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What is Q methodology?
  1. Julie Duncan Millar1,
  2. Helen Mason2,
  3. Lisa Kidd3
  1. 1Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  2. 2Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health, Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, UK
  3. 3School of Health and Life Sciences/ Research Centre for Health, Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, UK
  1. Correspondence to Julie Duncan Millar, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK; Julie.duncanmillar{at}

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Mixed methods research is becoming increasingly popular given the benefit of combining quantitative and qualitative data to explore phenomena.1 Q methodology combines qualitative and quantitative techniques to study subjectivity. Despite its recent popularity, Q methodology was originally developed in the 1930s by William Stephenson, a physicist and psychologist. Stephenson worked with psychologist and statistician Charles Spearman (of Spearman correlation coefficient and factor analysis fame); Stephenson saw the need to explore the subjective opinion, combining it with the rigour of statistical factor analysis, thus Q methodology was born. Q methodology is being increasingly used to explore views on a range of topics in healthcare from mental healthcare to dentistry.2 This paper sets out the key characteristics of Q methodology to help nurse researchers better understand the method and terminology, plus we provide practical advice about how to apply Q in nursing and health services research.

What is Q methodology?

Study design

Q methodology is used to study subjectivity, that is, to say subjective opinions, values or beliefs to answer questions about ‘what’ or ‘how’.3 4 Q methodology allows us to identify and describe the shared viewpoints that exist on a topic revealing areas of consensus and disagreement across these views. There are two key elements to any Q study. First, participants rank order a set of statements of opinion onto a grid. This is followed by a factor analysis to identify clusters of shared viewpoints that can then be interpreted.

Data collection

Q set development

The starting point in a Q study is a set of statements that are usually written as expressions of opinions or beliefs on the topic. The statements can be generated through various sources …

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests LK is an associate editor for Evidence Based Nursing journal.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.