Forced choice scale

Forced choice scale definition

There are a lot of survey questions that allow you to collect more actionable data. A forced-choice scale is one of them. A forced-choice scale (also known as an ipsative scale) is a rating scale that does not allow for an Undecided, Neutral, Doesn't know, or No opinion response.

Why? Because they are designed to force respondents to express an opinion or attitude. The scale forces the respondent to choose between two or more desirable options and pick the one that is most preferred and clearly indicates a definitive opinion.

Forced choice survey questions are usually written in the form of an agree/disagree statement or consist of statements where respondents select the one closest to their true feelings.

Ipsative measures may be more useful for evaluating traits within an individual, whereas Likert-type scales are more useful for evaluating traits across individuals.

Survey research studies generally indicate that excluding Don’t Know and Neutral options don't necessarily change the proportion of responses leaning toward certain sides of a Likert response scale. So these questions can add value, especially when you want to make business decisions based on customer preferences.

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Forced choice scale examples

A 6-point rating scale with three positive and three negative options but without a neutral option is a classic example of a forced-choice scale.

Forced choice scale examples

Best-practice tips

Take the two suggestions below into account if you’re considering forced-choice questions:

  1. It is still usually a good idea to include a Not Applicable response choice if there are segments of your survey sample to which the question does not apply. For example, respondents who haven’t used the type of product or service you’re asking about before.
  2.  Make sure that the respondent is familiar with the topic you are asking about. In addition, see if there isn’t a significant number of them who might honestly hold ambiguous opinions. If you think a don’t know/neutral option is necessary for your target market, it’s probably best to include one.

Keep in mind that your goal is to force customers to make a choice,  but not at the risk of losing valid, reliable survey data.

Other scale types

  • Survey scales - a scale is an ordered series of response options, presented verbally or numerically from which the respondents select to indicate their level of feeling about the measured attribute. 
  • Guttman scale - an ordinal scale type where statements are arranged in a hierarchical order so that someone who agrees with one item will also agree with lower-order, easier, less extreme items. 
  • Likert scale - Questions utilizing a Likert scale generally present the respondent with a statement and asks for his/her level of agreement with the statement by selecting a point on the scale. These points have often verbal statements or numbers attached to them. The scale should be balanced between positive and negative agreement options.
  • Verbal scale - a verbal scale also referred to as a “word statement” or “scale expression”, is where the response options are presented to the respondent using words, whether spoken or written. 
  • Continuous scale - On a continuous scale, respondents rate the objects by placing a mark at the appropriate position on a line that runs from one extreme of the variable to the other. The form of the continuous scale may vary considerably. 
  • Comparative scale - Comparative scales involve the direct comparison of stimulus objects. Most often, the respondent is asked to compare one brand, product or feature against another. Comparative scale data must be interpreted in relative terms and have only ordinal or rank order properties. 
  • Discrete scale - Discrete data, like counts, are numeric data that have a finite number of possible values and can only be whole numbers. Discrete data arise from observations that can only take certain numerical values. Fractions are meaningless. In some situations, mathematical functions or calculations are not possible either. 

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Vincent is the author of this solution article.

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