2.3.1 The location and nature of a literature review in grounded theory (154)

Moira Attree, Lecturer in Nursing, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, The University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom moira.attree@manchester.ac.uk


This paper will critically explore the location and nature of the literature review in Grounded Theory (Glaser & Strauss 1967; Glaser 1992); it aims to promote methodological debate and develop understanding. Textual accounts of the nature and purpose of the literature review in Grounded Theory vary. Differences between the originators of grounded theory, Glaser & Strauss (1967), and later individual work by Glaser and Strauss and Strauss & Corbin exist. Glaser emphasises the importance of starting grounded theory research with as little pre-formulated theory as possible, in order that theoretical themes are generated inductively from the data, rather than from previous researchers’ and theorists’ views. Glaser (1992) asserts that literature reviews should be avoided until the first core category has emerged. Strauss (1987) suggested that a literature review may, or may not take place after the initial categories emerge, and may or may not occur after that time. Whilst Strauss & Corbin (1990) propose that the literature review should be restricted to a background review of the technical literature. The consensus appears to be that in grounded theory a “traditional literature” review is proscribed. However, the paradox of the location and nature of the literature review in a Grounded Theory study receives scant attention in the methodological literature. Indeed some basic introductory research methods texts do not address the issue at all. Novice and inexperienced researchers attempting to use Grounded Theory encounter this issue immediately when attempting to conform to standard proforma for submitting research proposals and ethical approval. Grounded Theory researchers writing theses and academic publications encounter similar challenges. This paper will present proposals on how to address this methodological issue. The analysis will be illustrated with reference to a completed Ph.D. study, which adopted grounded theory to study registered nurses perceptions of standards of nursing practice.

Recommended reading list:

  • Glaser B & Strauss A (1967) The Discovery of Grounded Theory. Strategies for Qualitative
  • Glaser B (1998) Doing Grounded Theory. Issues and Discussions
  • Strauss A & Corbin J (1990) Basics of Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory Procedures and Techniques. Sage. Newbury Park, CA

Source of funding: None


Dr Moira Attree is a lecturer in Nursing at the University of Manchester. Her research interests are Patient Care Quality and Safety and Practice Development/Quality Improvement. Moira is also interested in evaluation research in both practice and in education. Since completing her PhD in 2002, which was sponsored by the UKCC, and used Grounded Theory, she has employed various research methods to study healthcare practice and education.