A glossary of terms related to the repertory grid interview



A construct is a bi-polar scale which the user applies to all (or some) of the elements. Constructs are initially elicited through the process of triadic comparison, in which a group of three elements is selected you are asked to nominate one or more ways in which two of them are similar to each other and different from the third. The most effective constructs are those in which each pole carries equal weight or meaning: for example leads by example - asks people to do things s/he won't is a more useful construct than leads by example - doesn't, because each pole is a clear descriptor of behaviour.

Core Constructs

Core constructs, which in Grid are accessed by the Laddering Up process, are deeply-held and usually long-established beliefs and values which the person holds. Most people have between six and ten core constructs. You can tell when you are close to a core construct because people tend to justify them with phrases like 'that's the way it is for me,' or 'that's what my parents always taught me,' or 'that's what the Good Book says,' or something similar. Great care should be exercised when working with other people's core constructs.

Dendritic or Cluster Analysis

This is a statistical process, and graphical representation, which is used to analyse the matrix which results from the rating of elements on constructs. This is done by inspecting all the elements, calculating which two are most closely correlated, and placing them next to each other in the Grid. A 'virtual' element is formed from the amalgamation of these two elements and the Grid is recalculated with this virtual element substituted to form a new virtual element. This process is repeated until all the correlations between the elements have been accounted for. The same process is repeated for the constructs, but taking into account the fact that, because constructs are bipolar, some of them might need to have the ratings reversed in order to make a better representation of their correlation. A dendogram which is a diagram which looks like a tree, is drawn to represent the correlation relationships.


When the elements have been rated on the constructs and the Grid and the dendritic analysis have been calculated, the user has the opportunity to differentiate the elements and constructs. The principle underlying the differentiation process is that meaning lies in function, and therefore that elements which the user rates as very similar to each other have very similar meaning to that user; and that constructs which are used in similar fashion to each other imply that very similar judgements will be made with each construct. The Differentiation process challenges the user to say whether these close correlations are in fact truly representative of the subject-matter as they see it. If the user says that such close correlations are not in fact true, they will be asked:

The Construct Differentiation process also allows for constructs which are semantically similar to be combined into one; and for closely correlated constructs to be left in place if the user feels this is more important.

Discrete and Non-Discrete Elements

Elements should ideally be separate, discrete entities with no possibility of one element including another. However, some element sets - in particular, elements which are events or activities - carry the possibility that one could overlap another. Hence, in the differentiation process for non-discrete elements it may be necessary to combine two overlapping elements into one.


The elements are concrete exemplars which represent the topic, or domain, you wish to explore. Elements are usually nouns or noun-phrases, or events or activities. They should be as concrete and specific as possible.

Ideal Elements

This term refers to the imaginary elements which can be introduced into a grid session, usually after some constructs have been produced and the elements rated. 'Ideal' elements are useful for exploring 'what if' scenarios, and usually are of the form MY IDEAL BOSS, MY IDEAL HOLIDAY, MYSELF AS I WOULD PREFER TO BE, or MY BOSS AS I WOULD PREFER HIM TO BE. The resulting analysis can then focus on the characteristics which differentiate the ideal from the reality, and the courses of action which suggest themselves as a result.

Impermeable Construct

See Permeable Constructs

Laddering Down

The Laddering Down process is a method for learning more about how one pole of the construct differs from the other. Essentially Laddering Down asks the question `Tell me more about how elements which are X differ from elements which are Y, in terms of what you observe, how they behave, etc.'

Laddering Up

The Laddering Up process enables you to explore the user's superordinate constructs, or penetrate deeper into their value system. Two Laddering Up strategies can be used: in the first the user is asked why that construct is an important distinction to make about members of the element class. On entering the answer, the user is asked why that answer is important, and so on up to a maximum of three levels. In the second strategy the user is asked which pole of the construct s/he prefers, and why. They are then asked to say why this reason is important, and so on up to three levels. Laddering Up takes you towards the user's core constructs. Core constructs are the user's deeply-held values and beliefs and are strongly characteristic of the person.

Multivariate Analysis

This is a statistical process (many forms exist) which analyses the Grid matrix and then calculates how best to represent the underlying correlations on two, or sometimes three, independent factors. Because it (i) loses some of the subtlety of the overall picture, (ii) concentrates on the relationship between the elements only, and (iii) does not allow for the differentiation process, multivariate analysis has limited usefulness.

Permeable Constructs

These are constructs that are allowed to apply to many phenomena. The presence of permeable constructs allows the accommodation of new evidence to accommodate new constructs. Excessive permeability of constructs can lead to an inability to recognize difference. Impermeable constructs are just the opposite leading to pigeonholing every situation as unique.

Personal Construct Theory

This is the theory of personality on which the Repertory Grid and Enquire Within techniques are based. Propounded by George Kelly, PCT has as its basic postulate that people try to make sense of their world by forming, testing, and modifying hypotheses about it. These hypotheses are expressed as constructs; PCT is a methodology for modelling people's construct systems. See also Background and Theory

Propositional Constructs

Propositional constructs are constructs which describe objective characteristics of the elements (for example male - female, young - old, American - foreign). Propositional constructs do not tell you a great deal about how the user perceives or feels about the elements, and so are of limited usefulness. When people are getting used to the triadic comparison process, or feel uncomfortable in the grid interview, they tend to restrict themselves to propositional constructs and the interviewer may need to remind them of the qualifiers (or reassure them about the contract underlying the interview). However, propositional constructs should not be discounted; they are necessary when using grid as a knowledge test, and it is often useful to ladder down from them.


After producing some constructs the user can rate each element on each construct. That is the user provides a number in a scale (say a scale of 1 to 5) which expresses the meaning of the element relative to the construct.

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