The Novice GT Researcher

Barney G. Glaser, Ph.D., Hon. Ph.D.

Make no mistake, as I said in my article, “The Future of
Grounded Theory” (Qualitative Health Research, Nov, 1999) is in
the hands of the beginning PhD researcher. I said “Unformed
researchers embrace grounded theory for dissertation or master’s
theses when, in their view, the more preconceived methods do not
give relevant answers. Unformed researchers who can choose
their own methods do so at the discretion of their advisers. The
principal GT users today, mostly students who are doing MA and
PhD theses or dissertations, are well into their academic careers
and looking for methodologies that will result in data and
theories relevant to what is going on in their research area of
interest. This makes grounded theory very appealing on that one
point alone — relevance.”

GT is done best in the hands of the novice PhD and MA
candidates because not only of their quest for relevancy, in the
face of extant literature that does not fit, work or is not relevant,
they are still open to “whatever”, still enthusiastically learning,
still unformed in other QDA methods, lack QDA method identity
protection, and their skill development fledgling status is
uniquely suited to skill development required in the GT process.
Also they have big stakes in doing original research — hence high
motivation — and have the modest amounts of time and money to
finish in a timely way. Also the novice is more likely to see fresh
new patterns in the face of experienced forcing of professional
interest patterns. Thus the category build-up in memos seems
very original as they fit and are relevant — sensitive and
intelligent.

Also the novice is not shy of the preconscious processing of
the input-depression-output procedurally produced by following
grounded theory procedures. In spite of the confusion and
depression, they tend to tolerate, understand and trust to the
soon to come creativity and originality that comes with the
memoing output. It may take time, but never as much as it feels
it will and it always works. With novices it usually comes too fast
and they have to be slowed a bit to be sure of grounding and ward
off impressionism. This essential tolerance and trust to
emergence tends to be skeptical and doubtful among the formed
in favor of forcing. (See: John Lofland, “Student’s Case Studies of
Social Movements: Experiences with an Undergraduate Seminar”
Teaching Sociology, 1996 vol 24, page 389–394).

I know and work with many, many of these beginners, quite
often as their external examiner for the dissertation. They are all
over the world in many diverse departments, but usually
business, nursing, education, social work and sociology. Make no
mistake about it, the best GT is done in the hands of beginners.

GT was written for beginners as it emerged FROM
beginners’ research, myself included, when we did Awareness of
Dying
, a resounding success. GT was not thought up based on
research maxims from positivism or symbolic interaction. IT WAS
WRITTEN FROM METHODOLOGICAL NOTES I did during the
research for Awareness of Dying and the methodological notes taken
during several years of my analysis seminar at Univ of Calif, San
Francisco. During each seminar, each week, a student was
assigned the task of doing methodological notes on what was
going on. Thus, GT is itself a grounded theory of methodology of
what went on in my seminars as we all painstakingly did our GT
of GT while doing GT, fitting names to patterns, being relevant to
participants and making sure it all worked.

In generating a GT methodology using this method, it was
clear that the question of not sufficient competence or the
beginning skill of the novice was not an issue. Using GT
methodology carefully brought its own skill development, and
brought it faster and better without previous training in
qualitative research. The novice need only have an ability to
conceptualize, to organize, to tolerate confusion with some
incident depression, to make abstract connections, to remain
open, to be a bit visual, to thinking multivariately and most of all
to trust to preconscious processing and to emergence. Many do
have these abilities at the advanced degree level. For many
novices these abilities come naturally.

Ingrid Hylander says regarding this natural bent: “I
recognize the main strategies of grounded theory as something I
unsophisticatedly, although not knowing it, had been doing for
years.” (Turning Processes: the Change of Representations
in Consultee-Centered Case
Consultation, Linkoping Press,
2000, page 67.) Phyllis Stern also talks of this natural bent:
“Students often find it hard to believe, as they begin the research
process, that they will develop a credible conceptual framework.
And yet students manage to learn to perform the magic of
creativity. Having transcended the creative process, the neophyte
becomes sufficiently proficient to conduct subsequent studies
independently and to teach other neophytes.” (“Eroding GT”, page
218 in Critical Issues In Qualitative Methods, Janice Morse,
editor.)

Miles and Huberman (p. 309, Qualitative Data Analysis,
Sage, 1994) talk of the essential requisites for qualitative
analysis which fit the novice. “You don’t need prolonged
socialization or arcane technologies. The core requisites for
qualitative analysis seem to be a little creativity, systematic
doggedness, some good conceptual sensibilities, and cognitive
flexibility — the capacity to rapidly undo your way of construing
or transforming the data and to try another more promising
tack.” These requisites fit the novice GT researcher perfectly.
They conclude, “We also don’t think that good qualitative analysis
necessarily calls for formal prerequisites.” Miles and Huberman
make these statements to help the novice offset the feeling of
data overwhelm. They are right. GT, of course, helps allay this
feeling with the knowledge that the GT methodology provides
constant delimiting of data collection thus reducing data
overwhelm immensely.

