BOX 1Q-Sort Methodology


In Q method participants are asked to sort a set of statements representing a broad diversity of opinions and perspectives on the phenomenon being investigated. Items for the Q set can be gathered from a variety of sources; for example, direct quotes and themes from interviews with participants … and statements originating from academic literature and popular media in addition to interviews…. A complete set of scale items (from previous research) can be used to create a ready-made Q set.

A set of between 40 and 80 statements is considered satisfactory. Between 40 and 60 participants are recommended, but effective studies with far fewer participants have been carried out Pilot studies require a small number, perhaps selected strategically to include participants who can provide a wide range of viewpoints, helpful comments, and additional statements from a variety of perspectives. In preparation for the sorting task, each item is numbered and written on a separate card.


Participants sort the cards according to the instructions given by the researcher. For example, an instruction could be to sort the cards initially into three piles according to whether the person “agrees,” “disagrees,” or “neither agrees, nor disagrees (neutral)” with the statement. Participants continue to sort the cards within each broad pile, according to the number of possible positions in the sorting template. For example, working with the “agree” pile, participants select the two items they agree with most (+6 column in the template), then the three items with a slightly lower degree of agreement (+5), and proceed until all the items in the agree pile have been allocated. The process is repeated with the “disagree” pile and continues with the participant distributing the cards in the neutral pile into the remaining positions until all cards have been sorted. Participants then write all of the statement numbers in the appropriate boxes in the template provided. In a post-sorting interview, each participant is asked to comment on the statements, to suggest additional items that might be included, and to point out items that are not clear, and so on. Such open-ended questions aid the interpretations of the sorting configuration.


Each completed template is entered as data. A general statistical package such as SPSS or a dedicated Q package can be used.a The program correlates each Q sort (i.e., a completed template) with each other Q sort to identify a small number of factors that can represent shared forms of understandings among participants. Various techniques of factor rotation and statistical procedures are used to safeguard factor reliability.b The Q sorts of all participants who loaded significantly on a factor are merged to produce a single configuration, which serves as a factor array, or factor exemplar. A table of all factors and the ranking assigned to each statement in each factor is constructed to serve as a basis for factor interpretation.


PCQ … or freeware PQMethod-2.11d, available at http://schmolck‚Äč (accessed September 20, 2013).


These can be performed automatically by the program … For a factor to be interpretable, one requirement is an eigenvalue greater than 1.0 (an eigenvalue is the sum of squared loadings for a factor; it conceptually represents the amount of variance accounted for by a factor). A second requirement is that a factor must have at least two sorts that load significantly on it alone.


Cover of Engaging the Public in Critical Disaster Planning and Decision Making
Engaging the Public in Critical Disaster Planning and Decision Making: Workshop Summary.
Forum on Medical and Public Health Preparedness for Catastrophic Events; Board on Health Sciences Policy; Institute of Medicine; Wizemann T, Reeve M, Altevogt B, editors.
Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2013 Feb 12.
Copyright 2013 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

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