The Likert Scale Explained
You’ve likely already come across this common type of rating scale. Maybe it was an email survey from a department store asking how satisfied you were with a recent visit. Or, it might have been that postcard handed to you at the last sales conference you attended.
If you’re trying to measure someone’s attitudes or behaviors, a Likert scale is one of the most popular (and reliable) ways to do so. A Likert scale measures attitudes and behaviors using answer choices that range from one extreme to another (for example, not at all likely to extremely likely). Unlike a simple “yes / no” question, a Likert scale allows you to uncover degrees of opinion. This can be particularly helpful for sensitive or challenging topics or subject matter. Having a range of responses will also help you to more easily identify areas of improvement—whether you’re sending out a questionnaire to understand the levels of effectiveness of the course you’re teaching, or gathering clients’ opinions on the quality of service at your beauty shop.
Here are some best practices that you’ll find handy before getting started on your questionnaire or survey.
Likert Scale Best Practices & Tips
- Keep it labeled. Numbered scales, or scales that are marked from 1 to 5, for instance, have also proven to give survey respondents trouble, since they might not immediately know what end of the spectrum skews positively versus negatively. Instead, use words to label your scales, i.e. ‘poor’ ranging to ‘excellent’.
- Keep it unipolar. Whenever possible, try to use a “unipolar” scale that ranges from “extremely” to “not at all,” rather than extremely one thing to extremely another. For example, it’s better to use a scale that ranges from “extremely brave” to “not at all brave,” rather than a scale that ranges from “extremely brave” to “extremely shy.” Why? Unipolar scales are just easier for people to think about, and you can be sure that one end is the exact opposite of the other, which makes it methodologically more sound as well.
- Keep it odd. Scales with an odd number of values (e.g. 1-to-7, 1-to-9, 0-to-4) will have a midpoint. How many options should you give people? Studies have shown that respondents have difficulty defining their point of view on a scale greater than seven. This means that if you provide more than 7 response choices, people are likely to start picking an answer randomly, which can make your data meaningless. What’s the magic number to use? Our methodologists recommend five scale points for a unipolar scale, and seven scale points for a bipolar scale.
- Keep it continuous. Response options in a scale should be equally spaced from each other. (The distance between scale points should be the same throughout the scale, which makes the scale clear and less ambiguous.) This can be tricky when using word labels instead of numbers. Check out our methodology blog for some helpful tips.
- Keep it inclusive. Scales should span the entire continuum of responses. For example, if a question asks how hot your coffee was and the answers range from “extremely hot” to “moderately hot”, respondents who think the coffee wasn’t hot at all won’t know what answer to choose.
- Keep it logical. Add question logic to save your survey takers some time! For example, let’s say you want to ask how much your patron enjoyed your restaurant, and then get more details only if they were unhappy with something. To do this, just add question logic so that only those who are unhappy skip to a question asking for improvement suggestions.
- Keep it interrogative. Ask questions whenever possible instead of using agreement with statements. Avoid scales of agreement / disagreement whenever possible as they are subject to an acquiescence bias. This means that survey takers are more likely to agree with statements no matter what they say, and less likely to read the question carefully.
Whether you’re measuring satisfaction, effectiveness, likelihood, or frequency, consider using a Likert scale for your next survey or questionnaire! Here at SurveyMonkey, we recommend using a Multiple Choice (Single Answer) Question Type to create a Likert scale.
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