Monday, April 6, 2009

Transcribing & Coding Interviews - Classical GT Process

Quite a few of the advanced classic GT scholars advocate against recording and transcribing interviews.  They prefer to take field notes and to memo.  This is to avoid from becoming overwhelmed by the data.

One thing Barney said to me was that I can go back to my recorded interviews, and instead of transcribing them, just listen to them and making field notes.

But I am having trouble doing that.  I am so afraid of missing out on the data and precious quotes that I end up taking too many notes and transcribing too much.  One 1-hour interview can take me up 6 hours to note.  What is worse is that after about 1 hour of such work, I get tired and don't want to continue.  It is starting to feel tedious (the way that I am doing it).

And so, I decided that if I can "out" the block of mine on my blog and make it public--let the world know of my secret research shame--it might help me to better stick to the process.  The last thing I want is to become so bogged down by the data that I become ineffective in data analysis.

Keep it broad.  If it is an important aspect of the people's lived experience, it will show up again.  I need to trust the classical GT process!


Anonymous said...

Been there, done that. Qualitative method is just tiring and sometimes demotivating but GT is quick and simple at the start but to wait for emergence and to conceptualize are the challenges to endure.

Anonymous said...

Getting through the PhD process using Orthodox GT; a supervisor/researcher perspective

This paper is a collaboration between Andy an experienced GT PhD supervisor and Wendy one of his researchers whose doctoral thesis of “Keeping Clients in Line”, Guthrie (2000), was externally examined by Dr Barney Glaser. The main inspiration of the paper is to help both PhD supervisors and researchers to navigate their way through some of the obstacles they are likely to confront whilst doing a PhD using the orthodox grounded theory method in a conventional university setting.

The paper identifies five main issues which have to be confronted and dealt with in order to ensure that the PhD using an orthodox GT research methodology is achieved.

(i) Establishing a consensus on the purpose of the PhD
(ii) Finding and evaluating the most appropriate supervisor
(iii) Understanding how the specific university regulations might impact on the research process
(iv) How to manage your committee
(v) Getting published

The Future is Grounded

Sometimes being ahead of your time is difficult. Barney Glaser can vouch for this. Experienced GT researchers will identify with this too. How many times have you had to explain the whys and wherefores of doing GT?

Of course we shouldn’t be surprised by the need to painstakingly unpack what GT has to offer. Anything which is complex and unfamiliar takes time to be adopted. And indeed some things take longer than others!

We remember Barney saying a number of years ago that GT was some 20 -30 years ahead of its time. We aim to raise awareness of the multi-faceted challenges likely to be faced, by those wishing to gain a PhD using GT, and, for their supervisors tasked with navigating the route to the successful completion and award of the degree.

The advice is designed for fledgling GT researchers and supervisors new to GT (or those seeking comfort in the knowledge that they are not alone!). It is intended that the advice offered deflects some of the pitfalls which ordinarily would be discovered through experience.

We hope that the information offered smoothes the path ahead in two fundamental ways. Firstly our writing should raise your levels of awareness about critical issues which may impinge upon progress and in so doing, enable you to anticipate what challenges my lie ahead. At the very least you should be better placed to take appropriate decisions with the benefit of other’s hindsight.

We are the test pilots – there is no need for you to crash and burn. Latch on to the opportunity to make swift progress based on our learning. Enjoy the Grounded Theory journey.

Initial decisions for the student
Make sure you really want to discover how to use GT. After all there are many alternatives available. Question your motivation to study for a PhD in the first instance and reasons for wishing to use orthodox GT methodology in particular. Once you have verified these fundamentals, seek out good support from others. Early on, get to grips with the pertinent texts which articulate the theory of using the chosen methodology. The principal sources of authentic material are generally to be sourced through the Sociology Press (Glaser 1978,1992), with the exception of the original text by Glaser and Strauss, The Discovery of Grounded Theory, published in 1967.

Read the texts which are examples of grounded theory in action in order to become familiar with the real thing (Glaser, 1993 & Glaser(ed) 1995), (Glaser & Strauss, 1971, 1972).

Study examples of good GTs, observe how experts tackle the challenges - during workshops examine how more experienced practitioners practice their art, cultivate dialogue with your peers and read diverse examples of well constructed literature to become sensitive to the constituents and how they are integrated. If possible establish a small writing group and convene regularly. If not physically viable consider utilizing the virtual environment. Building in a group dimension avoids the potential negative impact of feeling isolated. It has the added bonus of building a discipline for the writing activity. The purpose of this suggestion is to encourage writing to become routine. The more practice gained the greater the forward momentum. It is easy to become over-committed to the process of data collection; writing and analysis can easily be sidelined to the detriment of the overall process.

