Tag Archives: grounded theory

Traits of Grounded Theory: Core Category, Theory Generation, Memos

In a previous post, we began a discussion on grounded theory traits. There are at least six traits of grounded as listed below.

  • Process approach
  • Theoretical sampling
  • Constant comparison
  • Core category
  • Generation of theory
  • Memos

In this post, we will look at the last three characteristics in detail.

Core Category

Qualitative research emphasizes the use of categories. A core category a category which serves as the foundation for the development of a theory. Below is a criteria for developing a core category.

  • It needs to recur frequently in the data
  • It is at the center of the study is it interacts with all aspects of the study
  • It is logical and naturally appears from the data
  • It is highly abstract

It is difficult to provide an example of developing a core category. The point is that this category plays a significant role in understanding the central phenomenon in comparison to other categories you may develop.

Theory Generation

Generating a theory in grounded theory involves the explanation of a process in abstract terms. The theory developed has little external validity because it is grounded so thoroughly in the data. In general, a grounded theory can appear in one of three forms

  • Visual coding paradigm
  • propositions (hypotheses)
  • narrative form

A visual coding paradigm is an illustration of the theory that a researcher creates. There are many examples on the internet of visual representation of a theory.

Propositions are statements that explain the relationships among the various categories of a study.  These statements can also be worded as hypotheses. These hypotheses are often tested in the future quantitatively.

A narrative form involves the development of propositions but rather than being only statements, the statements are connected to create a description of the central phenomenon. This involves a high level of creativity to not only interpret the data but to capture in a narrative description.


Memos are short notes a researcher takes while conducting grounded theory research. They’re similar to field notes but they involve personal reflection rather than raw data. Memos help to shape the data analysis aspect of grounded theory.


Grounded theory is a useful way to assess processes that take place in the real world. These six characteristics provide some basic information about this approach.

Grounded Theory: Emerging & Constructivist Design

Grounded theory is a qualitative methodology that was described briefly in this blog previously when we looked at systematic design. In this post, we will look at two other designs that fall under the grounded theory approach which are emerging and constructivist design.

Emerging Design

Emerging design was in many ways a reaction to systematic design. Glaser and Strauss worked together to develop grounded theory during the 1960’s. By the 1990’s Strauss along with Corbin had refined grounded theory into what is now know as systematic design.

Glasser had issues with systematic design. He considered it too rigid and strict with the emphasis on rules and procedures. In response to this, he developed the emerging design.

Glasser proposed to allow the theory to emerge from the data rather than forcing the data into preconceived categories. Glasser was also focused on a more iterative approach. This means that data was compared to data, data was compared to category, and category compared to category.

Glasser viewed grounded theory as the process of abstracting to higher and higher level rather than only describing a process. The generate theory should appropriately fit the data, should actually work, be relevant, and changeable.

Constructivist Design

The constructivist design is the youngest of the three grounded theory designs. It was first developed in the earlier 2000’s by Charmaz. Unlike the other forms of grounded theory with the focus on categories, codes, and theory generating. The constructivist design emphasizes the views, values, and feelings of the people rather than the process.

Whereas Strauss & Corbin and Glasser would focus on describing a process in their systematic or emerging design approach, the constructivist design would focus on how people felt during these process and try to extract meaning from the experience.

For example, if we conducted a study on men with chronic illness the results would vary depending on the grounded theory design we used. If we used systematic or emerging design we would focus on the common process of acquiring and dealing with a chronic illness. However, if we used the constructivist design we would focus on how the men feel during their experience with a chronic illness as well as trying to determine what it means to have a chronic illness.

Which to Choose?

The decision of what design is best depends on the purpose of the study and the preference of the researcher. It is difficult to say one is better or worst than the other. Rather, each is appropriate depending on the context of the study.