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How to do a grounded theory study: a worked example of a study of dental practices

Alexandra Sbaraini12*, Stacy M Carter1, R Wendell Evans2 and Anthony Blinkhorn12

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

2 Population Oral Health, Faculty of Dentistry, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2011, 11:128  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-11-128

Published: 9 September 2011



Qualitative methodologies are increasingly popular in medical research. Grounded theory is the methodology most-often cited by authors of qualitative studies in medicine, but it has been suggested that many 'grounded theory' studies are not concordant with the methodology. In this paper we provide a worked example of a grounded theory project. Our aim is to provide a model for practice, to connect medical researchers with a useful methodology, and to increase the quality of 'grounded theory' research published in the medical literature.


We documented a worked example of using grounded theory methodology in practice.


We describe our sampling, data collection, data analysis and interpretation. We explain how these steps were consistent with grounded theory methodology, and show how they related to one another. Grounded theory methodology assisted us to develop a detailed model of the process of adapting preventive protocols into dental practice, and to analyse variation in this process in different dental practices.


By employing grounded theory methodology rigorously, medical researchers can better design and justify their methods, and produce high-quality findings that will be more useful to patients, professionals and the research community.

qualitative research; grounded theory; methodology; methods; dental care