Grounded Theory is a social science approach to the systematic collection and evaluation of mainly qualitative data (interview transcripts, observation altogether) with the aim of generating theory. It is not a single method, but a series of interlocking methods (source: Wikipedia).

I often notice that in many new topics around digital change there is no direct literature and therefore this cannot be researched by a normal literature analysis. Thus, the researcher has to generate knowledge himself. Grounded Theory can help with this.

What is Grounded Theory?

Bodendorf et al. (2010): The Grounded Theory is derived inductively by systematic collection and analysis of data related to the object of investigation (Strauss and Corbin 1996, p. 7). Data collection, analysis and the resulting theory are arranged in a cycle that is passed several times as part of a research process. The following figure shows the control loop.

Rule circle of the Grounded Theory (Image from Bodendorf et al. 2010)

By and large, it means that you choose subjects, question them and evaluate the whole thing and plan the way forward. The real thing about Grounded Theory is evaluation, i.e. coding. There are 3 types:

  • Open coding
  • Axial coding
  • Selective coding

Open encoding analyzes the data in small parts by subsicontinuing it into units of meaning and thus being converted into a first level of abstraction. This is appropriate if you have absolutely no plan for how to structure your research. In axial encoding, you have a research scheme as a basis that already specifies categories. You will check and develop these further. A framework such as Porter’s Five Forces or the like is suitable here. In selective coding, you already have categories and want to fine-state them as a goal. For example: bullying in the workplace to active and passive bullying.

When do I use Grounded Theory?

The Grounded Theory takes some time and is really very complicated. It requires long breath and a lot of motivation from the researcher. So take them really only for your work, if you have the right buck and want to push the topic and there is no literature.

Book tip: Grounded Theory

Example of Grounded Theory

I didn’t use the Grounded Theory myself, but I did a master’s thesis. Due to the practical partner, bimodal IT should be researched. Unfortunately, there was no other literature at this time except gartner’s paper and a single journal paper. So we decided to choose the Grounded Theory.

Tip: Don’t forget to limit your methodology cleanly.

The student then conducted 5 interviews in the company in the first step. It should be said that the practice partner was a very large corporation and therefore the resource interview partner was available almost infinitely.

The first step was to ask: What do you mean by bimodal IT? We evaluated and discussed this together. In the second step, you asked: Which use cases do you associate with bimodal IT in the company?

After we also evaluated this, we went in a third cycle with another 5 interviews. Since there was constant talk of digital transformation in the second cycle, we decided in the third step to ask: What does bimodal IT have to do with digital transformation? This can be continued indefinitely, but three cycles were enough for a master’s thesis. Thus, my master and master has used the following cycle:

  • Problem-centered interview
  • Open coding
  • Qualitative content analysis

In summary, it is therefore important that data is collected and evaluated at every step. The next step is not planned until each step is completed. I recommend 3-5 interviews per step.

Reading tip: Book suggestions for thesis

grounded theory example
Methodology in the Master’s thesis on BiModal IT

Gibt es noch Fragen?

Falls es noch Fragen gibt, habe ich zwei Tipps. Ich habe meine Erfahrung aus 5 Jahren in der Betreuung von Abschlussarbeiten im Buch: "Empfehlungen für die Bachelor- und Masterarbeit" zusammengefasst. Dieses gibt es bei Springer und Amazon seit August 2020. Das Buch ist ein offzielles Fachbuch in kann damit zitiert werden. Weiterhin können Sie mich gerne mal anrufen. Hierzu einfach im Buchungssystem nach einen freien Termin schauen. Ich nehme mir jeden Monat einige Stunden Zeit um Studenten zu helfen.

Mein Tipp vor der Abgabe Ihrer Abschlussarbeit

Es lohnt sich immer eine Abschlussarbeit professionell Korrekturlesen oder auf Plagiat prüfen zu lassen. Der Vorteil ist, dass Sie dabei auch Feedback erhalten und den akademischen Sprachstil verbessern. Anbieter wie bspw. Scribbr helfen mit guten Preisen bei der Abschlussarbeit.

Genderhinweis: Ich habe zur leichteren Lesbarkeit die männliche Form verwendet. Sofern keine explizite Unterscheidung getroffen wird, sind daher stets sowohl Frauen, Diverse als auch Männer sowie Menschen jeder Herkunft und Nation gemeint. Lesen Sie mehr dazu.

Verwendete Quellen anzeigen
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Bodendorf, F., Löffler, C., & Hofmann, J. (2010). Research methods in business informatics. Business Informatics, (1), 1-44.

Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1996). Grounded theory. Weinheim. Retrieved from theory methodology.pdf


I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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