Card-Sorting is a method to structure multiple terms. These methods are often used in field research and user experience analysis to explore information organization, product usability, or content structure. This method is in example particularly suitable for surveys to define topics and group questions in advance.

Groups or individuals can utilize Card-Sorting. This method should be executed target group-specific. The target group corresponds to the target group of the questionnaire. The implementation is not localized and can be executed online, for example.

There are three sorting-approaches:

  1. Closed Card-Sorting: Closed Card-Sorting is a method of organizing information in which participants use predetermined content categories to assign items (e.g., terms, functions, or products) accordingly. Participants are given a list of cards on which the elements to be sorted are noted. The given categories can either be already defined or developed by the participants themselves. The goal of closed card sorting is to gain insights into users' expectations and mental models regarding the organization of information. This makes it possible to optimize the navigation structure of websites, apps, or other information sources.

  2. Open Card-Sorting: Open Card-Sorting is an information structure exploration method in which participants freely choose how to group the provided elements into self-defined categories. Unlike closed card sorting, participants are not given predetermined categories. Instead, they are asked to create their own categories and subgroups. This method provides insights into the natural thinking of users and allows for the identification of organizational patterns that may not have been derived from prior research or assumptions.

  3. Reverse Card-Sorting: The Reverse Card-Sorting approach involves reversing the usual approach to card sorting. Instead of grouping items into categories, participants are given categories and asked to select matching items that belong to each category. This method allows participants to assess the fit between pre-existing categories and their associated content. Reverse card-sorting can provide valuable insights into category perceptions and help optimize information architectures.


  1. Closed Card-Sorting: Specification of generic terms to which the cards should be assigned.

  2. Open Card-Sorting: No specification of generic terms. The participants create generic terms on their own. There is the possibility of limiting the number of categories.

  3. Reverse Card-Sorting: There is already an existing structure of elements. The structure of the elements gets evaluated. The Reverse Card-Sorting serves:

    • To examine how well users can navigate within the existing structure.
    • To query information that can be found in the existing structure.
    • To analyze whether the participant can find the information.
  1. Write the structure elements on cards of the same size
  2. Blend all cards
  3. Explain the procedure to the participants
  4. Hand out the blended cards and blank cards
  5. Blank cards can be filled out by the participants
  6. Optional: Execute a wording analysis [1]
  7. Assignment of the cards to the generic terms by the participants
  8. Analysis of the resulting structure (tools/manually)
  9. Detection of hidden patterns, to create intuitive structures.

There are three techniques for execution:

  • One participant and one observer
  • In the group – on their own
  • In the group - together

[1] Query the understanding of the terms


Further useful books about Card Sorting


Core Literature

  • Moore, G., and Benbasat, I.: Development of an instrument to measure the perceptions of adopting an information technology innovation. Information Systems Research, 2, 3 (1991), 192–222.
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