

of self, the sacrificial mother. This conception of self reduced the women’s resentments about having no time

and alleviated feeling guilty for wanting time for themselves.

Lois then developed new codes, ‘Subjective Experience of Time’, ‘Time Management’, ‘Manipulating Emo-

tions to Manage Time’, ‘Manipulating Time to Manage Emotions’ and explored them further in follow-up in-

terviews. Her work produced another code, ‘Temporal Emotion Work’. Subsequently, she investigated this

code more deeply by going back to the data and creating new codes: ‘Sequencing: Eliciting Nostalgia and

Anticipating Regret’ and ‘Savouring: Staying Present and Creating Quality Time’. Sequencing referred to the

mothers’ efforts to create good memories of the family’s child-raising years and their fears of future regrets if

they had not created these memories. Savouring meant treasuring present moments while using time to craft

valued experiences.

These codes are intriguing, but what Lois did with them is more compelling. In her article, Lois posits a sub-

class of emotions, ‘temporal emotions’, that can only be felt by crossing ‘timeframes’ demarking the past,


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present, and future (Charmaz, 1991). Lois claims that temporal emotions cannot be felt without bridging the

timeframe of the present with the timeframes of the past or future. The emotions of nostalgia, regret, disil-

lusionment, ambition, hope, optimism, and dread cannot be experienced without bridging the present to the

past or future. Lois concludes her grounded theory by pointing out that how we use temporal emotions signif-

icantly affects constructing a continuous self over time.

Lois’s analysis underscores the significance of using grounded theory strategies to develop a successively

more conceptual analysis. She engaged in the iterative process by going back and forth between her data

and analysis. She sought additional data when her already collected data could not support her emerging

analysis. She constructed focused questions to gather just enough new data to fill out her codes and tentative

categories. By invoking abductive reasoning Lois developed a theoretical account of elusive data. Note that

her codes reflect specific meanings and actions. Yet through studying these codes, and interrogating her da-

ta, Lois created an abstract general category: temporal emotions. In short, Lois’s sequential coding and suc-

cessive analyses led to a highly theoretical and innovative contribution.

Both Charmaz and Lois conducted a close coding in precise terms that aimed to capture, compare, and ex-

plicate specific meanings and actions in their interviews. Both researchers compared datum with datum, data

with codes and categories, and categories with categories. Throughout the process, they asked analytic ques-

tions. By successively working from specific codes to general, but definitive, categories, they construct the-

oretical analyses. Thus, the way constructivist grounded theorists code their data and raise questions about

them, as well as probe their emerging analyses, can resolve criticisms of grounded theory studies being de-


Charmaz also uses grounded theory strategies to plumb ordinary meanings in her data and makes them ob-

jects of study, such as ‘living one day at a time’ (1991), ‘making trade-offs’ (1991) and ‘making a comeback’

(2011a). This strategy simultaneously fosters remaining open and curious about studied life, learning the logic

of research participants’ worlds, and minimises importing disciplinary concepts that contain imputed judg-

ments, whether of participants’ motivations or their worlds.

Grounded Theory in Practice-Oriented Research

In health and clinical psychology, grounded theory enables researchers to pay close attention to articulating


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the categories of experience and meaning that make up people’s subjective/phenomenal worlds. This ap-

proach is both a major objective and an inextricable part of studying the social and psychological problems,

questions and issues under investigation – often concerning dynamic social psychological processes.

Byrne, Orange and Ward-Griffin (2011), for example, explored caregiving spouses’ responses to care transi-

tions after their partners were discharged from a geriatric rehabilitation unit. Byrne conducted interviews with-

in two days before the partners’ discharge, two weeks after discharge, and 4–6 weeks post-discharge. They

defined ‘reconciling in response to fluctuating needs’ as the fundamental process the caregivers experienced.

Caregivers had to reconcile the disjuncture and dissonance between their past and present lives. Reconcil-

ing included three sub-processes ‘navigating’, ‘safekeeping’, and ‘repositioning’, and showed how caregivers

responded to their spouses’ changing needs, as well as their own and those of being a couple. The authors

delineated the contexts of reconciling as occurring in three phases ‘getting ready’, ‘getting into it’, and ‘getting

on with it’. Their study not only illuminates caregivers’ experience but also hold implications for health policy

and practice.

The usefulness of grounded theory studies for policy and practice is apparent in numerous areas. Health

psychologists Ray Chilton and Renata Pires-Yfantouda’s (2015) constructivist grounded theory explores what

adolescents with type 1 diabetes confront in managing their care. As a result Chilton and Pires-Yfantouda pro-

duce an insightful conceptual framework for understanding and conceptualising these adolescents’ psycho-

logical mechanisms and contextualising them in a self-management continuum. The authors carefully qualify

their results by explaining that restricted access to only those participants who agreed to be interviewed pre-

cluded theoretical sampling. Nonetheless, they developed an analysis that can inform practitioners’ treatment


The rippling effects of the past are taken up by psychologists who use grounded theory to address clinical

problems. Matthews and Salazar (2014) studied second-generation adults who were raised in religious cults.

One of these researchers had been a second-generation cult member for 43 years while living in three coun-

tries. This researcher had both an insider and outsider view, as she is no longer a part of the cult. These

authors distilled the themes in their data and used them to draw out specific implications for practicing coun-


Williams, King, and Fox (2016) also constructed sensitive recommendations following their in-depth study of

people with a lifetime history of anorexia nervosa. They learned and analysed how anorexia nervosa comes


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to become a part of the person’s self. These authors spell out specific points for practitioners to attend to and

outline the kind of therapeutic interventions needed. They present a persuasive argument that practitioners

must aim to disentangle the person’s self from anorexia nervosa to recover from the disorder, rather than fo-

cusing primarily on weight.