Beginning to analyze the data in concert with generating the data is essential. Stockpiling superb data to be analyzed later is at best unhelpful. Worse still this counterproductive activity risks unnecessarily prolonging the time taken in the field through failing to use the theoretical sampling process to best effect. It may be somewhat intoxicating to generate more and more fascinating data from the field, adhering to GT procedure however prevents this from taking over and diverting energy.

Orthodox GT states we must curb our inclination for indiscriminate data collection, however captivating. Furthermore it encourages us to begin analysis immediately and consequently the overall data collection process becomes superbly focused being directly guided by what is emerging from the ongoing analysis. Activity is purposeful and directed as a consequence.

It is normal to feel some degree of apprehension regarding just how to begin to analyze your data. Imagine how terrible it would be to begin the PhD process and discover that you have no analytic ability or aptitude for the task! Convince yourself that this is unlikely to be the case and get going with initial attempts to make sense of the data. Do this by strictly disciplining yourself to the business of fragmenting the data into open codes.

It is human nature to avoid exposing oneself as possibly incompetent and this may explain the underlying reluctance to leap headlong into analysis. I experienced this as a post graduate beginning the PhD journey. Simply recognize this phenomenon. Rationalize it as a way of dealing with the risk of such potential embarrassment and the threat of public ridicule. Acknowledge these concerns are normal and legitimate. Consciously choose to begin analysis at the earliest point. This is a learning process. These are the first shots at a difficult task and it is not a finished product. There should be no expectation of perfection at the outset. Beginning the analytic process is only that. It gives a feeling of making progress and gaining forward momentum.
This is energizing in itself.

There are particular difficulties associated with doing GT for the first time. Be aware of these but don’t get unnecessarily concerned. To a newcomer some of the key texts may appear, at first sight, difficult. Have you ever read a book which aims to teach you how to ski, surf, ride a horse? None, no matter how well written, can mimic what it is really like to feel the full range of these real experiences as they are lived. Using GT is no different. Indeed reading and re-reading the texts, such as Discovery and Theoretical Sensitivity, which describe the methodology, explain its use and reveal how to do orthodox GT, is essential. Many years after beginning to discover GT, revisiting these resources throws up different perspectives which, based on experience, and with the passage of time, reveal more of their secrets.

Skills become honed through the practice of doing GT. As skills develop greater depth of understanding is possible, the texts take on new meanings. With growing knowledge finesse in doing grounded theory increases. Equally we can look back and visualize how our abilities to generate theories from data have evolved. This is empowering. We can also begin to pinpoint how to develop further as a grounded theorist. A fuller grasp of the subtlety of doing GT research becomes possible. This is incremental.

Many who purport to be using GT do not, in fact. There are many reasons why they fail to deliver an authentic rendition of the methodology in practice. Among these are
• The control freaks who want the legitimization GT offers. They cannot let go of their pre-understanding and consequently deliver ‘fraudulent’ theory which is usually grounded in extant knowledge and does not reflect the reality of what is in the data. They are likely to be experts in their field, they think they know the answers already and want to pretend they have discovered them systematically. Professionals cannot admit they do not have all the answers it would be unprofessional, wouldn’t it? In this sense GT challenges the socially structured myth of the omniscient professional. It may therefore be seen as anti-establishment. The subtext means exponents of GT risk being labeled as unorthodox; hence, worthy of suspicion.
• GT is so often miss-used that this in itself breeds further miss-use. For example so and so used GT like this so, I will too – that must be how it is done…
• People fail to take the time and effort to understand correctly what doing GT entails. These ‘users’ latch on to it because they think it will be quick and easy.
• Too few people are well qualified to judge what a good GT is. Often those who are tasked with such evaluation impose inappropriate criteria on such work, recognition being falsely attributed; again perpetuating miss-use.

One key dimension of grounded theory is the highly effective focusing that that happens as a consequence of the requirement to simultaneously generate and analyze data. This integration stimulates directed activity where relevant to the emerging theory. It does not waste activity elsewhere, unnecessarily. It is advisable not to latch on to the apparently obvious discoveries too soon. It may be that as a relatively inexperienced GT researcher there is a risk that such a decision may be premature in interpreting where the action is. Counter this inclination by continuing the process of coding the data and in this way ensuring you are seeing what really matters.

