New approaches to qualitative interviewing: Development of a card sort technique to understand subjective patterns of symptoms and responses

Jennifer R. Mammen, Sally A. Norton, Hyekyun Rhee, Arlene M. Butz

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: Ability to elicit individuals' perceptions of complex behavioral processes can be challenging, as it hinges not only upon the skill of the researcher, but also upon assumptions of a shared language and individuals' ability to recall, analyze, and effectively communicate events. In a case-based qualitative-descriptive study about teens' experiences of asthma self-management, we found that variations in terminology and descriptions of events, symptoms, and responses made it difficult to understand teens' experiences of asthma. In particular, teens' conceptualization of their asthma symptoms and self-management responses differed from situation to situation, from other teens in the study, from the interviewer, and from prior reports in the literature. These differences across many levels made it difficult to identify patterns in individual processes of self-management, and among teens in general.. Objectives: To address these challenges, we developed a card sorting activity to facilitate in-depth exploration of teens' experiences of asthma. Design: Case-based qualitative description. Setting: Teen-parent dyads (N=28) were recruited from the community, Emergency Department, Pediatric Pulmonary Department, and prior study subjects of a major medical center. Methods: Teens first identified and then sequenced their own unique sets of asthma symptoms and self-management responses. Teens then developed contextually grounded narratives using the card sort they had created as a visual aid. Results: This technique not only allowed us to bridge teen-interviewer communication barriers and develop shared terminology, but also resulted in a visible sequence of asthma symptoms and self-management responses. Conclusions: The card sort technique facilitated researcher-teen discussion and enabled comparison of self-management patterns across teens in our study. This technique is potentially useful for other areas of research exploring behavioral processes with complex and individual-specific experiences, in particular those involving sequences of events and self-management responses. This paper delineates the development, utility, and potential applications of the symptom-response card sorting technique for research and clinical practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)90-96
Number of pages7
JournalInternational journal of nursing studies
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • Adolescent
  • Asthma
  • Card sort
  • Methodological
  • Qualitative
  • Self-management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)


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