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Quasi Q-Sorting innovation: The use of tangible cues in sorting methodology.

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Q-sort is a qualitative research method that is gaining popularity outside of its traditional psychology and social sciences areas. The Quasi-Q-sort is a derivative of the Q-sort that affords more latitude in the design and administration of the process. This paper reports how the Quasi-Q-sort method was applied in an innovative way to categorise according to tangible attributes in addition to the standard semantic sorting protocol. The Sensory Quasi-Q-Sort (SQQS) was used to obtain unprompted and spontaneous respondent categorisation of 40 hotel comment cards (HCC). Respondents identified attributes that could be clustered to form a description-based classification not restricted to semantic context. This study showed divergence in categorisation indicating varying first impressions of HCCs by guests. Emergent themes identified were Question Format, Graphic Design/Appearance, Dimension, Texture/Paper weight, Ready to mail format, Time taken to complete, Ease-of-use, Geographic/Locality, and Familiar/Expected/ Customary form/Appearance. SQQ-sorting is a valuable way of adding to the richness of qualitative research as it allows inclusion of dimensions previously ignored. As part of a mixed method approach, this is a simple cost effective, efficient and effective method to obtain valuable perspective on how objects are perceived by all the human senses. Such data can influence design and marketing concepts.
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QUASI-Q-SORTING INNOVATION: THE
USE OF TANGIBLE CUES IN SORTING
METHODOLOGY
Alfred Ogle Stephen Fanning
270 Joondalup Drive, Joondalup, WA
6027, Australia a.ogle@ecu.edu.au
270 Joondalup Drive, Joondalup, WA
6027, Australia s.fanning@ecu.edu.au
ABSTRACT
Q-sort is a qualitative research method that is gaining popularity outside
of its traditional psychology and social sciences areas. The Quasi-Q-sort
is a derivative of the Q-sort that affords more latitude in the design and
administration of the process. This paper reports how the Quasi-Q-sort
method was applied in an innovative way to categorise according to tangible
attributes in addition to the standard semantic sorting protocol. The Sensory
Quasi-Q-Sort (SQQS) was used to obtain unprompted and spontaneous
respondent categorisation of 40 hotel comment cards (HCC). Respondents
identied attributes that could be clustered to form a description-based
classication not restricted to semantic context. This study showed
divergence in categorisation indicating varying rst impressions of HCCs by
guests. Emergent themes identied were Question Format, Graphic Design/
Appearance, Dimension, Texture/Paper weight, Ready to mail format, Time
taken to complete, Ease-of-use, Geographic/Locality, and Familiar/Expected/
Customary form/Appearance. SQQ-sorting is a valuable way of adding to the
richness of qualitative research as it allows inclusion of dimensions previously
ignored. As part of a mixed method approach, this is a simple cost effective,
efcient and effective method to obtain valuable perspective on how objects
are perceived by all the human senses. Such data can inuence design and
marketing concepts.
Keywords: Q-sort, Hotel Comment Card, Tangible Attributes, Quasi-Q-sort,
Innovation
Introduction
Q-sort is a qualitative research method that is gaining popularity in areas
such as attitudinal studies (Cross, 2005) and environmental planning (Cotton
& Devine-Wright, 2011). Quasi-Q-sort is a derivative of the Q-sort introduced
by Dunlap and Hadley (1965) and affords more latitude in the design and
administration of the process. This paper reports how the Quasi-Q-sort method
Double Blind Refereed Papers
70 JOHAR – Journal of Hospitality Application & Research Vol. 9 No. 1
Department of Hotel Management, BIT-Mesra, Ranchi-835215
was applied in an innovative way to categorise according to tangible attributes
in addition to the standard semantic qualitative sorting protocol.
The Q methodology was mooted by William Stephenson and described
as an “audacious methodological adaption for studying intra-individual,
rather than interindividual, differences” (McKeown & Thomas, 2013, p.x).