(i) Establishing a consensus on the purpose of the PhD
Western European universities from the Middle Ages onwards have been issuing academic degrees of various types. Throughout Europe universities were dominated by the Christian church. The church sought be the sole custodian of both knowledge and power. The first doctoral degrees to be awarded were all doctor of divinity degrees, then came Master of Arts and Science degrees. The PhD was the most recent new comer of all higher degrees. The contemporary PhD has its academic roots in Germany in the 1850s, shifting soon after to the USA. Later it caught on in the UK and then the rest of the world. By tradition the holder of a PhD degree is a person who is qualified to practice high quality research without supervision. Around the world today there is a vast variation of both the purposes and objectives of the PhD degree. This variation is extends to different universities within the same country. At one extreme the PhD process is completely formularistic. At the other extreme the PhD is vague and ambiguous. Even the way in which the PhD is evaluated is extremely varied. In Australia most universities which award PhDs the PhD candidate does not have the opportunity to defend the thesis in person. Instead the PhD researcher simply submits the thesis and awaits the written evaluation of the committee. In most other countries there is the opportunity to for the PhD candidate to personally defend the thesis but there are hundreds of different ways in which the process is conducted. The issue of importance for the PhD researcher and supervisor involved in the PhD is to have an in-depth understanding long before the process begins.

What a PhD should be

It should be a process of empowerment to achieve intellectual autonomy and creativity. The PhD should be an important vehicle for the development of personal self-confidence. It is a process of becoming a PhD. In addition to gaining intellectual independence the researcher also is becoming a member of a social grouping; the PhD community.

What a PhD should not be

A PhD should not be done just to fulfill other people’s desires and requirements. This type of “surrogate PhD” will neither bestow intellectual autonomy nor achieve personal self-confidence. Often parental expectations, possibly driven by their own lack of opportunities or achievements, can pressurize some researchers to commit to doing a PhD against their better judgment. It must be the researcher’s PhD not someone else’s.

Why a Grounded Theory PhD is different

The Grounded Theory research method demands that the researcher allows the latent patterns embedded in the data to emerge. It is predicated on the belief that human behaviour can be understood by latent pattern analysis. The GT method is not based on the preconceptions of others. To some university systems this will be intolerable.

The GT PhD is not for everyone. It is best suited to those researchers who have an affinity for conceptualization coupled with a high tolerance for uncertainty. It is neither contextually based nor focused on any existing body of knowledge. It will not be preceded by a discursive literature review. Neither will it be possible at the out set to give very specific research objectives. This does not mean that it is impossible to write both a literature review or give very specific research objectives in order to comply with some institutionalized prerequisite when doing an orthodox GT PhD. Rather it means that the novice GT PhD researcher needs to learn [the difference between] the importance of fulfilling institutional requirements without violating the basic tenets of the orthodox GT research method. Achieving these twin goals may at first appear unlikely especially if you find yourself in an apparently hostile, to GT, institutional environment. Do not despair. Although any individual PhD researcher will always be out flanked by the powerful institutional forces of a university, there are ways in which this imbalance can be successfully managed. The important issue is that the novice GT PhD researcher has to understand is that it is, in fact, possible to both satisfy the institutional requirements of a university without violating the orthodox GT method. The way to achieve this is treat both issues quite separately. Initially you must fulfill the basic institutional requirements of the university because without which you will neither be registered nor will you be awarded the PhD. If the regulations state that any PhD research proposal must be accompanied by a literature review, then do a literature. If the regulations say that a literature review must become the first chapter of the PhD then again give them a literature review. However the most important thing for the novice GT PhD researcher to understand is to do the GT research in the orthodox manner first rather than then retro fit a contrived literature review into the PhD thesis. The literature review [which is written after the core variable has emerged] as used in the orthodox approach to the GT method can be shown in an appendix. In reality what will happen is that once your core variable from the orthodox GT research has emerged the external examiners will be far more interested in that than in any literature review you did before the research evolved.

Although the GT research method is now an internationally recognized as a robust and legitimate research methodology its power has been diminished by several academic [Corbin (insert dates) et al] who have sought to label their own descriptive research as GT research. There are even authors who have hijacked the label to present it as something entirely different. From the out set the aspiring GT PhD researcher has to be able recognize the orthodox GT research from the pretenders. This is quite easily done however. The only legitimate source of the orthodox approach to the GT research method is to be found in the publications of Dr Barney Glaser and at the Grounded Theory Institute website []. If researchers use any other adaptation of GT they will be deluding themselves and misleading others. The orthodox grounded theory research method is a very specific methodology with each step of the process very specifically delineated. Those who adapt and amend the Orthodox GT process should not label the research method they have used as GT. Instead they should say their research was “influenced” or “inspired by GT” and then go on to create a new label for the research process they have used. [Supervisors should insist on methodological clarity, at a minimum, to demonstrate rigorous endeavor.] This practice is worth cultivating because it establishes as routine the need to be clear about how research processes are conducted and acts as an indicator of intellectual competence.

