4.4.1 Laddering Down – Asking ‘How, in What Way?’

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You’ve encountered the first way briefly, already, towards the end of

Section 3.2.3. The focus here is on the detail with which a single construct is

expressed when it’s first elicited.

Glance again at Section 3.1.2, the 10-step basic grid procedure. Step 5 elicits a

first approximation of the construct, and step 6 provides an opportunity to

express the construct in sufficient additional detail so that you understand the

intended meaning as precisely as possible. You do this by encouraging the

interviewee to express each pole of the original construct in greater detail,

being more explicit about the operational, behavioural or affective content

involved. In the language of Section 4.3.3, your concern is with the precision of

the symbols your interviewee uses in communicating the construct to you.

Take a look at the upper half of Figure 4.1. The questions you ask, (a) to (e),

result in a more precise and detailed expression,

I could get a loan from this person – I wouldn’t even dream of asking them!

of the original construct,

I can be comfortable with this – I’m never really at ease with this

person person

It’s assumed that there is a particular level of detail which you and the

interviewee will find the most effective in understanding the way in which the

interviewee construes. The level depends very much on the topic, and why

you’re both doing a grid. Attention to ensure this kind of specificity is

particularly important

. if your topic is one about which people have ‘motherhoods’ and think in

clicheґd terms

. if you are doing the grid interview as the qualitative phase of a market

research study

. if you’re trying to identify faults in manufacturing or service provision in a

quality-control context and discover, in detail, why a sample is or is not of

acceptable quality.

At step 5, then, you always have a choice: whether to accept the construct as

first offered, or whether to take and repeat step 6, looking for more detail. The

procedure by which you do so is quite simple, and if you look again at the 10-

point procedure, or glance again at Exercise 4.1, you’ll see that what you’re

doing, in effect, is adding an additional substep (call it step 6b) to step 6 of the


6b Put a ‘how’ question to the interviewee.

‘How can I tell?’ or ‘in what particular way?’ or ‘can you give me an example

of the kind of thing you mean?’ about the emergent pole of the original

construct. (When the elements are people, ‘what kind of person is like that?’ is

a useful form of words.)

Write the answer down below the emergent pole of the original construct.

Put a ‘how’ question to the interviewee about the implicit pole of the

original construct.

Write down the answer below the implicit pole of the original construct.

Stop at that point, or repeat the ‘how’ question in more detail still, about the

construct you’ve just written down.

Apply the remaining steps of the basic grid procedure to the final construct

you arrive at using step 6b, and not to the original one you obtained in step 5.

The result, if you were to write each step down before writing the final one

into the grid, looks a little like a ladder – the contrasts provide us with the

‘rungs’, and the superordinate–subordinate relationships at each successive

step constitute the ‘uprights’ of the ladder. See Figure 4.1. Hence the term,

‘laddering down’.

Figure 4.1 Laddering and pyramiding

Rating the Laddered Construct in the Grid

At step 6 of the basic procedure, you would write down just the lowest

construct you got to, on the grid sheet. You would then obtain the ratings

of all the elements on this final version of the construct, following steps 7

to 9.

Since you have carried out Exercise 4.1 before getting to this point – you

did do the exercise, didn’t you? – you’ll remember that three examples of

laddering down occur: see pages 258, 261, 266 of Appendix 2, and refer to

Appendix 1.2.