Please reread this section to reaffirm my contention that the
future of GT is in the hands of the novice high level degree
researcher who is still open. Soon after the dissertation the
experienced researcher will likely (for many) erode GT along QDA
lines as becoming formed increases. The blocking of good GT
increases as becoming formed takes on QDA requirements.

The Experienced View

The experienced have many views of the novice GT
researcher. All these views tend to block the novice researcher by
taking GT out of his/her hands by talking of his/her inexperience.
The formed will try to force this conclusion on the unformed, new
novices to try to form them in their image. They will impose QDA
procedures of data collection and analysis which will preconceive
the novice’s research, hence block good GT. They will give a
misread of normal GT, as they say, in order to rescue the novice
from confusion, not knowing, depression, fear of not doing it, or
data overwhelm, by saying these are ineptitudes that will be
solved by forcing preconceived interests and frameworks. They do
not advise the novice that their confusion and overwhelm is part
of the GT process which are to be tolerated for a short while. Nor
do they advice that these so called problems mean that they are
doing GT correctly. and should keep asking “what do I have in
this data, what is this a study of, etc”.

Mentoring

This misread comes from method loyalty. The formed are
unbendingly loyal to a QDA method, based on their experience
and build up of identity as a certified QDA researcher. Method
loyalty is impossible to give up and leads to competitive training
of novices. So when seeing the novice GT researcher going
through the confusing initial problems of doing GT, the QDA
trained supervisor will see a need to rescue the novice “from not
knowing” by suggesting and training in QDA preconceived
frameworks, categories and questionnaires etc. This block on the
novice and GT is great. The novice who happens to find a mentor
who is experienced in GT and has GT method loyalty is fortunate.
But most method loyalty is to a QDA method. Thus minus
mentoring is advisable if the mentor will, in effect, advise or even
force QDA requirements.

On the GT mentor, the right mentor, Rita Schreiber writes:
“One of the struggles in teaching and learning grounded theory is
that it is difficult to capture fully and in writing the ‘how to’ of
the method without sacrificing its more intuitive aspects. Part of
the difficulty is that getting a handle on the method involves
process learning: you learn as you do. The ‘doing’ however, goes
much more smoothly and is likely to have better results when the
novice is able to work with an experienced mentor who can guide
the way. In many programs mentors are in short supply.” (“The
GT Club,” in Using Grounded Theory in Nursing, Springer,
2001, page 109) Rita is quite correct, and in “the short supply”
bargain a mentor who professes GT experience many in fact bring
in QDA training such as in interview guides, sampling, taping
and preconceived analysis. Then GT blocking occurs. Mentored
novices should always maintain their autonomy in mentored
relationships, however confusing their initial foray may be. They
should trust to emergence and the eureka syndrome. I have seen
“eureka” happen so often.

Listen to this student email (Hans Thulesius, Jan 02) at the
other end of the mentor continuum. “The other point that I would
like to discuss is the “minus mentor” issue. How did you deal with
it, if you had to. My supervisor is excellent and I have great
respect for him, however he is a 100% positivist of quantitative
background and thinks GT is “bullshit”. He is changing slowly
and appreciates what I’m doing, I trust knowledge will prevail
against prejudice….” I have written at length on changing the
formed in The Grounded Theory Perspective. This kind of
mentor is hardly worth the time and mentoring. A novice’s skill
grows in doing GT, and ends in a theory in a dissertation. His/her
skill in changing others is not the task at hand, nor the measure
of the novice.

Mentoring is the way of the world and who’s to say that
maybe QDA fits a particular novice better. But many novices
with the wrong mentor, who can do GT, are lost to it. Now let us
look at three aspects of experienced QDA views of the novice: skill
undermining, staying open and pattern finding.

Skill Undermining

The basic problem emanates from the simple fact that the
experienced QDA researcher does not understand the learning
curve and its properties of beginning to do GT. The experienced
QDA teacher blocks the novice with a formed view of QDA
training and with a given image to the novice of not skilled
enough. The experienced misread the novices confusion and
evolving self development as an ineptitude. Hence the beginning
“not knowing” quandary, confusion, data overwhelm and often
depression is rescued by training in forcing procedures varying
from structured data collection to framework analysis as the
anxious novice reaches out for help and solace and QDA
researchers rush to help.

I have written extensively in Doing Grounded Theory on
not reviewing the literature in the field before doing a GT.
Remember students at the PhD level have been institutionally
selected partly for reading ability. And they have read a lot which
makes them very sensitive to the conceptual style in their general
field. They also continue reading in their field, if not their
substantive area. To read in their area of research preconceives
them and also with GT, since one doesn’t know where it will take
them, they do not know what literature to read. Not reading the
literature and suspending knowledge about it for the time being
is not hard, but is seen as being a difficult challenge for the
novice by experienced QDA researchers. It is not seen as a skill
developmental step.