(ii) Finding and evaluating the most appropriate supervisor

Supervision options

Historically most GT PhD researchers have used the “minus-mentoring” approach. This means that the researcher does the GT research in the absence of a knowledgeable and experienced GT research supervisor. The researcher often has an institution based PhD supervisor who knows little of the GT process but does have knowledge of the institutional requirements of the PhD process. “Minus-mentorees” then seek help and guidance from experienced GT researchers and practitioners who become their unofficial mentors. These GT mentors are to be found via the Grounded Theory Institute’s own website [] as well as through the usual academic channels of networking [via conferences, academic journals and on-line research discussion groups]

It is still quite rare for the GT PhD researcher whose formal supervisor is also an experienced GT practitioner but it is happening more every year. This follows a traditional supervision model where the supervisor and supervisee enter into a mutually beneficial contract with the end game of the completion of a GT PhD.

In recent times it is now becoming more possible to have a supervisory contractual agreement between a remote geographically internet based supervisor and a researcher. Andy is based in Bangkok Thailand and his most recent GT PhD researcher [Christiansen (2007)] was based in the Fareo Islands some 7,000 miles away. This achieved a satisfactory conclusion because it was stipulated that the supervisor had to have a face to face meeting with the researcher at least once a year.

How to ensure that you have the most appropriate supervisor

Many novice PhD researchers may feel rather uncomfortable about the notion of doing background checks on their potential supervisors. They should not be concerned about doing this because one of the main reasons for PhD researchers’ failure to complete is caused by poor supervision. In many universities there is an absence of systematic PhD supervisor training. Because of this it is important for the researcher to find out if their chosen institution has a PhD supervision “mentoring” system. This type of system is an on the job training program for PhD supervisors where other colleagues and faculty members meet with the supervisor on a regular basis to assist them with their PhD supervision tasks. These kinds of systems are necessary because it does not always follow that a successful career academic is also a competent PhD supervisor. The job of a career academic can be classified into four main types of tasks; administration, teaching, research and publication. The fast track career academic has to make sure that he gives an appropriate priority to these four types of activities. The type of PhD supervisor to avoid is the PRAT. By that I mean the person first prioritizes his own publication, then his research, then administration and finally teaching and supervision. The reason why it’s dangerous for the novice PhD researcher to get involved with a PRAT is because they would categorize PhD supervision as a low priority and see it as a combination of administration and teaching. Excellence in either activity is not valued in terms of their personal career advancement. This is a consequence of the structural reward system existing in academic institutions. The novice PhD researcher should try and look for the career academic that is caught in the TRAP. This type of academic prioritizes his time with students and researchers because to him the order of priorities are as follows; teaching, research, administration and publication.
The researcher must ascertain the detailed prior supervision experience of his potential supervisor. Avoid institutions that arbitrarily allocate researchers to supervisors as an administrative convenience. The researcher must first research all potential supervisor candidates carefully. This can be done by first establishing an accurate assessment of the candidate’s track record in supervision. There are at least three ways to discover more about the supervisor’s competence. Firstly visit the library of the institute where you are considering registering to a PhD. Ask the library officials to point you in the right direction where you can view all the PhDs awarded in your area of interest selected by both researcher and supervisor. Secondly, track down all those researchers who have been supervised by your potential supervisors and arrange to meet them in person. If this is not possible get hold of their e-mail addresses and ask them the following questions:
[1] How long did the PhD process take?
[2] Were you encouraged to meet the other researchers this person was supervising?
[3] What happened at your first PhD supervision meeting?
[4] How many meetings a year were scheduled?
[5] What goals and objectives were agreed at these meetings?
[6] What were the best aspects of your supervisor’s supervision regime?
[7] What were the worst aspects of the supervision regime?
[8] Would you recommend your supervisor as an appropriate person for my proposed PhD?
[9] Did your supervisor give you an overview of the whole PhD
process during your first meeting?
[10] At which point in the PhD process did your supervisor explain in detail the formal assessment criteria for the PhD

