Sunday, December 8, 2013

Grounded in Grounded Theory

Today I have begun my cognitive transition from data analysis to reflecting upon my research methods, particularly while reading through Constructing Grounded Theory by Kathy Charmaz.  The chapters that require my attention the most are Chapters 3-5.  Chapter 3 is about coding in grounded theory practice, something which I believe I have completed.  Chapter 4 is about memo-writing, which I believe I have been doing and continue to do.  Chapter 5 is about theoretical sampling, saturation, and sorting, which I believe is my next step.

The purpose of this posting is to share my thought processes, in which I am making sure I did the best that I could in terms of coding, that I am writing memos as appropriate to myself and my project, and that I am ready for theoretical sampling, saturation, and sorting and maybe even bits of Chapter 6, reconstructing theory into grounded theory studies.

Coding: What have I done?
In September, I began initial coding through my 3000+ pages of data.  The most obvious part of this coding was to identify the chunks of data that directly addressed my research questions, that indirectly addressed my research questions, and that did not address my research questions.  I have previous blogged about this step before.  An important point in Charmaz' book about this stage was to "move quickly through the data" (p.49).  I did not want to get bogged down in this tome of data.

On the next page, Charmaz describes word-by-word and line-by-line coding, both of which I could do for my interview data but would last months if not years if I did so for the blog data.  After I selected blog posts that directly and indirectly addressed my research questions, I was then able to do line-by-line and sometimes paragraph-by-paragraph coding.  This coding process was different than my coding practice for two qualitative methods courses that I took because the data in those courses were limited to either a certain number of pages or a certain amount of time (for interviews).  In those courses, 20 pages of data seemed daunting to most of us.

After my initial coding process, I shared the themes that emerged from the data with my dissertation committee co-chairs.  They helped me to discern a common heuristic that unified most of the themes I identified.  This heuristic, in term, helped initiate the second stage, which Charmaz called focused coding.  I spent the last few weeks engaged in this focused coding, which was faster than I anticipated for a number of reasons:
  1. I had already gone through the data twice, so I was much more familiar with the participants and their data.  I was getting a better feel for the flow of the blog and interview data.
  2. The initial codes were still in place, so I could easily look for them and determine how to focus on them.
  3. I did most of the focused coding over Thanksgiving break, in which I had the most free time since I started my full-time job.  I was able to completely immerse myself in the data.
 Before I end this section, Charmaz identifies two other types of focused coding that I had considered.  The first is axial coding, which helps the researcher visualize the connections between the codes.  Although this process may have been helpful, the guiding heuristic theme that my co-chairs helped identify served as a key connection, so I though axial coding may have been a bit redundant.

The second type is theoretical coding, which I thought of because the guiding heuristic is very close to a theoretical model.  I decided against invoking the theoretical model for theoretical coding as I wanted the data to emerge without a theory at first as I believe the codes already have a coherent relationships.

Memo-writing: What am I doing?
I have been writing memos ever since my pilot study data collection last year, before my research proposal was approved.  The most significant writing times were at various stages of data collection and all throughout the data analysis phase.  I discovered that my memo writing at the beginning of data collection revealed that I was too eager to find patterns.  I believe I see evidence of my maturity to let the patterns emerge from the data instead of forcing it.  I also found that I began to embrace the tenet of KISS (keep it simple, stupid) as I began to gather over a thousand pages of data.

Charmaz writes that there is no formal way or writing memos, and that it depends on the researcher's writing style, personality, and data.  While reading through chapter 4, I found many of the techniques to be similar to those from my creative writing courses in how to best organize your thoughts.  Although I prefer to be modest, I have discovered that this is one of my strengths.  I know how to take notes and communicate effectively to myself.

My favorite bit of advice is to write memos as soon as possible.  In one class, we practiced memo writing immediately after collecting data.  I found that memo writing after analyzing a selected chunk of data to be more helpful.  For data collection, my best memos were when I saw a pattern emerging after the midpoint of the data collection process.  Like I wrote earlier, the first part of my data collection memos is most garbage for the study, although it reveals a lot about me.

Theoretical Sampling, Saturation, and Sorting: Am I doing this?
The first question in Chapter 5 that stands out is, "Can you clearly define your themes?"  I can easily answer yes.  The next concern is that I may not have enough data for these themes, which I do not.  When I begin a cross-case analysis, each theme should have at least a full page of evidence; some may even have more than five pages.

Because I believe I have enough data for each category, I do not feel that I need to interview my participants more.  However, I believe that a member check with each of my participants may prompt one or more of them to clarify my interpretation of the data.

Reading further in Chapter 6, I realize that, for some of my participants, I have clearly saturated the data because they have conclusions to the experiences I am investigating.  Those participants who are still going through these experiences may have a change of perspective by the time of the member check, but I had to decide upon an arbitrary cut point in time or I would have a difficult time ending the project.  Besides, I already have 3000+ pages of data, which seems like a good indicator of saturation.

It is clear to me that most theoretical sampling is done and that I have most likely saturated the data for each major category, but I have not physically sorted the categories yet.  I have done this to some extent in my head, but that's not reliable enough.  I need to write down and visualize theoretical sorting.  Once this is done, then I seem to be ready for the next chapter in the textbook, "Reconstructing Theory in Grounded Theory Studies."

The first step is here is to make sure I have a consistent worldview when I use the word "theory" and apply it in my report.  Reading through this section of Chapter 7, I am surprised to find myself more on the positivist end than the interpretive end of defining theory.  Perhaps this is so because, in the larger scheme of things, I would prefer a mixed-methods approach to the study.  Although I'm not measuring anything in this project, I hope to open the door for measuring variables if this study is compelling enough for further investigation.

In the next section of Chapter 7, Charmaz compares constructivist grounded theory to objectivist grounded theory, and I believe I share more the of constructivist's perspective, especially in that one participant's narrative differs slightly between interview data and blog data, mostly in tone.  I am a bit surprised to discover that some withhold information from the interview that was revealed (earlier) in the blog.

Since I haven't developed my grounded theory yet, I will stop with a reflection on "Theorizing in Grounded Theory" on page 133.  Charmaz shares how researchers view or define the theory of grounded theory:
  • An empirical generalization - I think I may go down this path.  To what extent, I don't know.
  • A category - I believe I created a category (a group of English language teachers or sojourners) before grounded theory, but I'll need to investigate this category with the my theory.
  • A predisposition - This is similar to "an empirical generalization," and I'm unsure at this point which of the two is stronger.
  • An explication of a process - This was my intention for the project, but I believe my data may only reveal a partial explication
  • A relationship between variables - There is a good possibility for my grounded theory to do this.
  • An explanation - Of course my grounded theory will explain something.  It will most likely be a partial explanation.  To declare a whole explanation is impossible for an exploratory study like mine.
  • An abstract understanding - I hope not.  With so much data, I believe I can analyze certain categories more deeply for a grounded theory that is an abstract understanding.
  • A description - I hope this is the by-product of my grounded theory.  I want to shed more light on the experiences of my target population.
Just reading through the list above gives off the impression that I'm still biting off more than I can chew.  I agree with this perception, and my mission now is to give the analysis a sharper focus so I can give a clear report of the findings.

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