The Hook: Getting your grounded theory research published1

Phyllis Noerager Stern, DNS, LLD (hon.), FAAN

1This article in an expanded and modified form will appear in the forthcoming
book, Accessible grounded theory: A beginner’s handbook. Authors, Phyllis Stern
and Caroline Porr

I learned about the hook as a fledgling writer back in the
late 70’s, and early 80s. I wrote about stepfamilies when almost
nobody else did (Stern, 1978, 1982a, 1982b). My big break came
when I published an English-language version on how to do
grounded theory. In my field, nursing, grounded theory was the
buzz word of the day, but few nurses had a sociological
background, and thus the vocabulary to be able to understand the
Glaser and Straus description (Stern, 1980). That article kick
started my career as a writer and researcher. There was a time
when it was required reading for graduate students in nursing
around the world. Twenty-nine years after its publication, I got a
request for a reprint from a doctoral student in New Zealand.
What the hook consists of then is timing, a subject that has
impact, and a title that sparks the interest of a potential reader.
A classic example of all three is The Discovery of Grounded
Theory (Glaser and Straus, 1967), a then new approach to
sociological research. Sociologists were interested, but as the
authors were based at the University of California, San Francisco
School of Nursing, they had an eager audience in the nursing
community who were looking for a research method to formalize
what they did as nurses.

From the point of view of a writer of articles and an editor,
(19 years as Editor in Chief of the interdisciplinary journal,
Health Care for Women International), I have a seasoned eye for
what editors and reviewers are looking for: good science, of
course, fluid writing, no doubt about it, a fresh look at a familiar
problem, you bet, but there’s something else they want—the
hook. They want articles that make their journals the go-to for
the new black. What follows pertains to articles in refereed
journals.

Selecting the Right Journal

Most scientific journals have an on-line version which you
can access through a university library. Get familiar with a
variety of journals, and see where your work might fit. If the
editors have just published a special issue on Asian dating
patterns, likely they’re full up with that subject. Some editors like
to work with new authors to get them up to speed. As an editor I
was fond of helping the next generation launch their careers.
Other editors have other goals, but being an editor allows one to
form intimate relationships with authors.

The Title

The title needs to be worded in a way that other researchers
doing a computer search will relate to, but that’s no reason it
can’t be catchy too. As an example, “Discovery of nursing gestalt
in critical care nursing: The importance of the gray gorilla
syndrome”, (Pyles and Stern, 1983) got a fair amount of attention,
as did “The troubleshooter’s guide to media” (Harris, Stern &
Paris, 1986). “Method slurring: the grounded theory/
phenomenology example” crossed discipline lines, (Baker, Wuest
and Stern, 1992) as did the book chapter, “Eroding Grounded
Theory” (Stern, 1994). In 1972, at the suggestion of the professor,
June Abby, I submitted a physiology term paper to The American
Journal of Nursing, and it was accepted. I consider the title I
chose, “APA: Insidious foe of an aging Swede.” to be clever, but
unclear (Stern, 1972). It was a case study of my father who
developed Addison’s pernicious anemia, the symptoms of which,
loss of appetite, loss of energy, depression, his physician
attributed to the aging process. I figured Dad was anemic, and
finally got him appropriate treatment. The trouble with that title
was that a potential reader would have to know that APA stood
for a type of anemia rather than The American Psychological
Association. But Freda Rebelsky, a professor of Psychology at
Boston University did know, and used a portion of the article to
illustrate how often treatable chronic illnesses in the elderly go
undetected (Rebelsky, 1975). How she found the article in a
nursing journal in a time prior to the World Wide Web is beyond
my kin.

The Abstract

It’s fairly common in computer searches for a student or
author to limit the search to abstract only; for this reason it’s
important to describe the essence of your grounded theory in the
abstract. When you’re limited to 100 words, say, this is no easy
task, but a necessary one—it may mean deleting that perfect
phrase you started with, but following the rules is one path to
getting published. Ignoring the journal’s publication guidelines
makes editors and reviewers irritated, to the point that
manuscripts can be rejected out-of-hand. Over the years
researchers have put their own spin on the original grounded
theory method (Morse, Stern, Corbin, Bowers, Charmaz, &
Clarke, 2009), while I’ve stuck with classical grounded theory—
which I call Glaserian after Barney Glaser, as opposed to
Strausian, after Anselm Straus (Stern, 1994, Artinian, Giske, &
Cone, 2009)—it’s important to make this clear at the outset, so
the reader gets the in the appropriate frame of mind.

Body of the Paper

Introductory paragraph. I’m a staunch supporter of the wellphrased
introductory paragraph, a hook to catch the reader’s
attention. This overture sets the tone of the paper, and gives the
reader some guidance as to where you’re going with this work.
Avoid a repeat of the abstract; you already said that.

Writing style. I learned to polish my writing style by reading
articles in The New Yorker magazine. I admire the way science
writers can explain a complicated subject so that even I can
understand, and that’s what I’ve tried to do—if the reader fails to
understand your theory, she or he fails to pass it along, or to use
it. Reading poetry has helped me develop rhythm in my writing.
Editors tell me I have a recognizable voice, a pattern that readers
can identify as mine. I think this is true; some of my work has
become public domain, and when I read it (sans citation) I know,
“Hey, I wrote that!”