Rita Schreiber flatly says (page 59) “Thus, in today’s world a
literature review is usually a necessary first step in beginning
any research project, including a grounded theory.” She
attributes this erosion and novice blocking to funding agencies,
but takes relief in it while faulting others.

Janice Morse is firmly opposed to not exploring the literature
before commencing data collection. She says, “Such a naive
perspective as working without consulting the literature may be
possible for a senior investigator with a vast knowledge of social
science theory with many concepts at his or her fingertips and
with real theoretical wisdom. However, ignoring the literature is
a strategy that is fraught with danger for a new investigator.
Literature should not be ignored but rather bracketed and used
for comparisons with emerging categories. Without a theoretical
contest to draw on new investigators find themselves rapidly
mired in data.”

Actually it is just the opposite case in spite of Morse.
Novices without a literature search in the substantive area to
distract or force them are more open to the emergent and soon
find their thought emerging from the constant comparisons in the
data. They find this with exciting clarity. The senior investigator
does not get mired in the data because of immense preconceptive
almost automatic forcing. He wants to share this power with the
novice and the consequence is default remodeling of a GT
procedure. Remember the literature does not disappear and
“which literature” will be there for constant comparisons during
sorting and writing- up. It is a pacing and efficiency concern.
Scholarship is of course required to show the contribution of the
GT to the substantive area.

Kaise Backman, in her article, “Challenges of the GT
approach to a novice researcher” (Nursing and Health
Sciences
, 1999), incorrectly mixes not reading the literature first
with the novice being too emotional to suspend his/her
knowledge. In fact it is easier for the novice to suspend knowledge
as they are more open to new categories and ideas as data
collection starts. Backman says: “This detachment (from the
literature) may however be quite difficult for a novice researcher
because reading the literature usually helps to clear up one’s
thoughts and narrow down the topic of research.” She counsels
just the opposite of GT to discover the problem, not to preconceive
it out of the literature.

Backman continues: “The novice researcher must identify
and suspend what he/she already knows about the experience
being studied and approach the data without preconceptions.
This could be particularly difficult to a novice researcher, because
he/she has little experience about the emotions involved in data
collection and analysis in qualitative research.”

To rescue the novice from the emotions of confusion
Backman says, “it is always implicit in the way a problem is
presented, the way the literature is reviewed. Concepts which
strictly narrow down the research questions easily direct the
study deductively. Clean cut and well defined concepts make it
easier for a novice researcher to maintain the logic of the study. If
the research questions are very flexible and the researcher begins
data collection by interviewing without a guide, the choice of
suitable themes may also be problematic.”

In short, Backman counsels forcing concepts and problems,
the opposite of GT orientation. Such clarity from the start in a
research is at the expense of GT emergence. It simply blocks and
default remodels GT for the novice. It forestall’s and finalizes
his/her GT skill development.

Rita Schreiber’s misread of the experiential skill
developmental process in learning GT is throughout her article on
the “how to” of GT, pages 55–85. She says at one point “Selective
coding serves as a guide for further data collection, focused on
filling in gaps in the theory. It is at this point that novice
researchers sometimes stall, as they succumb to the temptation
to follow other interesting leads through the data. (75)” She has
selective coding totally wrong (see Theoretical Sensitivity). But
more importantly at the moment that the novice is about to look
at comparative groups through interesting lead, she counsels
against this creative processing which comes from input and
constant comparisons. Again GT is eroded by the experienced
view. Her QDA structured view reduces flexibility of theoretical
sampling and openness to emergent.

Schreiber continues blocking the novice in the name of
warning of incapacity, which is misplaced. As you read this quote
remember that theoretical connection between categories occurs
in mature memos and sorting memo banks based on theoretical
codes. Theoretical connections that increase the level abstraction
do not occur early in the GT process. She says as a foreclosure:
“Many novice, and sometimes experienced, grounded theorists
encounter difficulty raising the level of theoretical abstraction
from description to theory in the emerging theory…. Most novices
do well creating categories and describing how the categories
relate to each other, often in some sort of linear story line. Where
difficulties arise is in being able to elevate the theoretical level of
the findings so that what is produced explains the action, that is,
how people work to resolve the basic social problem. Too often,
researchers are content to create elaborate descriptions of the
phenomenon of study and fail to take the next, vitally important
step into abstract theory development.” This is, of course, the
effect of QDA training of the novice, resulting in descriptive
capture as I explained at length in The GT Perspective. It is not
from being a novice.

