Grounded theory is often regarded as a special type of qualitative research methodology (others include ethnography and case study methodologies). As such, it has a unique method of coding and analysis that can be quite difficult to process and requires a serious investment of time to do it well. As with any qualitative coding, the key is to have as much rich, descriptive data from as many sources as possible. More data will make the coding process easier, although it may be difficult to get started.

Step 1

Subject the data to open coding. This is often the most difficult part of coding for grounded theory. Every segment of data, which can be any logical piece of data such as a phrase, sentence, paragraph or photograph should be labeled with a word or phrase describing the data's essential nature. Ask what is the segment essentially about. The data segment can have more than one code, for example.

Step 2

Keep a list of your codes so you know which ones you have used and can use again. For example, if one data segment is about "Self-efficacy," and you see other segments related to self-efficacy, use the same code for all of them. This will make it easier to group data segments later. At the same time, make new codes as you move through the data; don't constrain yourself at this point.

Step 3

Keep memos of your process. Memos are notes about the process, the codes and later the categories as you go through the data. They will help you keep track of your ideas as you continue the analysis.

Step 4

Subject the open codes to axial coding using the constant comparative method. Axial coding is the process of relating the codes to each other to form categories. Keep forming and adding to categories until you reach "saturation," or when there is no new data to expand the category. Constant comparison is the process of finding similarities between codes and data segments continuously. This will help you identify and form categories.

Step 5

Continue the constant comparison process until you find the core category. The core category is the underlying concept, process or variable that unites all the other categories. This gives your study a firm basis for what the data is about. Like the other categories, constantly compare data with the core category until you reach saturation.

Step 6

Engage in selective coding. This is a refinement process for all the categories and involves deliberately selecting specific data segments to fit into a previously generated category. The aim is to strengthen and clarify the categories. By this point in the coding process, you may already have a good idea of what refinements are needed. You also develop the relationships between the categories at this point, which begin to form the basis for your theory.

Step 7

Continue collecting data until you reach theoretical saturation. If you are new to grounded theory, finding the point of theoretical saturation can be difficult. This is simply the stage where new data does not alter any of the categories. The essential categories have formed, and no further gathering of data is required.