Card Sorting: Interpreting talks from participants, thoughts revolve around facilitator's mind - What to do?


I was working on Information Architecture for A company website, I decided to go with card sorting research method, but while I performing a session with participants, I recorded their words, questions about the process, and I want to share it with you to help me decide what is appropriate way to answer their questions without affecting their decisions, and what to do in specific situations.

Interpreting talks from participants

  • Participant: Why you named this card in this specific way?
  • Participant: I can’t find an appropriate place for this card?
  • Participant: This is too many cards to sort? - Cards were about 48 cards, I read that it’s accepted to be from 30 to 50 cards.
  • Participant: Why you didn’t create some groups and ask me to fill it with cards - He actually asks about closed card sorting while the session is open card sorting.
  • Participant: I don’t understand why are you doing this, just go for other website see what they are doing and duplicate them, this is just a company website why want to do a different grouping and IA system!
  • Participant: I am not convinced about what you are doing!
  • Participant: All cards are Questions, not information - I formatted cards as ( Tasks [suitation] + [where to go to achieve this goal] )
  • Participant starts to answer questions that are formatted in the card!

Thoughts revolve around facilitator’s mind

  • Interrupting phone call to the participant while the session is going.
  • Participant grouped more than 12 cards in one group. Is this indicator for a weakness point on formatting card itself? I Asked him to group it in a smaller group but he claims that this fit better together.
    *What should I - as a facilitator - do while my participant performing the session, so don’t interrupt results and focus.
  • In a situation where it’s difficult to gratuity participants due to, they are old, cultural don’t accept that or they are rich that giving a 20$ gift card or cash money will be considered insulting.

It sounds to me as if you need to give more clear instructions ahead of time. Many of these misunderstandings (e.g. answering the questions on the cards) indicate that participants don’t have a good understanding of what to do and why.


On the contrary, I gave him instructions and a clear introduction to goal and cycle of the session, but he asks for more, deep questions about beyond cards, how to analyze, and why.

for example, telling him “This company is redesigning [site name] and as part of the process we want to make sure that real users – people like you – can find the information they need on the site.” isn’t enough as an answer.

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Starting out, it’s better to have just terms on the cards, not task/situation/goal. That’s an advanced technique.

Some participants are just difficult. 48 cards is a lot, but not unheard of. Sounds like you need to do a participant screening process. Not everyone is a good person to run evaluative research with. You can’t just take anyone. You need to be patient and be clear up front what you can and can’t answer. Without seeing your script, we don’t know how well you prepped the participant.

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