Posted by: rayseghers | August 7, 2009

Survey Scales – Odds or Evens?

In my previous post I discussed Participative Management so I thought that for this post I would bring it way down to a very tactical level and discuss (briefly) survey response scales.   OK, OK, so this is not the most pressing issue in the universe, but it is a question that comes up often.

 Of course, there is the decision about which type of scale to use – Agree, Strongly Agree, Extent, Expectations, Importance, etc., etc.  But for today I want to discuss a more basic question – should the response scale have an even or an odd number of choices.  This typically gets operationalized as 4 versus 5, and it often comes down to a matter of personal preference rather than hard science.  So, what’s the story?

 The basic issue is whether you want to give respondents the ability to have a neutral response. 

 Proponents of the 4-point scale argue that respondents should be forced to give either a positive or a negative response and not be allowed to sit on the fence.  They claim that a neutral response is essentially a Don’t Know response and is therefore basically useless.

 Proponents of the 5-point scale argue that the scale should be viewed as a continuum and that a response midway between good and bad is as valid and useful as any other response.  They claim that knowing that someone is torn between the two extremes is a very useful piece of information.

 So, who is right?  As I said it often comes down to personal preference and since I am the one writing this post I get to give mine.  I prefer the 5-point scale.  I think that is gives richer data and is more user friendly to the respondent.

 To be fair, I do see the other side of the argument.  So, basically it comes down to this:

  • If you essentially want a yes/no answer but need a little more differentiation, use the 4-point scale.
  • If you want a measurement along a continuum, use the 5-point scale.

 So, that’s my opinion.  What do you think?

http://www.segherssurveyconsulting.com

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