Some consequences of having an inappropriate supervisor

[A] You may have to find a surrogate supervisor
A surrogate supervisor is a person who volunteers to offer the PhD researcher continued assistance throughout the PhD process. The surrogate supervisor neither has any official standing as supervisor nor receives any financial reward. Why you do surrogate supervisors agree to do this? When I was doing my own PhD I had an inexperienced and inept supervisor and my PhD was saved by the timely intervention of a surrogate supervisor. In my case the surrogate supervisor was a professor from a different university from where I was registered as a PhD researcher. He heard me give a presentation at an international conference and generously made several positive comments about my work and indicated how it could be further developed. Surrogate supervisors exist because there are some generous people in the academic world who are willing to offer help to those in need. However it is an unwise strategy to do a PhD with the aim of finding a surrogate supervisor. Its much wiser to make sure that your own supervisor is really up to the job.

[B] You may have to dismiss your PhD supervisor
This may seem to be rather drastic action but there are instances when this is the only course open to the PhD researcher. Andy can remember an instance when he was approached at a conference [long after I had got my own PhD] by a young PhD researcher, from a different university from where I worked, who told me that he had been allocated a very lazy and incompetent PhD and he [the PhD researcher] was in danger of being de-registered as a PhD researcher because of his allegedly poor work. Actually it was the lack of feed back and general absence of supervision which was the cause of the problem. The PhD researcher was from Asia and it was totally alien to him to openly criticize any teacher especially his PhD supervisor. I advised him that he should make an official complaint for “mal-supervision” and contact the student’s union lawyers to start legal proceedings to reclaim the supervision fees and other living costs he had incurred during the research process. The advice worked perfectly. The university made an investigation into the lazy PhD supervisor’s behaviour and found that other researchers also complained about his conduct. The university apologized to the PhD researcher and allocated a much more experienced PhD supervisor and the researcher received his PhD without any further problems. He was awarded his PhD in 2008.

(iii) Understanding how specific university regulations might impact the research process

Writing the research proposal
All universities, however diverse there regulations, all require the PhD researcher to write a formal research proposal. There are several different ways to accomplish this and it is probably better to write three different research proposals [one for each type of audience] for the same research project in order to obtain the most efficient results. The type of research proposal you use depends on the audience it is addressing.
There are three broad categories of research proposal audiences; your supervisor, the institution where you are going to register your PhD and the external funding constituencies.

The informal research proposal for your supervisor
The research proposal for your supervisor should focus on the type of supervision relationship you are hoping to establish. This means that you should clearly indicate your preferred pattern of supervision that will ensure the attainment of the PhD in a reasonable time frame. To do this the researcher has to think very carefully about both the nature and frequency of supervision meetings. It is usually more effective to have goal oriented supervision meetings rather than calendar based ones. There must be a built in mechanism for the researcher to receive frequent written feedback from the supervisor. The feedback mechanism is a safety device for the researcher so that when the PhD is being evaluated patterns of inadequate supervision can be distinguished from shortcomings in the researcher’s own skills.

The formal research proposal for the university

The novice GT PhD researcher must follow the detailed guidelines from the university where the PhD is to be registered. If the university does not have a detailed and inflexible research proposal procedure and structure then the researcher is advised to take full advantage of this and write a research proposal for GT PhD as follows:

[1]Pre understanding: containing a summary of the author's previous exposure to the subject area. Includes an overview of the author's own subjective influences which are likely to affect the generation and interpretation of the research data.

[2]Pilot Study: a primary data generation phase to obtain a better understanding of the main issues of concern amongst those being studied.

[3]Refinement of research objectives: dialogue between the pilot study indicators and the author's own subjective understanding which leads to a more focused research agenda.

[4]Outline of the chosen research design: description of the chosen research method, including explanation of the research procedures used; and justification of the chosen research method.

[5] Explanation of generated data: analysis and synthesis of the data generated.

[6]Data Interpretation and Comparative Literature Review: a succinct interpretation of the data is followed by a comparative literature review.

[7]Recommendations: policy guidelines or indicators for the different constituencies of the research community, policy makers and others.

If the university does have very specific and inflexible detailed regulations governing the structure, format and process of the PhD there is no need for the orthodox PhD researcher or supervisor to panic. You must comply fully with the university regulations. But it should be done in a skilful manner. All formal research proposals should be submitted exactly as specified. This may mean it is necessary to start the research with a formal literature review. There are at least two different skilful ways to approach any inflexible regulations. The first way can be called “pre-GT” and the second way is called “post-GT”.

The “pre-GT” research proposal
In order to fully comply with the university regulations you go ahead a write a logically plausible [but quite irrelevant] literature review.