Stephenson’s (1953) Q-sort technique was designed to investigate a person’s
self-concept thereby providing a way to reveal the subjectivity involved in any
situation (Brown, 1996) ranging from the abstract to the concrete. Differing
from conventional surveys and questionnaires, the Q method overcomes the
limitations that come about from the pre-determined categories determined
by the researcher (Smith, 2001), and can “describe a population of ideas” in
contrast to R “a population of people” (Risdon et al., 2003, p.377) therefore
reducing the sample size (Smith, 2001) and suitable when budgetary resources
are limited (McKeown & Thomas, 2013). Q-sorting therefore offers both
exibility and simplicity making it highly cost and time effective yet robust
research methodology.
Robbins and Krueger (2000, p.636) conclude that the Q method is a
“rigorous, hermeneutic, and iterative technique that allows the researcher to
surrender the monopoly of control in their relationship with the researched”.
Graaf and Van Exel (2009, p.61) assert that the Q method excels in providing
the researcher, “whether an academician or a practitioner, the opportunity
to examine and build theory without pre-developed categories”. Despite the
increasing popularity of the Q methodology, many people interested in it
nd difculty in obtaining relevant background literature and instruction on
its usage (Van Exel & de Graaf, 2005) thereby hindering more widespread
uptake among qualitative and mixed method researchers. There, however,
have been subsequent instructional articles that have promoted the Q method
in qualitative research (e.g. Shinebourne, 2009; McKeown & Thomas, 2013)
and market research (Gabor, 2013).
The Q-sort is the instrument of the Q method and conventionally involves
the rank ordering of a set of statements from agree to disagree but has been
applied to other samples such as “pictures, recording, and any other stimuli
amenable to appraisal” (Brown, 1996, p.561). To overcome the lengthy hand
scoring procedure and resultant susceptibility of errors, Wilbur, Gooding
and Vincent (1970) advocated computerisation to aid scoring of responses.
According to Thomas and Watson (2002), Q-sorts can be used to measure
responses to Web pages, pictures or smells, and simplies administration as
participants need not be randomly selected and may be administered over the
Internet.
Double Blind Refereed Papers
Quasi-Q-sorting Innovation: The use of Tangible Cues in Sorting Methodology 71
Often considered as quantitative analysis due to its association with factor
analysis, Q-sort gauges the level of agreement to a set of statements, referred
to as the Q set or Q sample that often consists of 40 to 50 statements (e.g. Van
Eeten, 1998). Ekinci and Riley (1999) illustrate the value of the relatively
laborious Q-sort technique as the rst steps in developing a scale. They propose
that the Q-sort technique plays a valuable role in construction of a “well-
established instrument for measuring customer satisfaction or service quality
that is focused on hotel services and that is reliable and valid” (Ekinci& Riley,
1999, p. 291).Webler, Tuler and Krueger (2001, p.437) undertook a four-step
Q-sort process because “it was well suited to uncovering patterns of belief
situated within people’s subjectivity” despite the highly involved process.
The Quasi-Q-sort is an experimental derivative of the Q-sort and
appropriate for this qualitative study as it does not impose predetermined
structure on the sorting process and does not apply statistical treatments.
The “Quasi-Q-sort Approach” was developed by Dunlap and Hadley (1965)
and applied in the self-evaluation of conference leadership skill.“Quasi-
naturalistic Q samples are similar to those obtained from interviews, but are
developed from sources external to the study, for instance, taking statements
from an interview with an expert on a topic without the expert being included
in the study” (Du Plessis, 2005, p.143). Furnham (1990) used Quasi-Q-sort
in a study using questions from questionnaires performed by two of the
three raters performing a content analysis. Like the Q-sort, Quasi-Q-sort
is underpinned by the ranking of a pre-determined set of statements that is
semantically framed, and therefore constrained in terms of exibility.
The Quasi-Q-sorting applied in this study, the Sensory Quasi-Q-Sort
(SQQS), is a departure from the typical statement based sorting regimen by
allowing the respondent to categorize tangible sample units in a spontaneous
manner thereby avoiding any preconceptions or judgment. It however retains
the ability to incorporate both graphical and textual means of investigation
which takes into account how humans think, both visually and in words
(Kosslyn, 1980), unlike most research tools that are “verbocentric” (Zaltman,
1997, p. 425). This research process is dynamic and interactive as the
participant plays an active role without the potential distraction derived from
the group dynamic of a focus group. As the hotel comment cards (HCC)
are presented differently in terms of typeface, size, colour and graphics,
they warrant “aesthetic judgment” (Amin, 2000, p. 410) for which SQQS is
appropriate. This method allows the elicitation of consumer responses from
unstructured data that mirrors Zou and Lee’s (2007) approach that utilises
the sense-making abilities of consumers in shaping and detecting patterns.