Some experienced researchers suggest skill enhancers for
lacking skill rather than working on skill development as GT
requires. Phyllis Stern warns against these enhancers (taping
and computers) when she says in counseling the novice: “With the
invasion of technology, investigators have not only come to rely
on it (technology) but also consider avoiding its use as heresy.
Janice Morse (this volume), for example, seems aghast that
Glaser advises researchers that using a tape recorder allows one
to collect and then to analyze meaningless data. While it is true
that when one has an inexperienced research assistant, tape
recording may be necessary, but anyone who has plowed through
pages of irrelevant, transcribed data must agree with Glaser. Is
Morse suggesting that generations of researchers who lived prior
to electronic equipment created theoretical frameworks that were
weakened because a word or two might be skipped. We can only
speculate, but our collective heritage suggests that recording
every word informants utter is not necessary in producing sound
grounded theory.”

Stern is quite right. Morse seems to want the full coverage of
evidentiary QDA, which is not necessary and time taking in GT.
Tape recorded data is not “meaningless”, it is interchangeable
and yields saturation of categories and their properties long
before wading through it all. It is a waste. See my chapter on
taping in Doing GT.

Regarding computers see my chapter above on computer use
as eroding GT. Stern agrees when she says: “In truth, unless the
beginning researcher understands that any computer program
simply serves as a tool to the investigator, that it is the mind of
the student that creates and refines the conceptual framework,
she or he is in danger of discovering a thin analysis that fails to
illuminate the problems and processes in the scene.” Yes, indeed:
thin, flat and forced, a true erosion of GT.

The Richards, creators of Nudist, imply, inadvertently, that
computer skill enhancing has its drawbacks. “We have learned
too that novice researchers, who may find their own rich and
messy records to be alarming in their diversity, may be further
alarmed by software that seems designed to celebre diversity.
Novices too are often stalled by the anxiety about creating a
perfect index system, not trusting the promise.” (Collecting and
Interpreting Qualitative Materials
, 1998, p. 237.) This travail
for the novice is simply unnecessary derailing and distracting
from the task at hand: generating GT for all the reasons I have
been detailing in this book.

Guba and Lincoln (Naturalist Inquiry, pp. 193–5) seem to
undermine the skill of the novice by offering the supernormal
view of the human-as-instrument in qualitative or natural
research. The human as the instrument of choice has these
enigmatic qualities they say: “Responsiveness, adaptability,
holistic emphasis, knowledge abased expansion, processural
immediacy, opportunities for clarification and opportunity to
explore atypical or idiosyncratic responses.” The reader could
study what these all mean, but it is not worth it. They are trite,
yet demanding to the point that they are, they say, “meaningless
if the human instrument is not also trustworthy.” And if this is
not enough quandary, Guba and Lincoln imply the novice is
essentially untrustworthy when they say: “One would not expect
individuals to function adequately as human instruments without
an extensive background of training and experience.” the novice
who embraces this program is lost to GT forever. The desire to do
GT is enough as GT provides its own motivation at each stage
(see Doing GT) and skill development to do and generate
systematically that which comes as natural to us all as we
theorize about our daily lives.

There are a plethora of writers acting as authorities giving
advice to novices on doing GT. They engage in the adapt, adopt,
coopt and corrupt pattern to some degree that I wrote about in
The GT Perspective. They superficialize GT by mixing it with
QDA requirements, hence diluting and eroding GT procedures by
default remodeling. Once written these writings are taken as
authoritative gospel, as accurate and adequate. The writers have
no notion how the naive novice will take them and in what
direction. But surely the block on GT is a consequence. The novice
reader should not read too many of these “advices” and trust to
the emergence experience of doing GT and the growing skill
development. Reading too much “advices” will surely sour GT’s
purity.

Listen to this advice by Backman (page 5). “The purpose of
the grounded theory approach is to create a theory which has
connections with the data. The instructions for the analysis
process emphasize that the connection with the data should be
maintained throughout the whole process. This requirement may
prevent the researcher from conceptualizing the data and from
formulating abstract categories and discovering theory. If he/she
is unable to do that, he/she may discover a theory which is naive,
concrete and written by using the same terms as in the data. In
that case the discovered theory may be simplistic and illconstructed.”

This discouraging statement to novices is just plain, opposite
and wrong based on not knowing the constant comparative
method. The researcher has to stay engaged with the data totally
and let the abstract patterns emerge through the constant
comparisons, as they surely do. Disengaging from the data leads
to conjecture which is counter GT; it undermines grounded. Good
grounded theory has never ended up naive, concrete and
simplistic. This is just disparaging method talk of a corrupting
nature.

Backman continues her negative advise: “For a novice
researcher, applying the grounded theory approach is more or
less a compromise between the demands of the approach and the
resources which he/she has available.” Wrong again, it is a very
economical way to do a dissertation using field notes. GT moves
much faster than QDA and it just takes the researcher’s time,
which has its cost, but minimal compared to the reward for the
GT product.

