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Likert Scale: How to properly scale your survey responses

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What exactly is a Likert Scale?

The Likert scale or Likert-type scale, named after its inventor, the American social scientist Rensis Likert, is a usually ordinal type of psychometric rating scale which is used to capture attitudes within an agreement-disagreement-range. Hence, a Likert scale is the sum of responses on several Likert options.

When conducting a survey, the response on a Likert scale represents either the intensity of agreement to disagreement ("Extremely agree" vs. "Extremely disagree") with the question statement, making it a bipolar rating method, or the intensity of just an agreement or just a disagreement ("Extremely agree" vs. "Not at all agree" or "Extremely disagree" vs. "Not at all disagree") with the question statement, making it a unipolar rating method.

It can be designed as an uneven-point scale, e.g. a 5-point or 7-point scale, with a neutral middle option, or as an even-point scale, e.g. a 4-point or 6-point scale, omitting a neutral option and forcing a more positive or more negative response choice.

Either of these two options require full symmetry, i.e. ensuring bilateral symmetric distances from an existing or an imaginary neutral option and equal numbers of positive and negative options.

How to present Likert scales in online surveys

Ultimately, a Likert scale question may be arranged vertically or horizontally.

However, there have been researchers investigating the possibility of something called a left-side bias when displaying a Likert scale question horizontally. Essentially, left-side bias means that when placing answer options on the left side of the Likert scale, there is a tendency among respondents to select these options, said tendency being somewhat stronger for positive options on the left side than negative options.

Furthermore, there has been equivalent research showing a similar, yet even stronger selection bias for vertical Likert scales as respondents tend to skip lower displayed answer options and more often select the top options.

Based on these statements, certain scale layouts appear more suitable to avoid survey bias and sloppy question answering than others.

Bias Matrix

Horizontal Likert Scale:

According to the Likert scale bias matrix, to keep the bias as low as possible in a horizontal order, it appears best to place negative attitude options on the left side of the scale and positive attitude options on the right side of the scale.

Likert Scale 5-point Horizontal

Vertical Likert Scale:

According to the Likert scale bias matrix, to keep the bias as low as possible in a vertical order, it appears best to place negative attitude options at the top of the scale and positive attitude options at the bottom of the scale.

Likert Scale 5-point Vertical

In addition, Likert scales can be modified to hold 7 or more answer options depending on the level of refinement that is required for a specific question or survey.

Horizontal 7-point Likert Scale:

Likert Scale 7-point Horizontal

Vertical 7-point Likert Scale:

Likert Scale 7-point Vertical

Creating Likert scales in LimeSurvey

There are several possibilities in LimeSurvey to create Likert scale questions either in a horizontal or a vertical order.

To create horizontal Likert scales with text items, you may for instance use the array or array dual scale question types.

To create vertical Likert scales with text items, you may for instance use the radio button list or the dropdown list question types.

If you find it difficult to come up with Likert scale items, check out this marvellous overview of different Likert scale items that measure a variety of different attitudes.

When to use Likert scales?

Likert scales have a variety of purposes and advantages when used in online surveys.

They are ideal to capture attitudes, opinions, emotions and feedback on virtually any topic. Likert scales are thereby great to get very specific on a topic rather than getting lost in generic questions.

Furthermore, Likert scales are universally applicable, easily evaluated and quickly completed by respondents, thus, avoiding survey fatigue.

Tags: Survey Science, Survey Design, Survey Tips, Survey Scale

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