I am going to be conducting various card sorting exercises with a small group soon and I have a question about how to label some of the cards.

I have about 6 that will contain words that I would like the participants to list in order of priority. In order to be able to log the results quickly I was thinking about putting some sort of numbering system on the cards but I don't want to use 1,2,3... because there is an implied order there.

A,B,C... might be slightly better but there is still an implicit order associated with it.

Symbols were my next guess but that might be too cryptic when recording it.

Finally I was just going to leave anything off the cards but the content and photograph them after completion.

Does anyone have any best practice suggestions? I only have a short amount of time with the participants so time will be of the essence.

2 Answers 2


A couple of things spring to mind:

  1. Use Greek letters. Your participants might be less familiar with these so any implicit ordering will be weakened.

  2. Put the numbers/letters on the back where they can't see them. Then just lift the cards to record the order.

  • 1
    Sometimes the simplest answers... On the back makes perfect sense! Thanks!
    – Toby
    Nov 16, 2011 at 9:46

The numbers clearly don't matter, so what you're really looking for is a reference of some sort that doesn't easily let someone infer order from.

If you show say 100 cards and they are numbered #1 - #100, then there is some implied information. However if you give those same cards random 4 digit numbers (e.g. 7023, 0591), they will be easy for you to enter, and looking at one number isn't going to give any information on its order to the average person.

You should also put the numbers on the back of the card, or if that is difficult (e.g. when printing), de-emphasise them by making them a smaller font and light grey (if printed on a white card) so that you need to really know that they are there to even notice them. Something like the card below.

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