Backman closes her paper on the novice GT researcher with
again a completely corrupting, negative, skill undermining
statement: “The GT method can be a good tool for a novice, but it
may also hinder the way to create inductive theory.” Just the
opposite: GT enhances the skill in achieving the goal of
generating inductive theory. That is what GT was designed for:
abstract, inductive theory generating.

Miles and Huberman (page 14) give nebulous warning advice
to the “beginning researcher” in reading their book Qualitative Data
Analysis
. “The biggest enemy of your learning is the gnawing
worry that you’re not doing it right. Dissertation work tends to
encourage that.” “We have encountered many students launched
on qualitative dissertation or research projects who feel
overwhelmed and under trained.” These warnings are neutralized
by GT methodology. As I have repeated so many times, data
overwhelm is solved by the many delimiting procedures of GT: it
is QDA that worries about full coverage and accuracy.

“Doing it right” is minimized if GT methodology is followed.
the data is never wrong, it just has to be figured out what it is,
baseline, properline, interpreted on vague, and thus
conceptualizations of it are never wrong, since they are carefully
grounded. The GT product always appears as original, creative
and conceptually general. The novice may start his GT research
with little skill, but experience increases it quickly. He/she may
compulsively collect too much data and wonder what to do with it.
He/she may be scared and impatient at first to get beyond the
data. But as the constant comparative process continues,
abstractions emerge from the data. The GT skill increases and
with it confidence.

The novice should be encouraged at this point by the
experienced research involved, NOT blocked and derailed to a
QDA approach and eventual description capture by QDA rescue
advise. Kate Felix in a written communication to me on 5/5/2000,
said “I really enjoyed our brief conversation and wanted to study
your newest books before calling. However your words of
encouragement were very much appreciated the last time we
spoke.” She wrote a lovely dissertation on “Developing Trust
Within Teams in Health Care Organizations”, (Nursing,
University of Colorado, 1997)

Antoinette McCullum wrote in the beginning of her
dissertation, regarding my encouragement: “Much of the
motivation behind this project can be attributed to Dr Barney
Glaser and his inspirational workshop in Christcheuch, New
Zealand in 1996. Barney’s commitment and enthusiasm for the
grounded theory method encouraged this student to proceed with
a daunting task, minus methodological mentoring.” She wrote a
brilliant dissertation on pluralistic dialoguing. Encouragement
motivates and helps the minus mentoree stay the course, as skill
develops and produces its own motivated momentum.

Openness

What the novice has to offer GT is openness: being open to
the emergent. They are not yet formed in a method or a
substantive area to any extent. They are still fee to forsake the
preconceived. It is not that the experienced formed cannot remain
open. It is just that few seldom do. Confident knowing is its own
downfall in GT: almost nonstoppable. The greater the light, the
greater the darkness does not seem to apply. Rather the greater
the light, the more the formed see clearly “in advance” or
preconceive the theory.

Here is a good example of how the openness occurs in the
Phd candidate. Brene Brown wrote on page 3 of her dissertation.
“Initially I set out, on what I thought was a well-traveled path, to
find empirical evidence of what I knew to be true. I soon realized
that conducting research centering on what matters to research
participants — grounded theory research — means there is no
path and, certainly, there is no way of knowing what you will
find. This research began as a narrow quest to verify if one small
group of helping professionals utilized a practice I believed
‘essential to good helping.’ Through the use of grounded theory, I
was forced to challenge my own interests, investments and preconceived
ideas in order to understand the concerns, interests
and ideas of the research participants. The process evolved from
‘I think this is important — are you doing it?’ to ‘what do you
think is important to helping and why?’ This evolution
transformed my narrow quest for verification into the
development of a complex theory about a basic socialpsychological
process of professional helping.”

Openness forces itself on the novice GT researcher. I see it
happen over and over again. The experienced researcher is often
too formed to get this message. They are realization immune
unlike the novice whose receptiveness is just waiting for
emergence.

Brene continues: “At the dissertation proposal stage, there
are numerous challenges for the grounded theory researchers.
These challenges include: (a) acknowledging that it is virtually
impossible to understand grounded theory methodology prior to
using it, (b) developing the courage to let the research
participants define the research problem, and (c) letting go of
your own interests and preconceived ideas to ‘trust in
emergence’.”

These challenges emerge for many and are met and the
novice’s dissertations are quite good. Space limits me giving the
multitude of examples of this openness that I have in my files.
These challenges are certainly quite different than the negative
challenges professed by Backman and others mentioned above
which block good GT and block and undermine the skill
development of those novice GT researchers who cannot
withstand their advise and rescue.

