Q methodology…(probably) the best approach you haven’t heard of! 

Written by: Dr Neil McHugh,

Researcher in the Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health (and Q Methodology aficionado).

Ever wanted to know what people’s shared conceptions of love are or beliefs about the relationship between income and health or even what the shared societal perspectives are around the value of end of life treatments . . . . then Q methodology might be for you!

William Stephenson (Photo credit: ISSSS method.org)


Q methodology was conceived by William Stephenson as a means to study ‘subjectivity’, a term that is used to refer to subjective beliefs, opinions and values. Stephenson attained two PhDs, in Physics and then in Psychology. His move to psychology resulted in him relocating to University College London (UCL) and working with renowned statisticians Charles Spearman and Cyril Burt. Q methodology was first described in 1935 in a letter to Nature with a more detailed account appearing in his seminal work published in 1953 – ‘The Study of Behaviour’.

The references to statistics should not be seen as off-putting for those who are not mathematically inclined as Q methodology is the very embodiment of a mixed method approach. It combines quantitative and qualitative techniques in order to identify and describe the range of views on a topic and in doing so gives qualitative information structure and form (Brown, 1986). The two main features of Q studies are a card sort used to generate data, and factor analysis to identify patterns of similarity between sorts. The factors are represented by composite Q sorts – a distinctive ranking of the original set of statements for each factor – which form the basis of factor interpretation the outcome of which are a few rich narratives of shared accounts.

Example of card sort

Whilst Q has its disciplinary origins in psychology, the methodology has been applied widely in political science, education and various social, environmental and health sciences. There is a global ‘Q community’ with a thriving online presence https://qmethod.org/ eager to encourage and advise those new to the methodology.


If your interest has been piqued then do check out the wide array of online resources available to help you get started (for example http://www.gcu.ac.uk/endoflife/qsort/  or try a Q sort yourself online here http://www.qmethodology.net/eurovaq/index.html ) or come to the conference . . . this year in Glasgow, hosted by Glasgow Caledonian University (see https://qmethod.org/qconference/i4s17/call-for-abstracts/).   




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