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How health–disease is perceived or conceptualized is important for nursing research There is increasing evidence that individual representations are important in constructing the experience of health–disease What is the personal saliency of health–disease for the individual? To explore the patterns of meaning inherent in health–disease, a card sort was undertaken among 15 healthy individuals and 15 individuals with chronic renal disease Both groups were given 28 cards to sort twice once for when they felt ‘well’ and again for when they felt ‘ill’ The theoretical basis underlying the items of the card sort was a model of wellness-illness being developed Latent partition analysis was used to cluster the concepts from each data set followed by multi-dimensional scaling to analyse the structure of the intercategory probability estimates A possible unidimensional pattern of meaning (harmony) emerged for the ‘well’ data and a two-dimensional pattern (disharmony and optimism) for the ‘ill’ data This represents a preliminary step in the development of a theoretical model that would permit assessment of the meaning of health–disease for the individual