Forced Selection of Poles During Q Sorts
26 June 2011 - 15:04
Several investigators using Q-Assessor have inquired about why participants are forced to select first the most “positive” statements and then the most “negative” statements during the second level sort. This is confusing and undesirable, they say. Participants should just be able to place any statement anywhere in the grid at any point.
It’s a bit hard to understand how this is confusing, since Q-Assessor’s instructions to participants clearly tell them that this will be the actions they are to perform. Further, Q-Assessor’s mechanisms clearly guide participants to do precisely these steps. If Q-Assessor wasn’t directive, then it might be confusing. As it is, the expected actions are incontrovertible.
But more importantly, Q-Assessor imposes these precise steps because that is the way Q technique is supposed to be performed. Steven R. Brown in his Political Subjectivity book makes this very clear (page 196):
Procedurally, the subject is instructed to spread out all the “characteristic” statements, to read through them again, and to select those two which, of those available, he regards as most characteristic, and these are placed, one under the other, beneath the +4 label, as shown in the illustrative score sheet in figure 13. Next, the subject is instructed to spread out all the “uncharacteristic” statements and to select the two most uncharacteristic for placement under -4. Returning to the positive side, those three next-most characteristic items are selected for +3, followed by the next three-most uncharacteristic items for -3. By working back and forth between characteristic and uncharacteristic, the subject gradually approaches the middle.
Thus Q-Assessor’s approach actually already involves a simplification of official Q technique because it only enforces the polar choices for the first round of choices. We’ve done so with some reluctance given the clear nature of Brown’s description. However, since Q investigators these days chafe even at the level of direction Q-Assessor provides now, we’re going to stick with the current strategy.
Other computer-based and online systems don’t impose any such sequential behaviors upon participants, and this presumably is why investigators wonder why Q-Assessor does. However, these other systems are doing Q wrong — and even Q-Assessor isn’t doing it quite right. But Q-Assessor is closer to the correct technique than the others.