The “post-GT” research proposal
Here the researcher first completes the orthodox GT research in the correct manner. Then subsequently re-writes the thesis in order to fully comply with the university regulations.

Once the PhD has been awarded then the researcher reverts to the orthodox GT approach and publishes.

The research proposal written to obtain external sources of funding

Here are some general guidelines which will help novice GT PhD researchers to be more effective in communicating their ideas to those in control of resources. The research proposal should contain the following main sections:

1 A statement of the main research objectives.
2 An indication of the area of study and an explanation of the context in which the research is to be set.
3 Clarification of the underlying assumptions of the research proposal.
4 Indication of the possible values of the research outcomes to different constituencies.
5 A detailed research design which includes what the intent of the research is, how it can be operationalized, and why the chosen or recommended method is especially appropriate for the type of problem selected. The main criteria by which orthodox GT research should be judged are clearly articulated in Glaser (1978, p…)[Can’t find my copy of Theoretical sensitivity will complete as soon as I have this]

6 Indication of a detailed resource plan which includes the financial, technical and human resources needed for successful completion.
7 Production of a detailed time plan indicating the key points in the research project, especially when feedback will be given to the sponsor (or sponsors) of the research project.
8 Explanation of the type of dissemination strategy to be adopted once the research has been completed.

In addition to the above, novice researchers should ask the following questions:

• What is the story I am telling? All research projects are written by people with very different backgrounds and interests. This influences the perspective which will be given to each research project. By giving the story in the context of the issues shown above, this may help would be sponsors of the research to become more personally interested in a given proposal. It will also force the researcher to be more honest, transparent and open about motivations for interest in a specific research topic.
• Who are the audiences to which the research proposal is being addressed? The researcher has to decide whether the research proposal is a plea for finance, recognition, moral or intellectual support, or rather more straightforwardly, simply gaining the approval of his or her research supervisor or supervisory committee. Occasionally the need may arise to write different research proposals for the same project, as it may be aimed at different audiences. For instance, academic funding bodies will place more emphasis on the academic credibility of the research design, whereas practitioners will more interested in the utility of the research outcomes.
• Why does it matter? Readers and evaluators of research proposals are likely to be very busy and the last thing they want to do is read a rather dull and ordinary proposal, or alternatively read a proposal which is plainly lacking in the basic elements of desirable form and structure. It can be argued that the researcher has a duty to readers (and indeed themselves) to make the proposal interesting, from a both a readability and structural perspective.
• Why now and why me? By the time the research proposal is written there is already a sense of knowledgeability in relation to the chosen subject area. This can be demonstrated by injecting a sense of urgency into the research proposal, by explaining consequences of the research not taking place (especially when applying for research funding). In particular, researchers are advised to make a point of communicating [any] unique qualities or skills possessed which will enable the research outcomes to be achieved.

The researcher should also bear the following in mind:

• Perfect the research proposal
• Research proposals should never be written in isolation. Often, there are many other highly experienced people whose advice, assistance or critical comments may enhance the probability of successful research progression.
• Allow sufficient time: constructing a good research proposal is time consuming. Time spend in reconnaissance is rarely wasted. Before beginning detailed development of a proposal it may be worthwhile to investigate other successful proposals, where these are available in the public domain or otherwise through personal ingenuity. Scanning previously acceptable proposals may assist in generating funds, where necessary, or submitting a successful proposal. Learn from the effort of others before submitting anything. This has now become much easier because all the governmental research bodies have their own web sites. Where dissertation or thesis proposals need to be written, it is crucial to access any or all literature, either internal or external to the appropriate research domain. Nothing is more frustrating than having to rewrite a proposal for academic research over and over again; notably, for externally funded research, there is no second chance.
• Consider all opportunities for financial help: in addition to the usual governmental research bodies there are a number of specialist charitable organizations who have research foundations who may well be able to offer financial resources. Obtaining money from the corporate sector is possible but it is wise not to oversell any possible research outcomes and to be honest about time scales. One of the most useful techniques in obtaining funds is called ‘snowballing’. This happens when an initial modest amount of money is gradually increased by attracting more funds from other bodies who can be persuaded to collaborate. Often, firms related to your topic area may be interested in sponsoring some, or all, of the project. The question of what's in it for them must be thought through carefully before approaching any firm.
• Discuss the proposal: wherever possible enter into dialogue with experienced research professionals, including colleagues, in advance of submitting anything. It is especially important when seeking external funds that the research agendas of these organizations are understood in relation to your own project.
• Justify all financial requirements of the proposal: it is not sufficient merely to give an indication of financial requirements relating to a given project. Expenditures need to be justified. This is necessary for all kinds of reasons. One of the less obvious reasons is that the more meticulous one is in explaining requirements, the more it gives a number of positive messages to would be sponsors. Firstly, it demonstrates that the researcher is not profligate and can be trusted. Secondly, it indicates that the researcher has a firm intellectual grasp of the nature of the project to be embarked upon. Finally, it is simply just more professional.