While Pitt and Zube (1979) previously used photographs in their unforced
72 JOHAR – Journal of Hospitality Application & Research Vol. 9 No. 1
Department of Hotel Management, BIT-Mesra, Ranchi-835215
Q-Sort study on people’s perception of landscape visual quality, SQQS is
multi-sensory.
SQQS sorting provides an ideal opportunity to understand participant
behaviours in addition to their value system: as customer feedback is highly
value laden, such an approach is therefore highly relevant to HCCs. SQQS
is unique in that it allows respondents to utilise all of their human senses to
evaluate the sample and respond to visual, auditory, gustatory, olfactory and
tactile stimuli. Whilst the literature shows that respondents have primarily
used sight and even possibly smell-derived statements (Thomas & Watson,
2002), SQQS allows respondents to use all their sensory perceptions in
experiential evaluation of a sample. Similar to the modied Q-sort utilised by
Borthwick (1995) whereby interviews were conducted after the naturalistic
Q-sample was sorted to obtain participant reections of the Q-sort, this study
included post sorting focused interview questions.
Objectives
The objective of the SQQS was to obtain unprompted and spontaneous
respondent categorisation of the 40 HCCs collected from 3 to 5 star hotels
in Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. The HCC, being hitherto practically
nondescript to the typical guest, is categorised from a guest perspective with
respondents identifying “stimuli that can be clustered to form a description”-
based classication (Ekinci & Riley, 1999, p.287). Taking into account the
possibility of idiosyncratic behaviour among the respondents which could
result in a wide range of sorting criteria, this exercise was carried out to
determine if there was a distinct pattern in how guests categorized the sample.
If a recurring pattern emerged, it would indicate how guests may typically
perceive the HCC and could inform the design parameters of future HCCs.
Methodology
Sampling
A sample of forty HCCs was selected at random from the total sample
of seventy-one HCCs using an online calculator (GraphPad Software, 2005).
The reduction was to expedite the independent sorting process. A convenience
sample of fteen (15) respondents was enlisted from the local community
primarily in Joondalup, Western Australia to participate in the SQQS. The
criteria applied for selection were that the participant: 1) was an adult; 2) had a
professional background; and 3) had stayed previously in hotels internationally
and domestically. The researcher attempted to enlist a heterogeneous sample
group in terms of demographic prole to assure a sufciently wide range of
sorting outcomes. The participant demographics are shown in Table 1.
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Quasi-Q-sorting Innovation: The use of Tangible Cues in Sorting Methodology 73
Table 1: Sensory Quasi-Q-sort (SQQS) Participant Demographics.
Gender Female (9), Male (6)
Profession Human Resources Executive (1), Marketing Executive (1),
Banker (2), Engineer (1), Hotelier (1), Public Relations
Manager (1), Civil Servant (1), Primary School Administrator
(1), Secretarial Staff (2)
Process
The participants were individually given the HCCs not in any particular
order. Participants were instructed to place the HCCs in piles as they pleased
based on their own created themes or categories as determined by each
participant after a preliminary survey of the HCCs. Participants were allowed
to change their categories and to move HCCs from one category to another.
Once they were satised that all HCCs were placed into the correct categories
(as determined by the participants), the sorting process for the participant
was completed. No time limit was stipulated and the exercise was conducted
in the participants’ homes or any other location where the participants felt
the most at ease. At the end of each sorting exercise, the researcher recorded
the number of piles and conducted a focused interview which provided an
opportunity for respondents to elaborate on the process and outcome. The data
was recorded on a scoring sheet (see Appendix 1).
Results of SQQS Sorting and Discussion
This study showed categorisation of the sample was idiosyncratic and there
was a divergence in the categories that were created. As the participants were
not prompted during the sorting process, the results were recorded unedited.