A profile of the experience view is not beneficial to the novice
GT researcher. The experienced with their formed view are
constantly worried about the lack of skill in the novice, as we
have seen, without realizing that this lack leaves them more open
and more developable in GT skills. This worry translates in
concern about novice confusion and a need to see the novice force
the data according to the experienced’s professional interest and
framework. The formed, experienced have a stake in a status quo
of their design and therefore a stake in not letting the novice stay
open, which is subversive. They say that the novice’s inexperience
is a block and, as we have seen, it is just the opposite. The
experienced’s stake blocks the novice and forces him/her into
applying an eroded GT.

The more experienced GT researchers become as careers
advance, the more fixed and formed in professional interests and
knowledge they are likely to become about substantive areas and
their adopting, coopting and corrupting GT methodology to the
study of the areas. They do not realize their forcing frameworks.
Many become fixed on pet theoretical codes, such as Janice Morse
focuses on process as the distinguishing characteristic of GT, she
sees it as a core variable. (“Situating GT” in Using GT in
Nursing
, 2001, page 1–4. First of all in Theoretical Sensitivity
I detailed 18 theoretical coding families, only one of which is
process. The theoretical code has to emerge as organizing feature
of the GT. Actually some of the best GTs I have read are
topologies and are cutting point analyses based on ranges. I have
detailed even more theoretical codes in Doing GT. Morse is not
unique. Many experienced GT researchers become proficient in
using one theoretical code and it takes them over. They force the
theoretical codes in subsequent researches and want their novice
to force with them. It is hard to stay open under such influences,
but many novices do. I remember clearly how Anselm Strauss
wanted everyone to analyze the research on how the action was
“paced” irrespective of emergence. Many researchers now want to
see context in all theory irrespective of emergence. Theoretical
codes become fades among the experienced. The novice has the
best chance of breaking out of these trends.

Morse is also wrong about classifying a theoretical code
(process) as a core variable. A core variable is a substantive
category that accounts for most variation in resolving the main
concern of participants. The theoretical code of the theory is how
it integrates the core category with other categories in writing the
theory. Morse also considers (page 2) GT as a theory of the
middle-range. This is purely a QDA descriptive perception. GT
can be written at any level of abstraction and all substantive
theory has complete general, conceptual implications. This level
is in the hands of the GT researcher. For example a GT on the
credentializing of diploma nurses can easily be generalized to the
credentializing of all work to insure quality, accountability,
reliability etc.

To be sure the openness of the novice is subversive and
threatening to the experienced if they do not preconceive as they
do. Their inexperience is not seen as openness, it is seen as an
ineptitude that should be trained, usually by QDA requirements.
This is blocking, eroding and remodels GT in the eyes of the
novice whose openness is compromised. Fortunately many are not
compromised as they take on their experienced supervisors with
the armor of their discovery of what is really going on. It is very
hard to talk a novice into what he should see in the data when
he/she knows what he did see emerge in the data. In sum, it is
hard to close the openness of the novice by the fears, projections
and frameworks, framed as wisdom, of the experienced.

Pattern Finding

A focused view of the experienced is that the novice has a
hard time finding patterns in the data and therefore cannot do
GT without using preconceived categories. This worry, of course,
brings us back to the experienced wanting the novice to use pet
categories for professional interests. This view is surely a block to
emergence.

This view is debilitating to novices and inaccurate. The
ability to see patterns and to conceptualize them is innate and
starts at a very young age, long before PhD candidacy. It is latent
patterns that the novice has to learn to see emerge, and he/she
having reached high degree status likely has the pattern viewing
ability that can be used to see latent or underlying uniformities.
To be sure some at the PhD level cannot see patterns, nor are
good at conceptualizing and therefore should go into descriptive
QDA to alleviate the confusion (see The GT Perspective). BUT
many more novices can see patterns than do or are allowed to do.
And, of course, GT enhances this ability toward generating
conceptual theory.

Novices often, because of openness, see patterns quicker and
of better fit and relevance than the experienced do because of
their normal forcing of previous categories and models. One email
on 4/5/2001 from Kennedy John, a new PhD said to me: “Secondly
experts do not see patterns as novices do. Experts are so formed
in their learned view that they see it everywhere and force it on
whatever to sound learned. Novices who are high in intelligence
and still open and if they use GT procedures see patterns easily.
Thirdly, GT provides a procedure, careful constant comparison,
that empirically establishes patterns and their and properties.
Impressionistic patterns stated by formed experts, based on
professional interests, who have lost openness are just
particularistic. These patterns are expert mantled, and usually
irrelevant, if patterns at all. The constant comparison method
carefully grounds latent patterns as real to what is going on and
is relevant to substantive action. They explicate the realities
behind professionally forcing interests.” This PhD is young, but
very close in formulation. The open novice using GT methodology
has the best chance to discover relevant categories as to what
continually resolves the main concern. The experienced expert
will establish patterns along the lines of his received, formed
view, which are often not relevant to what action really takes
place.