It is mistake to get derailed by the circular arguments as to which research method is the best one to use. Instead, focus on two other aspects: firstly, the nature of the problem; and, secondly, the extent of the researcher's abilities, talents, skills and temperament. Certain types of problems are best suited to deductive research and others to inductive research. Since all research contains elements of both methodological approaches, purists may miss the point entirely. To do good research demands a firm intellectual grip of the nature of the research problem and a deep understanding of one's own emotional and intellectual capabilities.

Look at the work of other [successful] researchers and find out what they have done previously. Ask the advice of experienced people, and they may offer to critically evaluate your effort prior to submitting the research proposal to a supervisor/sponsor/group. If researchers remember that the journey is more important than the destination then not only should some interesting research be earned out, but also one's own potentially blinkered mindset may be altered or expanded.

(iv) Managing your committee

Choosing your PhD committee
If the university allows it, it is important for the both PhD researcher and supervisor to select the committee. If neither of these two parties has an influential role in the selection process then there is scope for many problems in the evaluation process. Orthodox GT research is still not fully understood by many leading academics. At one extreme are the simply ignorant. At the other are the prejudiced. There will be problems having a committee comprised of either of these extremes. One way to ensure that this does not happen is to regularly publish your research and present conference papers. This will increase the span of awareness of your work as well as widen your own personal net work of potential PhD committee members.

How to survive the formal PhD evaluation process
In Scandinavian countries the evaluation process takes on a more transparent format. Often the process is in two parts. First only involving the PhD committee and the second part is a ritualized procedure to which the general public is invited to participate. In reality, although the decision to award the PhD is never announced until after the public participation, the decision is made exclusively by the PhD committee. One of the PhD researchers I supervised to a satisfactory conclusion submitted his thesis to a Danish university. His committee comprised of three professors two of which were openly hostile to the orthodox GT method. Prior to his formal evaluation the research candidate received a very detailed written report about his thesis from the PhD committee. The PhD researcher wanted to respond with an equally detailed written rebuttal. Here is an extract of the e-mail Andy sent him:

“The most important aspect about how to respond to the written comments of the committee is to establish what is the correct protocol for that university. Are you as a PhD candidate expected to make a formal written response prior to the date of your evaluation? Or are they only expecting you to do that on the day? I am asking you these questions because it is of special importance not to unnecessarily alienate the committee before the due date. If there are neither any formal requirements nor expectations for you to make a formal written response prior to the evaluation then I would definitely NOT write to them with a detailed rebuttal. Instead I would write to them thanking them for their very detailed comments which you are looking forward to discussing with them on the due date. There are five reasons why communicating to the committee in writing with a detailed rebuttal is a very bad idea. Firstly, if members of the committee do not agree with your perspective now they never will. Writing to them will only reinforce their prejudices. Whereas talking to them face to face in an open forum will put peer pressure on them to reconsider their own perspectives. Secondly, when ever we receive communications in writing which we do not wholly endorse it tends to reinforce our prejudices and appears to be confrontational and hostile. It is always easier to embrace new perspectives verbally. Thirdly, the committee could well open up new lines of criticism if you chose to send them a detailed written rebuttal prior to your evaluation. Fourthly, if you do not give a detailed written rebuttal before the PhD evaluation date the committee are disadvantaged because they are unsure as to how you will respond to their comments. This gives you an advantage during the evaluation process. Finally, by withholding your response it demonstrates the development of your own intellectual maturity. By holding your fire until the evaluation you are showing that you are able to acknowledge that research [as in the rest of life] has multiple perspectives. By resisting the temptation to send a written rebuttal it demonstrates your ability to discuss why different perspectives exist. If you do it in a relaxed and non-confrontational manner you are more likely are more likely to persuade them of the power of your line of argument. No PhD candidate, however brilliant, should be arrogant. If you did send a detailed rebuttal to your committee, prior to the formal evaluation, they are very likely to consider you to be rather arrogant. Relax, smile and be humble when the committee interrogate you on your evaluation day. Calmly explain your own perspective without denying the possibility that they too have legitimate perspectives even if they are quite different.
Remember that you are in a very privileged position having being sent very detailed comments about your work by the PhD committee prior to your formal evaluation. If you are skilful you can transform a potentially stressful confrontation [on the day of your evaluation] into the opportunity of a lifetime to clearly express yourself with confidence about your research. After all know one knows more about your own research than you! Getting a PhD is the final part of the basic sociological process of becoming a PhD. You have to demonstrate to the committee, in a respectful and diplomatic way, that you have already emerged to become part of the wider community of PhDs. In other words you have to show that you are now “one of them”. This means that when you hear some of their comments which either appear to you as “ignorant” or “irrelevant” pause before you reply with an instinctive rebuttal. After the pause be skilful and thank them for their comments and politely explain your own line of argument. To become a PhD it is essential that you have a perspective and that are able to clearly articulate it. It may well be that some of the apparently “negative” or “misinformed” comments made by the committee have deliberately been made polemical in order to gauge your own reaction and to give you the opportunity to demonstrate that you are worthy of joining the PhD community. From the committee’s perspective getting a PhD is not just about doing robust sound research it is also about you being able demonstrate your own intellectual autonomy.

