How to use the Categories tab in OptimalSort

This article tells you:

  • The difference between an open, closed, or hybrid card sort
  • How to create categories for a closed or hybrid card sorting study
  • How to add category descriptions for your participants
  • Decide whether you require participants to name all the categories they create

How the three category settings differ

In an open card sort, participants create and name their own categories in which to group related cards. Use this type of card sort to find out how people would categorize your content. Results include Dendrograms, the Similarity Matrix, the Participant-centric Analysis, and the Standardization Grid.

In a closed card sort, you create pre-defined categories, and participants group the cards into those categories. Use a closed card sort for ranking, prioritizing, and assessing the usefulness of items and actions. Results include the Results Matrix, and the Popular Placement Matrix.

In a hybrid card sort, you create pre-defined categories and allow participants to create their own as well. Results include every visualization you get for open and closed card sort results.

Read this article to find out more about choosing the right categories setting for your particular study.

How to create categories for a closed or hybrid card sort

To create categories manually, write the category label into the label field, and press enter or 'Add Category' to add more categories.  To import categories from a spreadsheet, click 'Bulk import' and copy and paste your categories into the empty text box. 

If you run a closed or hybrid survey, your instructions for participants will be slightly different — find out more here.

This is what your participants will see if you create categories for them to sort cards into:

How to add category descriptions for your participants

You can choose to add a description of each category by ticking the 'Add tooltip descriptions' check box on the right. A text field will appear next to your category name when your participants hover their mouse over it: 

How to set a card limit for your categories

You can choose to set a limit for the number of cards that your participants can sort into each category in a closed or hybrid card sort.

To enable this feature, tick the ‘Add category card limits’ option. A field will appear next to each of your category labels allowing you to set the maximum number of cards that your participants can add to each category.

If you don’t need to set limits on some of your categories, simply leave the ‘Limit’ field blank on these categories.  Blank fields will show the text ‘No limit’.

This feature is ideal for ranking exercises, such as Q-sorting, which is great to understand how participants think about items or topics in relation to other items and topics as opposed to by themselves.

For example, if you wanted to understand your participants’ preferences for particular food items, then you could set up categories with limits ranging from ‘Strongly prefer’ to ‘Strongly dislike’ as shown below.

You may wish to untick the default ‘Randomize category order’ option so as to display the categories in a sequential order, rather than randomly.

Below you can see how this will appear to your participants when they take your card sort.  Note the items limits at the bottom of each category.

If you are creating a closed card sort make sure that your card limits are large enough to allow all cards to be sorted.  Don’t worry, the tool will warn you before launch if this is an issue.   

Decide on whether you require participants to name all the categories they create

Participants are required by default to name all the categories they create (the checkbox to the right of the categories). Leaving this box checked will enable you to collect more complete responses for your analysis, and you won't end up with a large list of unlabelled cards (which have caused quite a few headaches, I'm sure!).

Leaving the box checked does sometimes depend on the complexity of the card sort and the willingness of your participants. If your participants struggle to label all the categories, they may abandon the study or make something up, rather than take the time to write a considered label. This will bias your results. So keep that in mind.

Here's a couple of questions to ask yourself to help you decide.

  • How invested in the outcome of the study are the participants? You’re more likely to get away with requiring invested participants to sort all the cards or name all the categories. For example, your own team members who have an interest in the outcome of the project. However, randomly selected participants may be more inclined to simply abandon the study, or to make up invalid results as a way to finish more quickly.
  • How many cards have you added to your project? The more cards you add to your study, the less likely it is that participants will be willing to sort them all before they either abandon the study or start rushing. In any case, we recommend somewhere around 30, and no more than 50.
  • How educated are your participants when it comes to the subject domain? If your participants have never heard of some of the terms you are using, you may be forcing them to make up labels for categories with little or no meaning.