While most categorisation immediately showed obvious thematic patterns,
some themes emerged during the interviewing process. Ranging from what
initially appeared to be a single attribute (number of sorts) (Respondent 2) up
to six discrete attributes, the thought process of the participants were clearly
varied/differentiated. This variety suggests that the participants typically
had a spontaneous impression of the sample item and the results could be
extrapolated to represent the rst mental impression that guests would have
when encountering a HCC.
When asked if given an opportunity to re-sort the HCCs whether they
would sort them differently, all the respondents indicated that they would not
make any changes. In the case of HCCs, it would appear that on the one hand
respondents are not likely to have post-decision dissonance thereby suggesting
that their assessment is static or HCCs are items that do not require too much
74 JOHAR – Journal of Hospitality Application & Research Vol. 9 No. 1
Department of Hotel Management, BIT-Mesra, Ranchi-835215
consideration. On the other hand, the respondents could have been sure of
their judgement underpinned by experience and cognition.
Ten out of the fteen participants used “dimension” as at least one of their
categories. In total, ve participants used presentation (appearance) as their
main categorisation criteria and four participants used the question format.
Three participants used geographic location, either country or city, as their
categories. The full results are presented in Appendix 2.
Emergent themes identied were:
a) Question Format (open versus closed questions)
b) Graphic Design/Appearance
c) Dimension (A4, A5, etc.)
d) Texture/Paper weight
e) Ready to mail format (congured for easy postage)
f) Time taken to complete (type annumber of questions)
g) Ease-of-use (simple instructions; uncomplicated questions)
h) Geography/locality
i) Familiar/expected/customary form/appearance
Given the ndings, it would appear that the participants used visual cues
as a major factor in their categorisation. Eight participants indicated that they
had sorted based solely on the outward appearance of the HCCs and had
not considered the content at all. This suggests that a critical aspect of HCC
design is its appearance and ability to visually stimulate guests. This means
that an appealing HCC would likely have a higher chance guest of guest
attention and interest. However, this may be idiosyncratic as three participants
sorted the sample HCCs according to geographic location of the hotel and
did not identify appearances nor content as salient attributes. Furthermore,
eight participants sorted according to question format, HCC dimensions, time
taken to complete and ease-of-use, such that it appeared to be a sort by ‘user-
friendliness’. Three participants referred to the textural aspect of the HCCs as
a part of their sorting process.
Qualitative Data
Condentiality
The SQQS sorting process provides an opportunity to obtain participant
feedback on their thoughts and feeling about the exercise. One of the SQQS
participants indicated that the DL fold with ap format facilitated condentiality
as the HCC could be easily sealed upon completion. The participant, however,
Double Blind Refereed Papers
Quasi-Q-sorting Innovation: The use of Tangible Cues in Sorting Methodology 75
remarked that although this may be advantageous, it actually diminished
the chances of usage because it was perceived as an additional effort which
involved having to perform “another action”. That participant, however, did
not differentiate between a wet-to-seal or self-adhesive ap although the
latter would conceivably more convenient. Therefore what management
might have considered to have been a feature that would encourage usage,
albeit at additional production cost, could be counterproductive and actually
discourage it instead. Another participant indicated that provision for the
HCC to be sealed greatly inuenced the perception of condentiality. If a
HCC did not have the capability of being sealed, its integrity was perceived
to be suspect and it therefore did not warrant usage. However, the participant
was also of the opinion that, even if a HCC could not be sealed, should it
contain instruction that the completed HCC be returned to a senior member of
the staff, there would be a sense of the seriousness the management placed on
the feedback and that would persuade the participant to use it.
Four respondents incorporated the HCC format in their sorting criteria
and three of them indicated that they would ll a HCC that used the MCQ
format citing its ‘ease-of-use’ factor. The SQQS interviews revealed that there
may be some guests who would complete a questionnaire if a request was
made in person by a representative of the hotel and in this circumstance, the
outward attributes of the questionnaire would not be so critical.
