Card Sort

5 quick tips to writing good card titles for your card sorts.

5 minute read time

Writing good card titles for your card sorts isn’t hard.

But there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind as well as some common mistakes to avoid.

Tip #1: Be consistent

The first thing you want to think about when writing your cards is to keep the length or detail of the card descriptions as consistent as possible.

You might choose to use the page names for your card titles. Or you may want to describe the page in your own words.

Whether choose to write phrases or simple one word descriptions, you can't go wrong.

What you want to avoid is mixing your cards so that some are phrases and others are single word descriptions.

Be consistent in the amount of words you use for your card sorts

Whatever you choose, just be consistent.

In addition to the amount of words on the card you also want to be consistent in how detailed you are.

If you’re organizing clothing, for instance, you don’t want to include a higher level category such as “Suits” while at the same time including lower-level cards such as “Men’s No-Show Socks”.

Be consistent in the conceptual level of your cards

Card sorting is a mentally challenging act, where participants must organize cards from an unorganized stack.

You want to avoid bias while making the job of the participant successful.

You want them to leave feeling confident that they organized the cards in a meaningful way.

To do this, you need to write your cards consistently from one card to another.

Tip #2: Prepare

There are a number of ways to prepare what cards you’re going to test. There’s no one right way to do it.

The trick is to do this in advance so that you have sufficient time to edit your list.

You can, for instance, create a document that lists all the items you’d like to test. These might be pages on a site map or product categories or descriptions.

Maybe you choose to manually go through each page on your website and write a card describing that page.

If you’re doing a card sort on a new site, it might be a dream list of all the different information you want to show up on your site.

Once you have all your ideas or possible cards out of your head and documented, you can reduce and refine them. See tip #5 for ideas on how to do this.

Again, the key is to get all the possible cards written out early in the process. This way you’ll have time to edit and refine the cards before you need to launch your test.

Tip #3: Avoid repetitious cards

When conducting a card sort, participants are basically organizing your information for you in a way that makes sense to them. The way that you write your card titles could impact the way they organize them.

If, for instance, you’re setting up a card sort for a furniture company the cards could look something like this:

  • Oak Bookcase
  • Oak TV Cabinet
  • Oak Rocking Chair
  • Oak Bed
  • Oak Nightstand
  • Oak Dresser
  • Pine Bookcase
  • Pine TV Cabinet
  • Pine Rocking Chair
  • Pine Bed
  • Pine Nightstand
  • Pine Dresser

What are the two categories you see?

Oak and Pine. Right?

This will bias your results as those two categories are easiest to spot without even having to think about the underlying organization.

In this example, it might make the most sense to simply remove the wood type as it will obviously bias the results of the study.

  • Bookcase
  • TV Cabinet
  • Rocking Chair
  • Bed
  • Nightstand
  • Dresser

With these cards things get much more interesting. They could be organized by room, by size, or by function (storing stuff, comfort, etc.).

If it’s a recipe website your cards might look like this:

  • Baking bread
  • Baking cookies
  • Baking meat
  • Frying meat
  • Frying desserts
  • Frying side dishes

You can see, again, how having all the cards start with baking and frying will obviously bias the results to one of those two categories.

In this case, it might not make sense to remove the “Baking” or “Frying” words. Instead change them around a bit:

  • Change the order in which the repetitious word shows up. One card could read “Baking cookies” and the other could read “Bread baking”. It’s different enough that it tricks your brain into thinking about the content instead of getting fixated on the first word.
  • Find a synonym. Instead of “baking” say roasting, cooking, or grilling.

Tip #4: Make sure every card has a potential partner

The whole reason you’re running a card sort is to be able to get back data that will help you take the next step in improving your information architecture.

What you absolutely want to avoid is cards that were grouped inconsistently or in completely unrelated ways across participants.

If participants can’t create natural groupings, you will get back data that is all over the place and something you can’t act on.

Don’t worry though, this is easily avoided if you follow this tip.

All you need to do is make sure that each card has at least one potential partner that it can be grouped along side.

Every card needs at least one potential partner

When conducting a card sort, the participant will expect every card to belong to a group. Even if the group only has two cards, it will still feel like a group and feel like it belongs.

If you find a card that doesn't have a potential partner and it doesn't make sense to remove the card you have a few options.

First, you can revise the wording of the card that is out of place so that it fits more naturally inside a group. This isn't always an option, so in those cases follow the next suggestion.

Second, you can add one or two other cards that can be grouped along side it. These cards don't even need to be part of the study, they just ensure that the card you care about has a potential partner.

This will allow you to validate where the card belongs - whether that's in its own group or inside a larger group.

Tip #5: Don’t have too many cards

This tip isn't strictly about writing the card title. If you have too many cards, though, no matter how well you wrote all your titles, you will run into troubles.

A card sort with too many cards can be overwhelming and extremely challenging for your participants.

So, even if you have a huge website, it’s recommended you only include between 30-60 cards per test.

You may have written out 100 or more different possible cards. There are a few tricks to help you get down to a more manageable level of cards:

  1. Remove cards that aren’t as relevant to your study and the questions you want answered.
  2. Remove any that are similar, but make sure to keep tip #4 above in mind.
  3. Only test a portion of your website or business thereby removing any cards not related to that area.
  4. Remove any that might be confusing or don’t have a potential partner (see tip #4).

Now go write great card titles

You're ready to write excellent card titles for your next card sort.

Use one or more of these tips to help ensure your study gives you actionable and usable results.