Everything is a draft. Barney Glaser’s advice to his students
was, “Consider everything a draft,” and, “The best writing is in
the re-writing.” (Glaser, personal communication, 1974). This
recommendation is particularly useful when your submission
comes back with myriad suggestions from reviewers. It’s helpful
to remember that reviewers are school teachers, and they think
they’re not doing their job if they don’t make corrections. Not that
I take their advice calmly; my reaction tends to bring forth a
string of four-letter words followed by the epithet, “stupid jerks!”
My advice is to put the paper aside, pour a stiff drink, put your
feet up, and watch television. By the time you get back to the task
of writing up the theory so that even they can understand, you
may be less emotionally involved (Stern, 1997). Often in a calmer
state, the advice of reviewers makes sense. Maybe you have a
longer fuse than I, and can get right on with the re-writing. In
any case, don’t take no for an answer! Some of my best stuff took
three rewrites before I got an acceptance (Stern & Kerry, 1996).

Conclusion. Some authors confuse the conclusion with a
summary. A summary is a summary, a conclusion is something
else. As an editor, I often asked an author of an otherwise
publishable paper, “How will your work save the world?” An
article is a selling job and the conclusion tells the reader how it
can be useful; it sells is your work. This is no time to be timid;
this is a time for the crescendo, the closing act, the big kahuna!

Getting Hooked

“I coulda’ been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I
am.” Marlin Brando in On the Waterfront. (Spiegel, 1954). Seeing
your work in print makes you feel like a somebody. American
published articles are catalogued in The United States Library of
Congress, and other countries have similar depositaries. Being
published is a way of gaining eternity. It’s a way of getting
hooked. People remember where they were when a major
historical event occurs. I remember where I was when my first
article was accepted (Stern, 1972). My husband and I went to see
the movie version of Fiddler on the Roof (Prince, 1971). I was too
excited to follow the plot line, and to this day, I have only a vague
idea of what the film was about. In 1980, I was supervising a
group of student nurses at Saint Luke hospital in San Francisco
when I got a call from Nell Watts, then Chief Executive Officer of
Sigma Theta Tau, the honor society of nursing which publishes
Image: The Journal of Nursing Scholarship, a respected research
journal. Nell wanted to know if I could turn around a few changes
to an article I had submitted by overnight mail (this was before
fax and electronic mail). Of course I could—I was thrilled. This
was the big time, this was Broadway! After the clinical tour was
finished, I drove home along the coast, and stopped off at Fort
Point. I needed to walk off my drugless high. The Point has
updrafts skydivers like, and they were out in force: all bright
colors and waving to me. It’s the closest I expect to get to
Nirvana. I was hooked. I have celebrated my 84th birthday, I
have one arthritic hand, and the other partially paralyzed due to
a dislocated shoulder making keyboarding awkward, but the
thrill is still there.

Writing is hard, lonely, work, but your research is complete
only when it is published. Come get high with me. Get hooked.

Author

Phyllis Noerager Stern, DNS, LLD (hon.), FAAN
Professor Emerta, Indiana University Purdue University
Indianapolis School of Nursing
E-mail: pnstern@comcast.net

References

Artinian, B. A., Giske T. Cone, P. H. (2009). Glaserian grounded
theory in nursing research: Trusting emergence. New
York: Springer.

Baker, C., Wuest, J., & Stern, P.N. (1992). Method slurring: the
grounded theory/phenomenology example. Journal of
Advanced Nursing, 17, 1355-1360.

Glaser, B. G., & Straus, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded
theory. New York: Aldine.

Morse, J. M., Stern, P. N., Corbin, J., Bowers, B., Charmaz, K.,
Clarke, A. E. (2009). Developing grounded theory: The
second generation. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast.

Prince, H. (Producer), Jewison, N. (Director). Stein, J. (Author).
(1971). Fiddler on the Roof. [Motion Picture]. United
States: Universal Pictures.

Pyles, S.H. & Stern, P.N. (1983). Discovery of nursing gestalt in
critical care nursing: The importance of the gray gorilla
syndrome. Image, 15, 51-57.

Rebelsky, F. (1975). Life the continuous process. New York:
Knopf.

Spiegel, S. (Producer) Kazan, E. (Director). Johnson, M. &
Schulberg, B. (Writers) (1954). On the waterfront.
[Motion Picture] United States: Columbia Pictures.

Stern, P.N. (1972). APA: Insidious foe of an aging Swede.
American Journal of Nursing, 73, 111-113.

Stern, P. N. (1978). Stepfather families: Integration around child
discipline. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 1, 50-56.

Stern, P.N. (1980). Grounded theory methodology: its uses and
processes. Image, 12, 20-23.

Stern, P.N. (1982 a). Affiliating in stepfather families: Teachable
strategies leading to integration. Western Journal of
Nursing Research, 4, 75-89.

Stern, P.N. (1982 b). Conflicting family culture: An impediment to
integration in stepfather families. Journal of Psychosocial
Nursing, 20, 27-33.

Stern, P.N. (1994). Eroding Grounded Theory. In J. Morse (Ed.)
Critical issues in qualitative inquiry, (pp. 212-223)
Newbury Park, CA: Sage. (AJN Book of the Year Award
for 1994.)

Stern, P.N. and Kerry, J. (1996) Restructuring life after home loss
by fire. Image: The Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 28, 9-
14.

Stern, P.N. (1997). Strategies for overcoming the rage of rejection:
The case of the qualitative researcher. In J.M. Morse
(Ed.). Application of qualitative methods. (Pp. 135-145).
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Stern, P. N. & Kerry, J. (1996). Restructuring life after home loss
by fire. Image the Journal of Nursing Scholarship. 28, 11-
16.

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