I have gone to great pains to explain why you must resist the temptation to reply with a detailed written rebuttal prior to your evaluation. However should protocol demand that you reply in writing before the formal evaluation do so in a very concise, polite and enigmatic manner.

I am pleased to report that this PhD candidate got his PhD in 2007.

(v) Getting Published

All orthodox PhD theses have the distinct advantage that they are dealing with issues of substance and interest. If the thesis is appropriately packaged for the journal or publisher they have a good prospect of being published.

How to re-package your research to meet the needs of different journals

Before this is explained Andy would like to share the experience of an unsuccessful attempt in publishing some of his own research. 15 years ago I asked Dr Barney Glaser if he would agree to co-authoring a paper on how orthodox GT impacts on theory of marketing in business. We wrote the paper and then submitted it to a very prestigious academic journal in this field. The three “blind” reviewer unanimously rejected it. The first reviewer said that who ever wrote this paper clearly did not understand grounded theory. The second reviewer stated that the author of this paper was someone from a country where English was not their mother tongue and they should hire a more skilled interpreter [it was subsequently discovered that this reviewer was from Norway]. The final reviewer said that there were insufficient citations. There are several teachings from these comments. First prejudice and ignorance is alive and well in the academic publishing world. Secondly, there are 100s of academic journals out there and the choice of which journal to position the research is often more important than the research itself. Finally, the editorial boards of each journal must be carefully scrutinized so that the extent and nature of the prejudice and ignorance can be better assessed prior to submitting the research for publication.
However the PhD which has used orthodox GT will have revealed authentic latent patterns of human behaviour which are are transcendent of their original context based. This has three important benefits which should enable publishing in academic journals. Firstly, the range of academic journals to which your research can be disseminated is vast. A single piece of orthodox GT research has the potential to be published in methodological journals, contextual journals as well as research strategy journals. Secondly, the GT author can also re-write the grounded theory to higher levels of theoretical abstraction giving yet more publication options. Finally on rare occasions the GT author can also generate a formal theory which has the potential to be published in an even wider range of titles.


Glaser B G & Strauss A L. The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. Chicago: Aldine 1967

Glaser B G & Strauss A L. Status Passage. London: Routladge & Keegan Paul 1971

Glaser B G. Experts versus laymen. A study of the patsy and the subcontractor. Mill Valley, CA: Sociology Press 1972

Glaser B G. Theoretical Sensitivity. Mill Valley, CA: Sociology Press 1978

Glaser B G. Basics of Grounded Theory Analysis: Emergence Vs Forcing. Mill Valley, CA: Sociology Press 1992

Glaser B G. Examples of Grounded Theory: A Reader. Mill Valley, CA: Sociology Press 1993

Glaser B G (Ed) Grounded Theory: 1984-1994 Vols 1&2 Mill Valley, CA: Sociology Press 1995

Guthrie W Keeping clients in line: A grounded theory explaining how veterinary surgeons control their clients. PhD Thesis University of Strathclyde

Lowe A Managing the Post Merger Aftermath by Default Remodelling in Management Decision. Vol 36, No 2 1998

Lonely Dissertator said...

This is great, Pak Ngah! I'll read it for sure. In the meantime... it's collect, compare, code, memo, memo, memo, repeat process... :-)

Peggy said...

>>>Keep it broad. If it is an important aspect of the people's lived experience, it will show up again.<<<

This is SO important and a timely reminder for me! Hang in there!