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Selecting Items from a Free List for Further Study

Researchers use scree plots to choose a set of items to study in more depth. For example, by counting the dots in figure 16.1, we see that (1) 14 fruits were mentioned by 20 or more of our 34 informants, and (2) 58 items were mentioned by at least two of our informants. All the other fruits were mentioned just once.

How many items should we choose from these data as representing the contents of the domain? There is no formal rule here, but a good general rule is to select items that are mentioned by at least 10% of your informants. If you have 40 informants, then choose items that were mentioned by at least four of them. If this still produces too many items, then move up to 15% of informants or more.

There is nothing forcing you to take every item that’s mentioned a lot, especially if you already know something about the domain you’re studying. If you want to study, say, 40 items in depth, you can choose some that are mentioned frequently and others that are mentioned less frequently—or even by no one at all.

An item mentioned once is usually not a good candidate to include for further work on the structure of the domain. The whole idea of a cultural domain, as contrasted with an individual cognitive domain is that the content is shared (Borgatti 1999). On the other hand, we often want to know where a particular item fits within a cultural domain.

Once we have identified the items in a cultural domain, the next step is to examine how the items are related to each other. To do this, we ask informants to make similarity judgments—to tell us what goes with what. Pile sorts are an effective method for collecting these judgments.

 
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