Conclusions
The SQQS demonstrated that perception of what could be considered a
banal item could be perceived very differently because of circumstantiality
and viewer idiosyncrasy. This study showed categorisation of the sample
was divergent demonstrating varying spontaneous rst impressions of HCCs
by guests when encountering the HCC in the guestroom. This variability
presents, on the one hand, opportunity for HCC design variety and design
innovation but, on the other hand, a challenge to ensure that equilibrium in
terms of message coherence is achieved. The method applied in this study was
innovative in that the respondents used all their human senses in their sorting
of actual items. This is signicant departure from previous Q-sort methods:
three respondents had used their tactile sense in the sorting process and smell
could conceivably have been a factor as one of the HCCs was scented with
perfume. The SQQS is a viable way of designing comprehensive typologies
of items which would be useful in both academia and industry.
This study was conducted as a discrete part of a larger study involving
focus group interviews, content analysis and in-depth interviews. The ndings
of the SQQS corroborated many of the ndings of the other methods.The
76 JOHAR – Journal of Hospitality Application & Research Vol. 9 No. 1
Department of Hotel Management, BIT-Mesra, Ranchi-835215
limitation of this study is the predisposition of participants towards comment
cards in general and HCCs in particular.
This is a novel approach which is cost effective and simple. It avails
researchers in academia and business practice another exploratory avenue and
conrmatory tool. Despite the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover”, visual
appearance counts and in the case of a HCC comment card, if it does not gain
attention, it would be unlikely motivate the guest’s interest. Furthermore, this
research would suggest that guests may have preconceived beliefs of what a
HCC should look and feel like and that being consistent with these norms will
likely gain more attention and interest.
This innovative variant of Quasi-Q-sorting allows respondents to
categorize tangible sample units in a spontaneous manner thereby avoiding
any preconceptions or judgment. It however retains the ability to incorporate
both graphic and textual means of investigation which takes into account
how humans think, both visually and in words unlike most research tools that
tend to favour the latter. SQQS is a valuable way of adding to the richness of
qualitative research as it allows inclusion of a dimension previously ignored.
As part of a mixed method approach, this is a simple cost effective, efcient
and effective method to obtain valuable perspective on how objects are
perceived visually. Such data can inuence design and marketing concepts,
and in this case inform the design parameters of future HCCs. If a HCC is more
appealing, there would presumably be a higher chance of guest engagement
and subsequent completion thereby optimising the efcacy of the HCC’s
feedback elicitation function.
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Quasi-Q-sorting Innovation: The use of Tangible Cues in Sorting Methodology 79
Appendix 1
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Department of Hotel Management, BIT-Mesra, Ranchi-835215
Appendix 2
... This provides the following advantages for the researcher: 1. A more organized analysis and investigation of belief patterns and values that takes into account human subjectivity (Baker, Thompson, & Mannion, 2006;Ogle & Fanning, 2014;Sexton, Snyder, Wadsworth, Jardine, & James, 1998); 2. A more robust analysis of research problems given the combination of both qualitative approach and quantitative methodologies (Baker et al., 2006;Brown, 1996); 3. A flexible and engaging methodology that allows the researcher to observe more of the respondent, his/her reactions to the items being ranked, and his/her struggles to do so (Ogle & Fanning, 2014); and 4. A pragmatic methodology that can identify the individual and collective views of respondents about the subject matter being studied (Baker et al., 2006). Table 2 provides a listing of the types of researches where Q-methodology has seen applications. ...
... This provides the following advantages for the researcher: 1. A more organized analysis and investigation of belief patterns and values that takes into account human subjectivity (Baker, Thompson, & Mannion, 2006;Ogle & Fanning, 2014;Sexton, Snyder, Wadsworth, Jardine, & James, 1998); 2. A more robust analysis of research problems given the combination of both qualitative approach and quantitative methodologies (Baker et al., 2006;Brown, 1996); 3. A flexible and engaging methodology that allows the researcher to observe more of the respondent, his/her reactions to the items being ranked, and his/her struggles to do so (Ogle & Fanning, 2014); and 4. A pragmatic methodology that can identify the individual and collective views of respondents about the subject matter being studied (Baker et al., 2006). Table 2 provides a listing of the types of researches where Q-methodology has seen applications. ...
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Q methodology is seldom used by academics and practitioners in the field of administrative ethics, but it has important potential for empirical studies. Q offers a procedure and conceptual framework with which to study subjectivity in the social context. It has the advantage of bringing marginalized viewpoints to the fore but also has some drawbacks. The appendix provides a basic introduction to Q and shows how it can be used in research.
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