It is light touch when Janice Morse writes (page 8, Situating
GT) “One strength of grounded theory is its ability to recognize
patterns (topologies) of behaviors.” Of course, that is how it is
designed to generate theory. It goes without saying. But
discovering patterns is a complex constant comparative process
followed by subsequent GT procedures to a finished product,
which I have written about at length. Whether or not they are
topologies, one of many theoretical codes, has to emerge. And to
what degree a category (pattern) “permits a voice to remain”, as
Morse says, is a forced view of a pattern that may or may not
emerge for the open novice. As I wrote in The GT Perspective, a
pattern may come from the participants voice, it is a
conceptualization of it, not the voice.

Miles and Huberman (p. 58) do not favor the trust for the
novice to see patterns in the data through constant comparisons.
They say “One method of creating codes — the one we prefer — is
that of creating a provisional ‘star list’ of codes prior to fieldwork.
That list comes from the conceptual framework, list of research
questions, hypotheses, problem areas, and/or key variables that
the researcher brings to the study.” This is of course total
preconceived forcing and shuts down the openness of the novice if
used. Miles and Huberman do say the emergence of codes from
the data has a lot going for it, but the prefabricated list rescues
the novice from a GT process “so daunting to new researchers.” I
believe they see emergent pattern recognition as so daunting to
novices, because their discussion of “generating pattern codes” in
pages 69–72, is based on comparing descriptions to constantly
check out the code. This is based on descriptive redundancy. This
type and level is indeed hard.

M&H miss or omit the GT constant comparative method in
their pattern generating. They do not understand that the GT
comparisons are conceptual generating of categories and their
properties, and the patterns get delimited by choosing a core
category and going to selective coding, and by the
interchangeability of indices. Thus M&H’s QDA descriptive
capture orientation is very “daunting” (blocking) to novices. To be
sure their approach results in data overwhelm compared to the
delimiting of GT methodology. The openness of the novice to
pattern generating is maximized by using GT methodology.

Katheryn May also does not understand that conceptual
pattern recognition comes from the constant comparative method,
during which the researcher conceptualizes the comparisons
between the differences and similarities of emerging categories.
She believes that patterns come from the experienced’s
experience, intuition, creative reasoning, magic and training.
Perhaps in QDA, and they are forced by her listed sources. But
these are not the GT conceptualized latent patterns coming from
conceptualizing comparisons, that a novice may see just as easily
as an expert, and maybe more easily since the novice is more
open (less preconceived), less tracked by accumulated knowledge
in the substantive area.

May says (pages 18–19): “Although the basic processes of
creative intellectual work are the same in novice and expert, the
expert will notice more, remember more, and exercise better
judgment. I would argue that an attribute of expert practice in
qualitative research is an exquisitely tuned capacity for pattern
acquisition and recognition. Pattern recognition is the ability to
know where to look, in this area, the expert analyst may be
informed substantially by intuition and creative reasoning.
Pattern recognition is the ability to know similarities and
differences based on previous experience. Again these processes
cannot be observed or understood directly; they can only be
understood by the product. Experts cannot tell you how a pattern
was seen…. Pattern recognition is instantaneous and can be
substantiated in retrospect, but cannot be predicted. The expert
relies as much on intuition and creative reasoning as on past
experience. Another potentially important difference between
how novice and expert analysts know involves the interaction
between pattern recognition skill and knowledge of the
substantive related to the phenomenon being studied.”

May in lauding the expert over the novice has to be talking
QDA or descriptive patterns recognition. These descriptions in
her view are based on accomplished skill, seeing redundancy, a
buildup of considerable experience in the substantive area which
includes much literature knowledge and a methodological
approach based on intuition, unanticipation, magic and
mysterious impressions. This view has no procedural credibility
as scientific. It is particularistic to an individual (expert) view. It
is a rhetorical way to force the data along professional interest
lines from the start. Obviously this skill is absent in the novice
for good reason. The novice has not yet been indoctrinated with
this kind of rhetoric of description capture.

May blocks, not encourages the novice who is doing GT. I am
talking of an entirely different approach to pattern recognition for
the novice; that of the constant comparative method of
conceptualizing categories … it is a clear procedural, observable,
predictable approach to conceptualizing latent patterns, which
can be predictable as always there. It is scientific not mysterious.
The novice can rely on it as productive. The less the novice
knows, the more he/she can suspend what he/she knows, the
more open he/she will be open to discovering these patterns,
particularly the core category, because the less forced will be the
generating. Knowledge does not go away, it always stands ready
to be woven in at the right pacing — later in the sorting stage of
the research. The issue for the novice is to be open to careful GT
skill development, not to be held to an absolute expert QDA skill
standard.

