Rating scale questions

Rating scale definition

A rating scale is a method that requires the respondent to assign a value, sometimes numeric, to the rated object.


Rating scales are popular in research because they offer the flexibility of response together with many possible types of quantitative analysis. They combine measurement with opinion, for example by asking to what extent you agree with something, how often you do something, and many other possibilities.


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Conditions of a good rating scale

  • It should be easy to interpret the meaning of each scale point
  • The meaning of the scale points should be interpreted identically by all respondents
  • The scale should include enough points to allow for differentiation between respondents as much as validly possible
  • Responses to the scale should be reliable, meaning that if we asked the same question again, each respondent should provide the same answer
  • The scale’s points should map as closely as possible to the underlying idea (construct) of the scale


How many points should your scale have?

The number of scale points depends on what sort of question you’re asking.


If you’re asking something that ranges from positive to negative (also known as bi-polar constructs) then you’re going to want a 7-point scale that includes a middle or neutral point. In practice, this means the response options for a satisfaction question should look like this:


rating scale example


If you’re asking a question that ranges from zero to positive (also known as unipolar constructs) then you’ll go with a 5-point scale. The response options for this kind of question would look like this:


rating scale example


The goal is to make sure respondents can answer in a way that allows them to differentiate themselves as much as is validly possible without providing so many points that the scale becomes unreliable. Even on an 11-point (0-10) scale, respondents start to have difficulty reliably placing themselves: for example, 3 isn’t so different from 4.


Types of rating scales

  1. Numeric rating scale 
  2. Graphic rating scale
  3. Descriptive graphic rating scale: A descriptive graphic rating scale has two defined endpoints. A line connects these points. Descriptive phrases identify different points along the continuum.


rating stars example


Learn how to use the Rating question in Survey Anyplace.


Best-practice tips

  • Make sure to balance the scale by having an equal number of positive and negative categories.
  • Research has shown that respondents are generally biased towards the left-hand side of a scale that is bi-polar (including negative and positive options). For example, if the answer scale starts with “strongly agree” on the left and goes to “strongly disagree” on the right, the results would come out differently than if “strongly disagree” would be placed on the left. If you’re asking a few questions using a rating scale, you can minimize this bias by sometimes starting with positive categories on the left, and sometimes starting with negative categories.
  • Think carefully about the wording at each end of the scale. If the wording sounds too extreme, this may be off-putting to respondents, as generally, people prefer not to appear as extremists. Consider using “very good” as an end-point in place of “terrific” or “very bad” instead of “dreadful”.
  • You can “force” respondents to choose an option by not including a category such as “unsure” or “undecided”, however, this may lead to respondents having to choose an option that they don’t really agree with, or they haven’t yet fully decided about.


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.
  • Interval scale - An interval scale has intervals which each have the same interpretation and do not have a "true" zero point, therefore it is not possible to make statements about how many times higher one score is than another. One unit on the scale represents the same magnitude on the trait or characteristic being measured across the whole range of the scale. 
  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • Forced choice scale - 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. 

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V
Vincent is the author of this solution article.

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