Aim To give clarity to the analysis of participant observation in nursing when implementing the grounded theory method.
Background Participant observation (PO) is a method of collecting data that reveals the reality of daily life in a specific context. In grounded theory, interviews are the primary method of collecting data but PO gives a distinctive insight, revealing what people are really doing, instead of what they say they are doing. However, more focus is needed on the analysis of PO.
Data sources An observational study carried out to gain awareness of nursing care and its electronic documentation in four acute care wards in hospitals in Finland.
Review methods Discussion of using the grounded theory method and PO as a data collection tool.
Discussion The following methodological tools are discussed: an observational protocol, jotting of notes, microanalysis, the use of questioning, constant comparison, and writing and illustrating. Each tool has specific significance in collecting and analysing data, working in constant interaction.
Conclusion Grounded theory and participant observation supplied rich data and revealed the complexity of the daily reality of acute care. In this study, the methodological tools provided a base for the study at the research sites and outside. The process as a whole was challenging. It was time-consuming and it required rigorous and simultaneous data collection and analysis, including reflective writing. Using these methodological tools helped the researcher stay focused from data collection and analysis to building theory.
Implications for research/practice Using PO as a data collection method in qualitative nursing research provides insights. It is not commonly discussed in nursing research and therefore this study can provide insight, which cannot be seen or revealed by using other data collection methods. Therefore, this paper can produce a useful tool for those who intend to use PO and grounded theory in their nursing research.