Rating scale functioning

Low (1988) observes that "any rating scale has three basic functions. The first is that it provides a number of possible answers to a question. The second function of a rating scale is that it permits the questioner to restrict the `conversation' and focus on just those areas relevant to the research being conducted. The third is that it forces all respondents to use the same set of words (or numbers) in their answers. Such standardization allows generalizations to be made within and between groups of respondents. These have a number of implications for the design of good rating scales. The first is that any data from a question open to multiple interpretations is itself uninterpretable. The second is that all values or points on a rating scale should describe the same dimension, say, `goodness' or `importance' but not a mixture of the two."

In our haste to report results, we often ignore the working structure of our rating scale. Here is the scale recently employed in a survey of the motivation of Lithuanian entrepreneurs:

1. Very Important
2. Somewhat Important
3. Not Important
4. Less Important
5. Least Important.

Initial analysis assumed that the scale was hierarchical, but then failed to produce clear conclusions. Inspection of the scale definition and the data disclosed that the respondents perceived the scale to have only 3 categories:

1. Very Important
2. Somewhat Important
3. Not Important,
   Less Important,
   Least Important.

Analysis of this scale was productive.

Joe Roberts
Charles H. Kellstadt Graduate School of Business
DePaul University

Low G.D. (1988) The semantics of questionnaire rating scales. Evaluation and Research in Education 2(2) p. 69-70.


Rating scale functioning. Roberts J. … Rasch Measurement Transactions, 1994, 8:3 p.386



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