In a study that recasts practitioners’ definitions, Wright and Kirby (1999) sought to clarify and explicate the in

vivo/in situ categories of experience and meaning of ‘adjustment’ to chronic illness relevant in the lives and

worlds of people suffering end stage renal failure (ESRF), as a strategy to overcome poor conceptualisation

of the term in a research literature dominated by notions of adjustment as ‘a return to normal social roles

(e.g. work), an absence of psychiatric caseness (e.g. on depression) or compliance/adherence with treatment’

(Wright and Kirby, 1999: 259).

Clearly, for certain research purposes, and following some of the general principles of qualitative inquiry (e.g.

Lincoln and Guba, 1985), charting or mapping out such categories of experience and meaning in more depth

and detail than is possible in other forms of research aiming to count occurrences of events and establish

general patterns, can be a valid research goal in and of itself. To an extent, this can also be the case, in

grounded theory studies, when reporting early ‘descriptive’ stages of a project. In addition, providing a de-

tailed description can be a primary means for researchers to demonstrate that they have, indeed, ‘grounded’

any subsequent theoretical abstractions in a solid foundation of data and have grappled with making sense of

them. Nonetheless, grounded theory studies that report primarily descriptive findings have elicited criticisms

from numerous different perspectives.

In the case of psychology, three main criticisms have arisen: (1) merely presenting the details and structure of

experience does not amount to articulating a theory (a criticism that possibly insists on only using a complete

version or a single ‘true’ definition of grounded theory); (2) arriving at categories of meaning and experience

does not articulate or interpret their psychological meaning from the perspective of individual actors; and (3)

simply reporting categories of experience and meaning does not provide an analysis of social dynamics or

process, nor does it answer specific questions about or explore the theoretical and practical implications of

the data (e.g. Willig, 2001b). From a sociological point of view, the weakness of such descriptive grounded

theory studies lies in their reliance on a loose presentation of themes derived from the data in the manner

of abstract empiricism, as if the data merely speak for themselves, and where the researcher fails to provide

any analytical framing or reading of the data (Silverman, 2013). These criticisms may point out weak areas in


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specific studies for which the authors have claimed to use grounded theory. However, these criticisms do not

apply to the method per se. Nor do the criticisms argue against researchers varying in how they balance de-

mands for detailed description and analytical/theoretical explications of participants’ experiences and mean-


Researchers who aim to use this method for theory construction need to develop ‘theoretical sensitivity’

(Glaser, 1978), the ability to discern and interrogate possibilities for conceptualising the data in abstract terms.

Hence, these researchers create codes – and from them, categories – that carry analytic weight. From the

early stages of analysis to the final report, the work becomes increasingly theoretically driven by the emerging


A notably different manifestation of grounded theory practice occurs when the method is no longer treated as

a distinctively descriptive and analytical, open-ended/exploratory and investigative, creative/generative and

exhaustive/rigorous mode of inquiry, but rather as a stage in an overall research process adopting a verifica-

tionist approach to method. For example, Michie et al. (1996: 455–456), studied family members attending

a clinic for those at high risk of inheriting bowel cancer. They used grounded theory data analysis methods

with interview data as a ‘pilot study’ to generate hypotheses about how people respond to predictive genetic

testing ‘to be tested in a prospective, wider scale, quantitative study’. Yardley, Sharples, Beech and Lewith

(2001) used grounded theory, in an interview study of people receiving chiropractic treatment for back pain,

as a starting point for a more complex, evolving, multi-phased design, shifting from an exploratory/genera-

tive to a verificationist study. They aimed to ascertain whether it was (dynamic) symptom perceptions, other

factors (such as abstract illness representations and/or communication by and confidence in the therapist) or

a combination of factors that influenced treatment perceptions and acceptability. These studies point to the

continuing pull of discrete variable analysis and generalist hypothesis testing within clinical research, while

also highlighting the valued (if, in its own terms, limited) role played by grounded theory within it.

Grounded Theory Used in Combination with Other Approaches to Achieve

Theoretical Explication and Interpretation

A further variation in the implementation of grounded theory within psychology is its use in combination with

other approaches. Studies in this mould clearly depart from the idea of grounded theory being a standard-


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ised package, conceiving of it instead as part of a flexible toolkit of methods. Interest has emerged in social

science internationally in developing principled and practical forms of ‘methodological combining’ – interest

that further encourage researchers not to think of methods as hermetically sealed (e.g. Henwood and Lang,

2005; Moran-Ellis, 2006; Tashakkori and Teddlie, 2000; Todd et al., 2004). Within qualitative psychology, in

fact, investigators have always made decisions and choices about methodology and method in the light of

a broadening comparative, possibly critical, awareness and understanding of a range of qualitative perspec-

tives and methods with first ‘homes’ within and beyond psychology (e.g. discourse analysis, ethnography,

phenomenological theory and method, voice relational psychology).

Grounded theory and discourse analysis have been used as co-contributors as psychologists have worked

across methodological boundaries. In their investigation into how men’s sense of masculinity is implicated in

their involvement in crime, Willott and Griffin (1999: 449) used grounded theory tactics to identify a stratum

of in vivo codes (e.g. earning, money, and the family) in the form of ‘words and phrases used repeatedly by

discussants’. These codes were then used ‘to divide the huge quantity of data into manageable pieces, be-

fore moving onto the more theoretical phase of the analysis’ (Willott and Griffin, 1999: 449). At this phase,

the researchers began to attach greater significance to ideas and practices from discourse theory: focusing

in particular on how men positioned themselves in their accounts and arguments, and cultural discourses of

gender, masculinity and criminality.

Typically, techniques for achieving theoretical abstraction, integration and explication in grounded theory stud-

ies are through the constant comparative method, Strauss and Corbin’s three-Cs coding framework, Glaser’s

integrating families of theoretical codes, and Charmaz’s theoretically sensitive interaction with and interpreta-

tions of data – which is perhaps the culmination of grounded theorists’ aim to pay constant attention from the

onset to theoretical possibilities in the data. In the two cited exemplar studies above, the authors built upon

a range of ideas drawn from theory and the extant literature, to assist them in interpreting, integrating, and

explicating the meanings in their data.


