Graduate and undergraduate student researchers are continually learning and performing research methodologies as part of research assistantships or for independent theses and dissertations. Particularly in engineering education research, qualitative, quantitative, and mixed research methods are employed depending on the research study, and it is important for student researchers to have working knowledge of and practice using a variety of methodologies. To support the growth of student researchers, this “tricks of the trade” paper explains Q methodology, a mixed methods research methodology, and how it can be utilized in engineering education.
Q methodology is a social science research methodology focused on systematically studying subjectivity utilizing both qualitative and quantitative research techniques. The methodology is used to study how people think about a topic (e.g., their viewpoints, perspectives, or beliefs). As a convergent mixed methods design, Q methodology explains the quantitative results of a factor analysis using the qualitative findings from interview responses. The results of a Q methodology study are a set of subjective viewpoints, or factors, which represent the various ways of thinking regarding a specific topic or domain and explanations for those viewpoints. While Q methodology has had limited use in engineering education research to-date, it has a larger presence in education research more broadly. Example studies include undergraduate women’s perspectives on mathematics, undergraduate engineering students’ out-of-class activities, and construction engineering program assessment.
This paper details the history of Q methodology, when it is appropriate to use it as a research design within engineering education research, the components of the methodology, how to execute a Q methodology study, and how to analyze and interpret the results. A detailed example from a dissertation is provided for how Q methodology is currently being used to study the experiences of early career women engineers when they encounter gender-based challenges in the workplace. Ultimately, this paper demonstrates and promotes the strengths of Q methodology within engineering education research and provides student researchers actionable steps and knowledge to advance their research skills.
Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper?
Visit the ASEE document repository at
for more tools and easy citations.