Aspects on McCallin’s paper, “Grappling with the literature in a grounded theory study”

Helene Ekström, MD, Ph.D.

I read Antoinette McCallin’s paper with interest and I
have learned that there are problems which I have
foreseen perhaps because I am, as many medical doctors
are, unaware of the many “theories” or different
perspectives that one can chose in undertaking a study.
Kirsti Malterud, Professor of General Practice in Bergen,
Norway, used to say that we are theoretically ignorant and
instead focus on the pragmatic issues of how to survive the
day and help the “sick” in an appropriate way. However,
even if I feel like a real novice, I have some remarks about
literature and grounded theory studies.

A literature review as part of, for instance, a research
proposal and one that is undertaken when actually
performing a grounded theory study are two different
issues in my opinion. When writing a research proposal or
an application for research funding, the issue is (which I
personally learned the hard way….) to follow the rules of
the committees or funding agencies whether or not the
review demanded is appropriate for what you plan to
study. Here the discussion in the first part of McCallin’s
paper is appropriate because when you write a research
proposal or the like perhaps (although not necessarily) a
discussion is needed of the different “GT methods”, their
requirements, historical development, different opinions
among researchers and so on as well as why you have
chosen a particular approach.

On the other hand, when actually doing a grounded
theory study I believe the issue is to follow the rules of the
method you have chosen; that is, either classical
(Glaserian) GT, the Strauss and Corbin version or any other
versions. To read the appropriate method books over and
over again while collecting and coding data is the most
important part of literature reading. Reading other GT
studies done using the same method as you have chosen
can also help and is essential for increasing your
understanding of “how to do it” as well as in sensitizing
your knowledge of theoretical codes that may enable you
to reach a high enough level of abstraction in your own

These issues of reading literature I miss completely in
McCallin’s paper. In my own experience, just finding good
grounded theories through the usual literature search
databases is a challenge, certainly for those of us in the
medical profession. It would have been helpful to have
some guidance about this in the paper.

I also miss a clear explanation of the two main aspects
of literature review when the theory has evolved; that is,
how to search for literature about other research in the
same area of interest as well as literature dealing with
concepts and theories similar to what has emerged in your
grounded theory. In my own doctoral study, this meant
looking both for other papers about how women
experienced menopause as well as papers about “status
passages” as these were my emerging categories and main
concern. In summary, I feel that McCallin’s paper could
have been improved by offering an outline as to what
purpose literature reading serves at different times during
a GT study. The example used in the paper did not reveal
this to me but had it done so would have been of great
value to many researchers new to GT.


Helene Ekström, MD, Ph.D.
Kronoberg County Research Centre
Department of Community Medicine
Vaxjo, SE