Grounded Theory: Systematic Design

Grounded theory is a systematic approach to qualitative research that involves the development of theory or the description of a process/action. The key characteristic of grounded theory is the systematic nature of it. This in contrast to most qualitative methods that are highly flexible in how a researcher can go about collection and analysis of data.

Due to its structured nature, grounded theory is an excellent beginning point for those who are interested in qualitative research. This is especially true for those who come from a quantitative background in which the steps of conducting research are clear.

However, there is some disagreement in conducting grounded theory as there are several different approaches that vary in the amount of structure they provided. In this post, we will look specifically at the grounded theory design know as the systematic approach.

Systematic Approach

The systematic approach to grounded theory focuses heavily on inductive thinking. In many ways, the researcher starts with the most specific information they collected and summarize and move to the most abstract characteristics they were able to find through analyzing the data. This experience involves three steps in the coding process.

  1. Open coding
  2. Axial coding
  3. Selective coding

Open coding involves making the initial categories in which to place the data. For example, let’s say you are looking at how principals support their teachers in professional development. You notice that several teachers share how the principals serve a leadership role in their professional development. This information of the principals as leaders in professional development could serve as a category.

A Category can also have dimensionalized properties. This means that there is a continuum on which the trait is seen. For example, a principal can be one of several types of leaders in professional development. He can be a dictator or at the other extreme, he can be laissez faire. Both of these are examples of leadership and there would be many examples in-between.

Axial Coding

Step two involves axial coding. This involves taking one of your categories and making it the central phenomenon of the study. For example, if you are convinced that the heart of professional development for teachers is the leadership of the principal this would become the central phenomenon.   All the other categories are one of the following.

  • Causal conditions: These influences the central phenomenon
  • Context: The setting
  • Strategies: Influenced by the central phenomenon
  • Intervening conditions: Influence the strategies
  • Consequences: The results of using the strategies

Another name for this is the coding paradigm. So an example is attached Doc1

The attachment shows the coding for systematic grounded theory and the interrelation among the various factors. It is very similar to developing a statistical model which is why grounded theory is an excellent starting point for first-time qualitative researchers.

Selective Coding

Selective coding involves taking the coding paradigm and converting it to written text. It involves writing out the storyline in which the process happens and providing an explanation. It is not at all easy to take all of the information involved with interviews, developing a paradigm, and finally writing this down in coherent language.


Grounded theory is an established qualitative method. This method involves three steps that take data, diagrams it, and lastly, describes a process using words.

2 thoughts on “Grounded Theory: Systematic Design

  1. Pingback: Grounded Theory: Emerging & Constructivist Design | educationalresearchtechniques

  2. Pingback: Traits of Grounded Theory: Process, Sampling, & Comparision | educationalresearchtechniques

Leave a Reply