Participant Engagement and Data Reliability with Internet-Based Q Methodology: A Cautionary Tale

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Matthew Dairon
Shari Clare
John R. Parkins


Q methodology traditionally involves the sorting of stimuli such as textual
phrases or images that are then analyzed with statistical software. Coupled with these
quantitative techniques, Q methodology often involves in-depth interviews and
interpretative methods. In spite of these mixed-methods strengths, scholars are turning
to internet-based platforms for administering Q studies, allowing for a greater range of
access to a larger pool of potential participants. In this article, we examine issues related
to participant engagement and the potential impact of low-quality sorts on data
reliability. These issues are particularly germane for studies utilizing online platforms
for administering Q methodology studies, where the distance between researcher and
participants is increased. Our analysis involves the generation of random Q sorts as a
proxy for low-quality data and explores the influence of introduced low-quality data on
factor loadings and interpretation. In our exploratory study, we find that the
introduction of even a small number of low-quality sorts can seriously influence factor
loadings; in particular, these random sorts alter the composition of Q sorts that load on
less dominant “minority” factors and, ultimately, the interpretation of factors. Based on
these findings, we propose an approach that allows Q methodology researchers to
explore further the quality of their data to detect low-quality sorts and offer suggestions
for improving participant engagement in online studies.

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How to Cite
Dairon, M., Clare, S., & Parkins, J. R. (2017). Participant Engagement and Data Reliability with Internet-Based Q Methodology: A Cautionary Tale. Operant Subjectivity, 39(3/4). Retrieved from