In summary, grounded theory studies in psychology attest to the strength of the method for producing fresh

ideas and challenging past truths. The rapid acceptance and ascendance of the method in the discipline


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confirm its usefulness in developing qualitative psychology. Like other scholars, perhaps psychologists first

adopted grounded theory as a method of managing data and engaging in substantive coding. Yet grounded

theory offers much more than coding strategies and data management. Raising the analytic level of initial

coding practices is a start. Psychologists can enjoy a privileged place of access to people’s concerns and

experience and a sensitivity to felt meanings. Grounded theory gives these psychologists tools to treat them

analytically in ways that ultimately afford individuals new ways of understanding their experience.

For academic as well as clinical psychologists, creating increasingly more theoretical memos advances the

analytic process and can spark reflexivity about it. Engaging in theoretical sampling to sharpen abstract cate-

gories and to dig deeper into the phenomena also enhances clarity and precision. The potential of grounded

theory’s constant comparative method has yet to be mined as fully as it might be for constructing persuasive

critical analyses to effect change. Taken to its logical extension, grounded theory holds much promise for new

theorising in psychology, for critical inquiry within the discipline, and for innovative links between academic

ideas and clinical practice.


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  • SAGE Research Methods
  • The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research in Psychology
    • Grounded Theory Methods for Qualitative Psychology
    • Introduction
    • The Logic, Emergence and Use of Grounded Theory
    • Grounded Theory Logic
    • Using Grounded Theory Guidelines
    • Box 14.1Basic Grounded Theory Methods
    • General Strategies
    • Specific Guidelines
    • Emergence and Evolution of the Method
    • The Take-Up of Grounded Theory in Psychology and Emergence of Qualitative Psychology
    • The Earliest Grounded Theory Impetus: Clinical/Practitioner Psychology
    • Questioning Scientific Orthodoxy, Expanding Psychological Methods: Critical Groundwork for Grounded Theory in the UK
    • Grounded Theory and Qualitative Psychology
    • Approaches to Implementing Grounded Theory in Original Research Studies
    • Grounded Theory as a ‘big Q’ Qualitative Methodology
    • Grounded Theory Forms Outside ‘big Q’ Psychology Within Psychology and Related Disciplines
    • Grounded Theory in Practice-Oriented Research
    • Grounded Theory Used in Combination with Other Approaches to Achieve Theoretical Explication and Interpretation
    • Conclusion
    • References


Research Methods

for Social Workers

A Practice- Based Approach


Samuel S. Faulkner

Cynthia A. Faulkner































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Title: Research methods for social workers : a practice- based approach /
Samuel S. Faulkner, Cynthia A. Faulkner.

Description: Third edition. | New York, NY : Oxford University Press, 2019. |
Cynthia A. Faulkner appears as the first named author on earlier editions.|

Includes bibliographical references and index.
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Preface ix
Acknowledgments xi
About the Authors xiii

1. What Is Research? 1
Importance of Social Work Research 1
Defining Research 2
Ways of Knowing 3
Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed- Method Research 4
Developing Your Research Questions 6
What Is a Hypothesis? 7
Research Designs 8
Strengths and Limitations of Research 10
Case Scenario 10
Critical Thinking Questions 11
Key Points 11
Practice Exam 12

2. Ethical Considerations 13
Historical Overview 13
Respect for Individuals 14
Beneficence 20
Justice 22
Other Ethical Considerations 23
Case Scenario 25
Critical Thinking Questions 26
Key Points 26
Practice Exam 26

3. Qualitative Research Designs 28
How Is Qualitative Research Used? 28
Descriptive Inquiry 29
Speculative Inquiry 30
Qualitative Research Methods 30
Data Collection 35
An Example of a Qualitative Study 39

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vi C O N T E N T S

Case Scenario 47
Critical Thinking Questions 48
Key Points 48
Practice Exam 50

4. Literature Review 52
What Is a Literature Review? 52
Step 1: Conducting Your Search for Research Articles 54
Step 2: Choosing Your Articles 55
Step 3: Reviewing Your Articles 56
Step 4: Organizing Your Search Results 60
Step 5: Developing a Problem Statement or Hypothesis 64
Step 6: Compiling Your Reference Page 65
Case Scenario 67
Critical Thinking Questions 67
Key Points 67
Practice Exam 68

5. Quantitative Research Designs 69
Getting Started 69
Developing a Testable Hypothesis 70
What Is Descriptive Research? 70
Correlation Versus Causation 71
Data Collection 72
Cross- Sectional and Longitudinal Designs 72
Group Research Designs 74
Case Scenario 80
Critical Thinking Questions 80
Key Points 81
Practice Exam 81

6. Variables and Measures 83
Variables in Research Design 83
Viewing and Using Variables 84
Types of Variables 84
What Is a Measure? 87
Defining and Operationalizing Measures 87
Levels of Measurement 88
Reliability and Validity in Measurement 92
Case Scenario 96
Critical Thinking Questions 97
Key Points 97
Practice Exam 98

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C O N T E N T S vii

7. Sampling 99
What Is Sampling? 99
Random Selection and Random Assignment 100
Sample Size: How Many Is Enough? 100
External and Internal Validity 101
Probability Sampling 103
Probability Sampling Techniques 103
Sampling Error 106
Nonprobability Sampling 106
Limitations of Nonprobability Sampling 107
Case Scenario 108
Critical Thinking Questions 108
Key Points 108
Practice Exam 109

8. Survey Research 111
Defining Survey Research 111
Appropriate Survey Topics 112
Developing a Survey 112
Administering Surveys and Expected Rates of Returns 121
Advantages and Disadvantages of Survey Research 124
Case Scenario 125
Critical Thinking Questions 125
Key Points 125
Practice Exam 126