A quick example would be in May’s view of pattern
recognition would say that teacher and students give up over
time their respective roles toward a getting together as just
people. And this would be redundantly described ad infinitum. A
novice grounded theorist would conceptualize the latent pattern
of binary deconstruction, based on constantly conceptualizing
comparisons. There is no magic in this, it is a careful form of
index formation as I have said many times (see Doing GT,
chapter 2 and Theoretical Sensitivity, chapter 4) The novice
with more openness from less skilled and knowledge forcing has
the edge in these discoveries. The novice with openness is truly in
a favorable state to emergently conceptualize what is exactly
going on undistorted with little wishful, professional interest
forcing. He/she need only adhere to the rigor and tedium of the
constant comparative method of generating categories and their
properties. This is not the methodological, particularistic magic of
May’s expert. It is just using a method that generates fit,
relevance and works.

I have come on a bit strong to offset the replete, constant
description of “novice lacking” in the methodological literature
written by the experienced. The novice is described in the
literature as lacking skill in interviewing, coding, clear
organization of data, ability to focus on a line of thought,
theoretical sampling, handling data overwhelm, analyzing,
literature search, pattern recognition and on and on with the
QDA preconceived requirements. But this skill undermining and
lacking applies, if at all, to routine QDA research.

Here I am talking of GT research and what is seen as skill
lacking is ok, because built into GT is the progressive skill
development of the open novice. The novices’s GT skill will
develop relatively rapidly if he/she is not distracted and distorted
with QDA rescue tactics that force the data and block trust in
emergence and emergence.

Not one of these experienced methodological writers — as I
pour through the literature — talk of the benefits of being a
novice. NOVICES ARE NOT ENCOURAGED. They are
discouraged by being characterized as lacking skill, hence their
freshness to skill development is being undermined by the need
for mentored training in QDA. This negative characterization is a
misread characterization as I have said throughout this chapter.
In addition to their openness and unforced pattern recognition
ability, novices have a big stake in finishing a good GT in order to
receive the PhD in a timely manner, to get on with a career.
Experienced researchers seldom have this degree of pressure or
stake in completion.

My general point or message in this chapter is read the
novice’s situation, problems and actions correctly. Do not rescue
the initial confusions and data overwhelm with preconceived
frameworks and outs. They block GT. Trust to emergence and
skill development using GT methodology. Trust to delimiting
procedures of GT. Encourage the novice’s openness to emergence
by encouraging him/her to stick to the tedium of conceptualizing
constant comparisons and allowing GT skill development, and
letting categories of latent patterns make sense of the confusion.
Normal descriptive pattern recognition soon turns into
conceptualizing latent patterns. It happens faster than novices
and experienced alike realize. It happens often too fast as
impressions try to take over to reduce the productive aspect of
confusion. The latent patterns must constantly be verified over
and over by conceptualizing comparisons and the ensuing
property development of categories.

For example describing patterns of being careful in dentistry
to avoid AIDS soon turns into a theory of cautionary control with
amazing general implications: (from another dissertation written
by a formidable previous novice: Barry Gibson.) This is just one
novice among a legion of them sending me and working with me
on generating incredibly creative grounded theories. These are
novices who were not blocked and discouraged by an erosion of
GT along the lines of QDA requirements.

Listen to the pattern recognition of this novice as stated in
her dissertation, See Brene Brown: “Acompanar: A GT of
developing, maintaining and assessing relevance in professional
helping”, 2002) “What a wild ride this is. I was really depressed
in early Dec. Nothing made sense — I was hating the process. I
called Amy Calvin, a grounded theorist, and we talked for 1 1/2
hours. It was too helpful. About four or five weeks ago I started
noticing patterns as I coded my field notes. Then I started to see
one major category and the infrastructure that supported that
category. Some infrastructure — properties but I think some —
categories that support my core. These appear to have their own
properties. The relationships between the concepts make so much
sense. its like seeing the anatomy of something you think you’ve
always understood. It has been amazing, I have definitely become
more specific in terms of who I’m interviewing and how I’m
coding. I’m totally amazed about how complex this is going to be.
I thought it would be difficult to conceptualize, but it is really the
only way I can think of it.”

It is clear from this passage that the experienced should not
rescue a student from confusion. Patterns will emerge and with
amazing clarity, theoretical sampling, a multivariate theory and
conceptual grab. My view on the novice researcher is shared by
Miles and Huberman in their own way but the dimensions of
concern are roughly the same. They say: “We found that making
the step of analysis explicit makes them less formidable and
uncertain, and more manageable. You don’t need prolonged
socialization or arcane technologies. The core requisites for
qualitative analysis seem to be a little creativity, systematic
doggedness, some good conceptual sensibilities and cognitive
flexibility — the capacity to rapidly undo your way of construing
or transforming the data and to try another, more promising tack.
None of these qualities is contingent on a battery of advanced
‘methods’ courses.”

Since my view on the novice is grounded, it cannot be new to
others. What is new is my formulation and its assertion in the
face of experienced writers who would deny the novice his/her
power.

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