Administering a Pile Sort

Informants often ask two questions when asked to do a pile sort: (1) ‘‘What do you mean by ‘belong together’?’’ and (2) ‘‘Can I put something in more than one pile?’’ The answer to the first question is ‘‘There are no right or wrong answers. We want to learn what you think about these things.’’

The easy answer to the second question is ‘‘No,’’ because there is one card per item and a card can only be in one pile at a time. This answer cuts off a lot of information, however, because people can think of items in a cultural domain along several dimensions at once. For example, in a pile sort of consumer electronics, someone might want to put DVD recorders in one pile with TVs (for the obvious association) and in another pile with camcorders (for another obvious association), but might not want to put camcorders and TVs in the same pile. One way to handle this problem is to have duplicate cards that you can give to people when they want to put an item into more than one pile, but be warned that this can complicate analysis of the data. An alternative is to ask the informant to do multiple free pile sorts of the same set of items (box 10.5).

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