9. Evaluative Research Designs 127
Program Evaluation 128
Process Evaluation 128
Outcome Evaluation 132
Strengths and Weaknesses of Program Evaluation 135
Practical Considerations and Common Problems 136
Case Scenario 137
Critical Thinking Questions 138
Key Points 138
Practice Exam 138

10. Single- Subject Design 140
What Is a Single- Subject Design? 140
Elements of Single- Subject Design Research 141
Types of Single- Subject Designs 144
Strengths and Limitations of Single- Subject Designs 147
Case Scenario 147
Critical Thinking Questions 148

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viii C O N T E N T S

Key Points 148
Practice Exam 148

11. Introduction to Descriptive Statistics 150
What Is Data Analysis? 150
The First Step of Data Analysis 150
Descriptive Analysis 152
Strengths and Limitations of Descriptive Statistics 160
Case Scenario 161
Critical Thinking Questions 161
Key Points 161
Practice Exam 162

12. Introduction to Inferential Statistics 164
What Are Inferential Statistics? 164
Four Types of Correlation 165
Determining the Strength of the Correlation 166
Probability Values and Confidence Intervals 167
Parametric Statistics 167
Nonparametric Statistics 174
Strengths and Limitations of Inferential Statistics 176
Which Statistical Program Is Right for Me? 176
Case Scenario 177
Critical Thinking Questions 177
Key Points 177
Practice Exam 178

13. Practicing Your Research Skills 180
Example of a Research Proposal 180
Example of a Research Report 190

Answers to Practice Exam 205
Glossary 217
References 227
Index 229

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Welcome to the third edition of Research Methods for Social Workers: A Practice-
Based Approach. When we set out to write the first edition (now almost fifteen
years ago) we had two major goals in mind: to create a research text that students
would be able to understand and a book that they would actually read. Now,
after the first edition in 2009 and the second edition in 2014, we have attempted,
with each new edition to make the book even more user friendly and helpful, to
you, the reader. The feedback from students has been gratifying and rewarding.
Students tell us over and over that they appreciate this text because it makes re-
search accessible to them— they actually read it and understand it.

At the same time, after having used the book (and garnering candid and
appreciated feedback from other faculty who use the text), we have made some
important additions and changes to the original text (while staying true to the
readable and understandable style of the first edition). The order of the chapters
is rearranged (not for the sake of having a new edition but because we feel this
better fits the flow of introducing and developing the concepts of the research
process). Also, in this edition, we have included some much- needed information
to meet the changing and evolving standards of social work education.

As we continue to teach from this book, it continues to evolve and grow based
on comments from students and other faculty members. We appreciate the
thoughtful comments from our students and colleagues. A  special thank you
goes out to Daniel Weisman, Professor of Social Work at Rhode Island College
of Social Work, for his thoughtful comments and feedback— much of which we
incorporated into this edition.

In short, we feel this new edition will be even more valuable in helping you
to teach research methods to your students. As you use this book, we invite
comments, feedback, suggestions, and other responses to help us know how
we might improve future editions (and what you like or don’t like about this
current edition). As fellow educators, we want to be as responsive and helpful
as possible.

Sam and Cindy Faulkner

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As with most writings, there are many people who contributed their time and
expertise to this text. A special thank you goes to our colleagues and friends,
Lisa Shannon and Lynn Geurin, associate professors of social work at Morehead
State University, Kentucky, who have given valuable feedback and support. Our
gratitude goes to David Follmer, consultant to Oxford University Press, for his
encouragement and patience in the rewrite of the third edition of this book.
We want to thank Daniel Weisman, Professor of Social Work at Rhode Island
College of Social Work, for his thoughtful comments and feedback— much of
which we incorporated into this edition. And special thanks go to our children
(Wayne, Shay, Christina, Alisa, McKennzie, and Ezra) for inspiring us to be life-
long learners and our fourteen grandchildren (so far), and our great- grandson for
helping us stay young. “I can do everything through God who gives me strength”
(Phil. 4:13).

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Cynthia A. Faulkner has served as full- time social work faculty since 2001. She
recently retired as Professor from Morehead State University after sixteen years
of service to relocate to Corpus Christi, Texas, where she is near family. She is
now serving as Professor and Program Director of the new online MSW pro-
gram at Indiana Wesleyan University. Her previous titles include eight years
as Field Education Coordinator and three years as BSW Program Coordinator.
Dr. Faulkner has developed multiple online social work, courses including those
used for a Chemical Dependency minor, and she is a Certified Quality Matters
Reviewer. Dr.  Faulkner has also taught many study- abroad classes, taking
students to England, Scotland, and Ireland to study child maltreatment with a
specialty in abuse by priests. She is the co- author of a textbook under contract
titled Addictions Counseling: A Competency- Based Approach (Oxford University

Samuel S. Faulkner has been full- time faculty in social work since 2001 and re-
tired as Professor from Morehead State University in June 2017. Now relocated
in Corpus Christi, Texas, he is employed as Associate Professor at Texas A&M—
Kingsville teaching in their new MSW Program. Previously, he has served as BSW
Program Coordinator, Director of International Education, and thirteen years as
Chair of the IRB. Dr. Faulkner served as Campus Representative to the Board of
Directors for the Cooperative Center for Study Abroad from 2006 to 2014, and he
was the onsite administrator for multiple programs including London Summer,
London Winter, Ireland Summer, and Australia Summer. Dr. Faulkner created
the first Chemical Dependency Minor in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. He
has taught research courses, and he is co- author of a textbook under contact ti-
tled Addictions Counseling: A Competency- Based Approach (Oxford University

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Research Methods for Social Workers

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What Is Research?

