Q-sort method

The Q-sort method is a so-called ranking process, which was developed by STEPHENSON (1935) (see section literature). The general objective of this method is the detection of complex images opinion, attitudes and values from a subjective perspective.

One of the main advantages of this method over other questionnaires is that each examinee must formulate both its strengths and its weaknesses through a self-assessment.

This results in additional advantages:

  • During the self-assessment positive and negative properties must be specified (i.e., an examinee can not give generally one-sided estimates for all items proposed as "very relevant" or "irrelevant", etc.). The advantage is thus that the rating scale is protected from poor utilization.
  • Each statement is directly related to all other statements; therefore, the examinee must take more time to process the "questionnaire".
  • the individual provides ipsative (intraindividual) data; ie conclusions to be drawn about which personality traits are perceived individually as strong or weak in relation to other personality traits and not in comparison to other persons or to an external standard.

In this ranking process usually are maps are showing statements, single words or images which are printed along a scale, for example from "true" to "not applicable" arranged in a relative manner. In the Q-sort method the cards usually are ordered in the form of a forced normal distribution (forced q-sort).
This means that every statement cannot be handled independently of each other, but all statements are related to each other.
Such a set of cards that should be sorted under certain conditions instruction (depending on the cognitive interest of the researcher) is called a Q-set.

Features and advantages of the Q-sort procedure

The Q-sort method is a rating system, which is especially suitable for personality description. The volunteers give from your subjective opinion of predefined statements, and thus show their individual, subjective point of view or your personal profile. The correlation between personal profiles shows similar positions or segments of subjectivity. If subjects are correlated, the Q-factor analysis on similar and different viewpoints can give information (eg clustering of subjects). If each individual had his own specific Vorleiben and dislikes, Stephenson argues (1935) that their profiles were not correlated.

  • For each test both, positive and negative characteristics and subjective assessments must be submitted
    (Ie, a patient can not generally leave sided estimates for all items; this has the advantage that the rating scale is protected from poor utilization)
  • Each statement is directly related to all other statements
  • The goal is the generation of a relational statement structure, the reference point for the sort, always make their own subjective concepts of the subject and is thus suggested intraindividual (ipsative) Comparative Perspective
  • The individual provides ipsative data; ie conclusions to be drawn about which personality traits are perceived individually as strong or weak in relation to other personality traits and not in comparison to other persons or to an external standard
  • So is the active combination of cards (Statements) by the respondents in the foreground of the method,
  • for the organization of a frequency responses occupation of the individual rating categories is usually enforced in the form of a normal distribution,
  • any questionnaire or the items are theory-based and designed for the individual case.


Employment opportunities for Q-sort method (or the Q-sort technique)

The fields of application are:

  • Our own analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of participants (Self-assessment),
  • The detection of typical / atypical settings / opinions of people

The Q-sort method methodological aspect has been used for the following purposes:

  • to scale; as for the description of the above-mentioned issues such as the characterization of persons or circumstances
  • for the interpretation of similarity values of several sorts, for example for the comparison on what constitutes a person at different times or in comparison to other persons or ideal profiles.
  • Data gathering for factor analysis and analysis of variance tests, such as the question of whether, from the results of Q-Sorts find another similar personality types.

The sorting process

Typically, a test person is presented a set of statements with the proviso to sort these (eg from "agree" ... "disagree"). This operation is called a q-sorting.

These statements are opinions (no facts) and by the fact that they are sorted according to the personal viewpoints, the subjectivity of opinions with comes into play. In this sense, Q-tests are used particularly for the detection of expression, attitudes and values structures, the typical collection of subjective structures is made the object.

The example of the sorting process reveals a basic principle of this technique. Because in comparison to traditional questionnaire or test method, the statements are not being edited independently. Rather, the generation of a relational statement structure is intended, the reference point for sorting always make their own subjective concepts and is thus suggested intraindividual (ipsative) Comparative Perspective. This is reflected in the instruction of a Q-sorts to express is pointed out in the that the personal viewpoint of the subjects is crucial.

All statements are each housed in a relationship, because the distribution of cards only succeed in the categories if all statements are compared.

In a "conventional" questionnaire method, the individual items are not correlated with each other. The study of the instrument is rather superficial, which is also reflected in the significantly reduced processing time.

Falsification of tests

The issue of falsification is not given. To falsify test results targeted a number of correct assumptions must be made:

  • Analysis, which (behavioral) dimensions are addressed
  • Analysis which test items attributable to the respective behavioral dimensions
  • Do correct guesses about which "strengths / weaknesses profile" is seen as positive (ie, to assess, which underlies Ideal profile)

It does not seem very plausible that a test person can have this internal knowledge to the test.


  • Müller, Florian H.; Kals, Elisabeth (2004). Die Q-Methode. Ein innovatives Verfahren zur Erhebung subjektiver Einstellungen und Meinungen [69 Absätze]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 5(2), Art. 34,
  • Minsel, Wolf-Rüdiger; Heinz, Manfred (1983). Das Q Sort Verfahren. In H. Feger/J. Bredenkamp (Hrsg.): Enzyklopädie der Psychologie: Datenerhebung. Göttingen,
  • Stephenson, W. (1935). Correlating persons instead of tests. Character and Personality, 4, 17-24.
  • Stephenson, W. (1953). The study of behavior: Q-technique and its methodology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Van Exel NJA; G de Graaf (2005). Q methodology: A sneak preview. 2005 [available from]
  • Chris D. Fluckinger, & Michelle R.H. Brodke. (2013). Positive Reactions to a Q Sort for Personality Assessment. Operant Subjectivity, 36(4), 335–341. doi:10.15133/j.os.2012.018
    (Operant Subjectivity is the official journal of the International Society for the Scientific Study of Subjectivity (ISSSS))