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.


Sherman Morrison — 07 March 2012 - 13:29

I understand and support the forced selection Poles at the start of the second stage of sorting. HOWEVER, I do think some of my participants find the instructions a bit confusing where it says “First you need to fill the most Important spots, then the most Unimportant spots.” There is a struggle here to make the instructions fit for studies whose distribution grid has multiple spots for poles versus grids that only use one spot per extreme pole. Some of my participants were afraid something was not working correctly since it said spots plural rather than singular. I wonder if you would consider it reading this way: First you need to fill the most Important spot(s), then the most Unimportant spot(s). This might be less confusing as it would lead someone to believe there may or may not be multiple spots at the poles, rather than it appearing there should be multiple spots when that’s not necessarily true. I would love to see resolution of this issue before I begin my next study, which will be for my doctoral dissertation!
Sincerely — Sherman Morrison, Antioch University PhD in Leadership and Change Program.

Stan Kaufman — 07 March 2012 - 16:31

Thanks for the feedback, Sherman. The change you suggest is quite minor — raising the question of whether it would even be noticed by most participants. The more common feedback we’ve received is that the instructions are too long and that participants don’t even bother to read them. Nevertheless, your idea does better cover the potential grid designs that investigators might devise, so we’ve implemented the edit. Thanks again for your input and interest in Q-Assessor!

Sherman Morrison — 07 March 2012 - 20:31

And thank YOU for implementing the minor edit — now my wife will stop nagging me about it! She was the first to test my pilot study… — Sherman

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