R esearch has become an increasingly valuable tool for social work
practitioners and scholars. Research is a systematic and methodolog-
ical approach to creating knowledge. In social work, research is instru-

mental in the development of effective practice outcomes, or the outcomes of
professional activities that are designed to improve or change the well- being of
an individual, agency, or other system. For instance, we can research an issue
concerning practice accountability, such as whether an intervention is effective,
or we can measure an issue related to the characteristics of an agency population,
such as changes in the ages of substance abuse admissions over time. Measuring
practice accountability and monitoring agency populations both provide in-
formation that can be used to create evidence- based practices. Evidence- based
practices are practices whose efficacy is supported by evidence. In this chapter,
we will discuss why research is important in social work practice and what re-
search entails, critically examine ways of knowing, define the two fields of re-
search, and provide an overview of four methods of research.


Perhaps you are asking yourself something along the lines of “Why should I have
to take a class in research? After all, I  am interested in working with people.
I could care less about research methods.” The reality is that research is gaining
an increasingly important place in the practice of social work. For instance,
managed care companies, insurance companies, and consumers themselves
are demanding that social workers be able to demonstrate not only that the
techniques, methods, and practices that they employ are useful and effective,
but also that these practices can be used effectively in other settings and with
other populations. Gone are the days when a social worker could rely on per-
sonal intuition and undocumented outcomes as proof that his or her practices
were effective. In fact, the Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social
Workers has an entire section on evaluation and research. Section 5.02 stresses

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2 R E S E A R C H M E T H O D S F O R S O C I A L W O R K E R S

that “Social workers should monitor and evaluate policies, the implementation
of programs, and practice interventions.” In addition, “Social workers should
promote and facilitate evaluation and research to contribute to the development
of knowledge” (National Association of Social Workers, 1999).

There are other reasons why researchers are compelled to adopt more rigorous
ways of measuring the effectiveness of social work practice. In difficult eco-
nomic times, as programs are experiencing a decrease in funding, it is becoming
increasingly important to utilize evidence- based practices to demonstrate
accountability. An increasing number of both government and private grant-
funding sources are requiring evaluation components to be incorporated into
grant proposals. In this age of shrinking dollars, foundations and governmental
funding agencies want assurances that money is spent in the most effective way
possible. Program evaluation can help agencies obtain or retain grants and other
such funding by demonstrating program success. When writing proposals and
developing new programs, social workers need to have at least a basic under-
standing of how to carry out a program evaluation.

Additionally, by researching specific social problems, social workers can be-
come agents of macro change. Social workers can devise social policies and
large- scale interventions to alter inequality and injustice in their agencies and
communities. For instance, a social service agency identifies a significant amount
of no- shows for job- skills training appointments. The agency conducts a tele-
phone survey to identify barriers that prevent clients from keeping appointments
and discovers that lack of access to transportation is the most significant barrier
and lack of child care the second most significant barrier. In response to these
findings, an agency policy is developed to provide taxi tokens and child care
vouchers to consumers with financial need.


With that in mind, we turn to the question “What is research?” Chances are,
you are already a researcher and do not know it. We often use research methods
without actually labeling what we are doing as research. For example, think back
to the last time you were going to see a movie. If you have ever solicited a review
from a friend or read a review in a paper or magazine and then based your deci-
sion to see the film on the reviewer’s opinion, you were utilizing research meth-
odology. Similarly, if you have ever consulted a newspaper or a local television
station for information about the weather so that you could decide how to dress
for the day, you are utilizing research methods.

Research is, in its simplest form, the assimilation of knowledge and the gath-
ering of data in a logical manner in order to become informed about something.
We often consult with others whose opinions we value (friends, experts, etc.)
and then make a decision based on our informed judgment. The process of
conducting research is essentially the same, but much more thorough.

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What Is Research? 3


The Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers (1999) states
that “Social workers should promote and facilitate evaluation and research to
contribute to the development of knowledge” (section 5.02b). Have you ever
wondered how we gain knowledge (how we know what we know)? Here, we will
discuss four ways in which knowledge can be gained.

First, we can use our own experiences to gain knowledge. Simply by trial
and error we can gradually make decisions about a problem and eventually de-
velop enough knowledge to solve a problem. For instance, you require a cer-
tain amount of sleep at night to feel rested the next day. A  pattern of sleep
experiences over time provides you with enough information to determine the
specific amount of sleep you require. However, in social work practice, personal
experiences can be misleading because our experiences and the experiences of
our consumers may be different, just as others may need more or less sleep than
you do.

Second, we can rely on the knowledge of others. Agency supervisors and other
coworkers who have years of practice experience can be important sources of
knowledge. Many have developed tried- and- true practices that have over time
become evidence- based practices. For instance, a supervisor explains that a par-
ticular judge prefers for documentation on a case to be presented in a certain way
and that this practice increases the possibility of a positive outcome in court. In
addition, consulting an expert or some authority in a field outside our own ex-
pertise can help us make better practice decisions.

However, if we rely on faulty information, we may be taking misperceptions
as truth. For instance, many self- help books are available on how to intervene
with an active alcoholic. While many are reliable resources, authors without
evidence- based practice experiences may be offering advice that is based on just
one person’s experience. Therefore, you must look at the qualifications of the
person who is offering advice and ensure it has been shown to be reliable and
valid through repeated positive outcomes.

