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Affinity diagramming

"emergent commonality"

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What is it?

Affinity diagramming is a very simple but powerful technique for grouping and understanding language information.

The technique consists simply of writing down items - concepts, facts, ideas, dimensions, descriptions and so on - on Post It notes (or similar sticky paper things) and physically sticking them next to each other to form natural groupings. Although this can be done electronically for very small sets of data (using a word processor or spreadsheet program), it is mostly always better to work with paper.


Affinity diagramming is, above all else, a simple technique. Its explanatory power derives from its very visual nature, i.e. the more similar two items are, the closer together their Post It notes are.

Affinity diagramming can be used in a group, workshop setting - when you want participants to work together to identify, group and discuss difficult or complex issues - or by a single person trying to make sense of a set of data. Other media - photos, drawings, illustrations or other pictures - can also form part of the emerging affinity diagram.

What's it for?

Affinity diagramming is a way to identify, analyse and synthesize meaning from a large, unstructured body of data. A good example might be to organise the results of a brainstorming session, or the conclusion of a contextual enquiry, when you may have hundreds or even thousands of individual notes.

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