Third, we can rely on traditions. Tradition provides us with knowledge passed
down over time. Many new social work practitioners are indoctrinated into agency
practice through the established practices of those who have worked there over
time. For instance, agency traditions may include weekly team meetings to staff
cases, debriefing with a supervisor after a difficult assessment, and identifying
caseload counts to ensure equitable distribution. These practices have proved
to increase accountability, reduce turnover rates, and monitor workloads, all of
which are beneficial. However, there are traditions that are not best practices.
For instance, taking consumer files home to work on, giving consumers our
home or cell phone numbers, and standardized group notes are practices that
can bring up issues of confidentiality, boundaries, and lack of individualized
documentation. We have to be careful when relying on tradition, however. Just
because a practice or tradition is “how it has always been done” does not make

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4 R E S E A R C H M E T H O D S F O R S O C I A L W O R K E R S

it a best practice. In some ways, tradition is the least reliable source for gaining

The fourth way to gather knowledge is by using scientific methods to answer
our questions. By researching our questions, we can increase our knowledge
about a particular issue or population. It should be noted that one misconception
about research is that studies are large experiments that are able to solve whole
problems. The truth is that the research process involves small incremental steps.
Each study adds a small piece of information to the whole. The process is much
like painting a picture. Each brushstroke, each dab of paint, adds a small amount
of detail until eventually a coherent picture emerges. Each stroke or dab of paint,
standing alone, may not represent much, but when all the dabs of paint are viewed
together as a whole, we see a picture. Research studies, by themselves, may only
explain a small part of the whole, but, when linked together with other studies,
they begin to help us see a larger picture or describe an occurrence. For example,
there is a plethora of child maltreatment research. Some studies may examine
characteristics of the abusers, others the abused children, and still others the
family dynamics of families in which child abuse is occurring. Each study is a
small part that contributes to our understanding of child maltreatment.

Therefore, one study is not sufficient to apply to everyone. Different studies
may have different— and sometimes opposite— findings because of the specific
characteristics of the populations being researched. For instance, a child protec-
tion agency in a large urban city may report a high percentage of parents using
street drugs, whereas a small rural community may report a high percentage
of parents using prescription drugs. As you can see, the findings of the larger
urban study do not apply to the rural study because the characteristics of the
populations are different.

In summary, it is important to explore all possible ways of knowing about
social work practice. The Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social
Workers (1999) emphasizes that “Social workers should critically examine
and keep current with emerging knowledge relevant to social work” (section
5.01c). Critical examination of personal experiences, the experiences of others,
traditions, and research methods can contribute to evidence- based practices in
social work. The ability to use critical thinking to determine how reliable the
information is an important skill for all social work practitioners. Incompatible
findings are the result of different decisions made by researchers, and this book
will teach you to determine which studies are relatively better.


There are two overarching ways of gathering data, or fields of research. These
are qualitative research methods and quantitative research methods. Qualitative
research is concerned with developing knowledge where little or none exists
and uses words, observations, and descriptions to develop this knowledge.

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What Is Research? 5

Quantitative research is concerned with expanding knowledge that already
exists and using numerical data to report the findings from the research. But
perhaps you want to use both qualitative and quantitative methods, or a mixed-
method design, in your research. Mixed- method designs allow researchers to
design a study using both qualitative and quantitative methods by using numer-
ical and textual data.

Qualitative Research

Social work is a profession that owes a large debt of gratitude to many other
disciplines. Anthropology, psychology, sociology, and medicine have all
contributed to the development of our profession. One of the areas in which
this becomes exceedingly clear is the field of qualitative research. Qualitative
research has deep roots in the fields of anthropology and sociology, where
the development of rigorous and exact methods for fieldwork has long been

The use of qualitative research methods is debated among social work
practitioners, faculty, researchers, and other professionals. It is generally agreed
that qualitative research is employed when little or nothing is known about a
subject or when the researcher wants to gain an in- depth understanding of a
person’s experience. Some may argue that qualitative methods are better suited
to studies on complicated topics such as a person’s comfort level with death, how
it feels to be unemployed, or how a child views the drinking habits of an al-
coholic parent. Qualitative research primarily relies on information generated
from observations of the researcher and discussions and interviews with study
participants. However, researchers engaged in qualitative research might also
gather some descriptive information such as the demographics of participants
and their settings in order to place their experiences within a context. In their
simplest form, qualitative research methods are used to help us understand the
characteristics of a phenomenon. Often this type of research uncovers these
characteristics by focusing on the ideas of the people involved.

As an example, let us imagine for a moment that you are a case manager in
a community health agency and the year is 1982. You have noticed that a large
number of your consumers who report being intravenous drug users are also
suffering from a strange new illness that seems to impair their immune system.
You may be aware that acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) was a rel-
atively unknown disease in 1982 and that scientists were just beginning to un-
derstand the causes of the transmission of this disease. As a case manager, you
may want to design a qualitative study that will help you explore the experiences
of those who are suffering from this disease by interviewing people living with
AIDS (recording their own words). You may also want to collect some demo-
graphic information such as sex, age, race, and length of illness to describe their
experiences within the context of the research population.

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6 R E S E A R C H M E T H O D S F O R S O C I A L W O R K E R S

Quantitative Research

Advocates of quantitative research argue that it is only through the use of
methods that report numerical representation that the social sciences can be-
come truly valid. Quantitative research seeks to explain relationships between
two or more factors. The aim of quantitative research is to determine how one
thing (a variable) affects another in a population. A variable is any attribute or
characteristic that changes or assumes different values. Variables can represent
subject characteristics (e.g., age, race, sex) or the things you are really interested
in (e.g., agency performance; rate of relapse in addiction treatment; physiolog-
ical, psychological, or sociological causes of child maltreatment). Variables can
also represent the effect of any intervention that subjects receive, such as a cul-
tural sensitivity training.

Mixed- Method Research

Mixed- method research uses both qualitative and quantitative research designs.
Using more than one research method while collecting and analyzing data in a
study is called concurrent mixed- method research. When data collected through
the use of one type of research design provide a basis for the collection of data
using the other type, this is called sequential mixed- method research. There are
several reasons to use a mixed- method design. Among these are that it can test
the consistency of findings obtained through different forms of data collection.
This is referred to as triangulation; this means that the findings from the
methods used are consistent and support each other. Or a researcher might use
a mixed- method design because it allows him or her to use qualitative methods
to add richness and detail to the results obtained from the use of quantitative
methods. Researchers may also choose a mixed- method design so they can use
results from one method to shape subsequent methods or steps in the research
process. This is frequently seen when a qualitative study is used to shape a quan-
titative study. In addition, mixed- method research can be used as a means to de-
velop new research questions or to use one method to challenge results obtained
through another method.


You may be asking yourself at this point, “Where do research questions orig-
inate?” Research questions may arise from your personal experience. Thus,
a person who was adopted may feel compelled to study the factors that make
adoptions work well for children. Research questions may develop out of re-
search articles or theories you are studying. A  theory is a statement or set of
statements designed to explain a phenomenon based upon observations and

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What Is Research? 7

experiments and often agreed upon by most experts in a particular field. For
example, you may want to test the credibility of the claims put forth by a devel-
opmental theory on aging that you learned about in one of your human behav-
ior classes. Research questions may arise out of your own practice experience.
Regardless of the source, most questions are born out of the researcher’s personal
interest in a subject.

To illustrate this process, we may begin with an observation (“This person
smiles at me and goes out of her way to help me”), then we have an idea (“This
person would make a good friend”), and then we develop a question (“Does
this person like me?”). We can examine this question by drawing from our past
experiences, by consulting others, or by asking the person directly.

When you are developing research questions, there are some issues to keep
in mind. The first thing to consider is whether the question is empirical. This
means the researcher must decide whether it can be quantified. For example, a
question such as “What is the best religion?” is both value laden and subjective
(“the best”). As a researcher, you need to be careful to remember that we can
study values in order to understand what others think, but we cannot conduct
research on values in order to evaluate them. Therefore, we can approach value-
laden issues through qualitative methods that are meant to deal with the sub-
jective questions we would have— this would eliminate any objectivity from the
research. “How many people cheat on their partner?” or “Has having an abortion
prevented further unwanted pregnancies?” are both examples of questions that
attempt to quantify issues of moral worth and can be measured through quan-
titative methods.


A hypothesis is a research statement about relationships between variables that
is testable and that can be accepted or rejected based on the evidence. Therefore,
you can only develop hypotheses that are quantifiable. To design a study to test
your hypothesis, you use quantitative research methods. Hypotheses are divided
into two categories:  research hypotheses and null hypotheses. The research hy-
pothesis asserts that there is a relationship between the variables, and the null
hypothesis claims that the relationship between the variables can be rejected.
In other words, the null hypothesis is what the researcher is attempting to re-
ject. For example, we may have a null hypothesis that no difference exists be-
tween a treatment group and a nontreatment group after intervention. If this is
rejected, then the research hypothesis that the treatment group will be different
from the nontreatment group after intervention (e.g., less sick or more educated)
is supported. Hypotheses are typically abbreviated as Ho (null hypothesis), Ha
(research hypothesis), and H1, H2, H3 (a number is used when there is more than
one research hypothesis).

Imagine that you are working at an emergency shelter with a consumer named
Joe.Joe is in need of permanent housing (he has been living on the streets for

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8 R E S E A R C H M E T H O D S F O R S O C I A L W O R K E R S

the past two years). While you are collecting assessment history with Joe, he
discloses that he has a long history of drug abuse. One initial hypothesis may
be “A history of substance abuse is related to not having stable housing.” In fur-
ther discussions with Joe, you explore this hypothesis with him, and he confirms
that his substance abuse has interfered with his ability to seek and keep a job— a
strong factor in his being homeless. You then decide to design a research study to
determine if this relationship between substance abuse and homelessness exists
beyond your client. You can also test a second hypothesis that looks at the rela-
tionship between substance abuse and unemployment.


There are different designs that researchers can choose from to collect data in
conducting qualitative, quantitative, and mixed- method research. Exploratory
designs are exclusively grounded in qualitative research, and explanatory designs
are exclusively grounded in quantitative research. Descriptive designs, evaluative
designs, and single- subject designs can draw from either or both types of research.

Exploratory Designs

An exploratory design is a type of research design that allows us to use our
powers of observation, inquiry, and assessment to form tentative theories about
what we are seeing and experiencing. It is generally used to explore understudied
topics. In essence, we need to find out about a phenomenon. By asking an open-
ended question (that is, a question that is worded in a way that allows the re-
spondent to answer in his or her own words as opposed to merely soliciting a
yes- or- no response) and observing the environment, we can begin to identify
common themes from the information we gather. For instance, imagine you are
a crisis call worker shortly after the 9/ 11 terrorist attacks. You are receiving a
high volume of calls from rescue workers involved in the recovery of human
remains. You have little or no knowledge about this experience; therefore, you
explore the callers’ experiences with them by asking questions such as “What is
it like for you?” After listening to several workers, you might discover evidence
of a common theme, for example, that the callers have been experiencing periods
of tearfulness. Based on this evidence, you can then tell other callers that this
experience appears to be common among rescue workers.

Explanatory Designs

An explanatory design is a type of research design that focuses on examining
the relationships between two or more factors and attempting to determine if

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What Is Research? 9

they are related, and, if so, in what ways and how strongly they are related. For
example, you may believe there is a relationship between the amount of time
students spend studying for their research methods class and their final course
grade in that class. Your hypothesis might be “The more students study research
methods, the better their grades in that course will be.” In fact, you would be able
to find studies that have provided evidence that a relationship exists. If you were
so inclined, it would be possible to design a study to examine just how strong the
relationship is between hours spent studying and final course grades.

Descriptive Designs

In a sense, all research is descriptive by nature because it describes how and/ or
why a phenomenon occurs. Qualitative research methods do this using words
and quantitative research methods using numbers. A  descriptive design is a
method that can be used to seek information that uses numeric language (how
many, how much, etc.) to describe a population or phenomenon. This can be
used in both qualitative and quantitative methods of research. For example, if
you are conducting a quantitative study of victims of domestic violence, you may
want to collect information on certain characteristics, such as their average age,
what percentage of them have children, and the type of abuse and how frequently
is occurs. You might also ask them to interpret the severity of the last abuse epi-
sode using a scale from 1 to 5. It is important to note here that although this type
of research looks at patterns such as how often an event occurs or ways these
answers develop in relation to each other, it does not try to address why these
patterns exist.

Descriptive information is also collected during qualitative studies to help put
the experiences into context with the population reporting them. For example,
while conducting interviews with 9/ 11 rescue workers, you might also collect in-
formation on how many of these individuals are firefighters, police officers, health
professionals, volunteer civilians, and so forth. By using this mixed- method
design, you may also be reporting how frequently the rescue workers reported
similar textual information— for example, “Six out of ten volunteers stated they
would volunteer again, regardless of the difficulties they are experiencing now.”

Evaluative Designs

Evaluative designs can also draw from both fields of research. An evalua-
tive design draws from qualitative research methods when statements made
in interviews and focus groups and written comments are used to describe
outcomes. For instance, positive comments from a survey may be included in
a program evaluation to demonstrate consumer satisfaction. Evaluative designs
can also draw from the quantitative field of research. For instance, an evaluative

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10 R E S E A R C H M E T H O D S F O R S O C I A L W O R K E R S

design might examine how many and what type of residents were serviced at an
agency over the past month.

Single- Subject Designs

Finally, a single- subject design uses systematic methodology to measure an
individual’s progress over time and measures whether a relationship exists be-
tween an intervention and a specific outcome. These designs can also draw from
either or both methods of research. In a study using qualitative methods, the
consumer’s own statement that he or she is suicidal might be used to justify an
extension for mental health treatment from an insurance company.


A major strength of research is that it can help us gain an understanding of
many social problems. Through research, we can gain knowledge of issues
such as child maltreatment, domestic violence, and substance abuse. Another
benefit is that research has led to the development of new agency policies,
greater practice accountability, evidence- based treatment strategies, and new

Research also has inherent limitations. First, research is conducted in small
steps that are often repeated to build evidence. Each new study adds to the
overall body of knowledge, which is considered a strength. However, knowledge
is built slowly over time— not in quantum leaps. A second limitation of research
is that the knowledge that it yields is confined to the questions that are asked.
Only by asking enough relevant questions can we obtain useful answers. Finally,
research is subject to bias. Bias is the unknown or unacknowledged error created
during the design of the research method, in the choice of problem to be studied,
over the course of the study itself, or during the interpretation of findings. This
is not to say that the research is necessarily flawed— only limited. For example,
if your study examines parents’ use of corporal punishment with their children
but all your research participants are white, your findings are racially biased.
Therefore, bias can be unintentional and sometimes unavoidable but must al-
ways be identified as a limitation.


You are a case manager working in a homeless shelter in a large metropolitan
city. Assigned to your caseload is a family of four— the father, Art; the mother,
Janice; and twin boys (aged seven), Matt and Justin. The mother and father are
both hearing impaired. The twin sons do not have a hearing impairment, but they
use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with their parents. Art and

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What Is Research? 11

Janice communicate with each other using ASL and communicate with you (and
other hearing people) using a combination of lip reading and written notes. Both
the parents were employed at a local manufacturing plant until about six months
ago when they were laid off. They moved in with relatives until the relatives were
no longer able to afford having an additional four people living with them. They
are now homeless and living on the street. As a case manager, you wish to learn
more about them, their challenges in living with a disability (hearing impair-
ment), and the customs and culture of the deaf community.


Based on the information in this chapter, answer the following questions:

1. Which research method qualitative (exploratory) or quantitative
(explanatory) would be most appropriate with your clients? Give reasons
for choosing this method.

2. What are three questions that you might ask your clients that would
help you to better understand them, their world, and their culture?

3. What would be at least one limitation of your findings?


• Research is the process of systematically gaining information.
• Research is becoming increasingly important as governing agencies

demand evidence that programs and practices are effective.
• Knowledge is gained through our own experiences, through others,

through tradition, and through the use of scientific methods.
• There are two types of research methods: qualitative research methods

and quantitative research methods. When both research methods are
used, this is called a mixed- method design.

• Research questions may arise from personal experience, out of research
articles or theories under study, or out of practice experience and are
born out of the researcher’s personal interest in a subject.

• Hypotheses are research statements about relationships between
variables that are testable and that can be accepted or rejected based on
the findings from a study.

• Exploratory research designs allow the researcher to use his or her
powers of observation, inquiry, and assessment to form tentative
theories about what is being seen and experienced.

• Descriptive research designs use descriptive language to provide
information about a phenomenon.

• Explanatory research designs attempt to explain the relationship
between two or more factors.

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12 R E S E A R C H M E T H O D S F O R S O C I A L W O R K E R S

• Evaluative research designs attempt to examine the effectiveness of
programs and services.

• Single- subject designs are used to measure a person’s progress
over time.


True or False

1. There are four types of research. These are qualitative, inferential,
descriptive, and informative.

2. Quantitative research is usually characterized by the fact that results are
reported in numerical terms (in numbers and figures).

3. The Social Work Code of Ethics promotes social workers conducting

Multiple Choice

4. Knowledge is transferred in four ways. These four ways are:
a. tradition, others’ experiences, our experience, our best guess.
b. others’ experiences, our experience, scientific inquiry, expert opinion.
c. our experience, others’ experiences or knowledge, tradition, and the

scientific method.
d. others’ experiences, our knowledge, tradition, and the Internet.

5. Quantitative research is most often associated with what?
a. explanatory research
b. research that determines why a phenomenon exists
c. research that is generalizable to a large population
d. exploratory research
e. none of the above

6. The NASW _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ of _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ recommends
that social workers conduct research.

7. Hypotheses are divided into two categories: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ hypotheses
and _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ hypotheses.

8. Single- subject designs measure an _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ progress over time.

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