In all likelihood, you have used a Likert scale (or something you’ve called a Likert scale) in a survey before.
It might surprise you to learn that Likert scales are a very specific format and what you have been calling Likert may not be.
Not to worry — researchers that have been doing surveys for years still get their definitions confused. In fact, many researchers do not even agree on the best way to report on the numeric values in a Likert scale.
This article will explain the traditional and, in our opinion, most valuable way to use Likert scales and report on them.
What is a Likert Scale vs. a Likert Item
A “Likert scale” is actually the sum of responses to several Likert items. These items are usually displayed with a visual aid, such as a series of radio buttons or a horizontal bar representing a simple scale.
In a “good” Likert scale, the scale is balanced on both sides of a neutral option, creating a less biased measurement. The actual scale labels, as well as the numeric scale, may vary.
A “Likert Item” is a statement that the respondent is asked to evaluate. In the example below, this item, “The checkout process was easy” is a Likert item — and the table as a whole is the Likert scale.
Here’s how to remember it: The “scale” in “Likert scale” refers to the total sum of all Likert items in the question — not the 1-5 range you see for each item. In the example below, the scale would be 4 to 20.
Below is an example of a nearly perfect Likert scale. It has one potential flaw which we’ll discuss later.
Please select the number below that best represents how you
feel about your recent online software purchase for each statement.
Agree Agree Undecided Disagree Disagree
1. The software I
wanted was easy 1 2 3 4 5
2. The checkout 1 2 3 4 5
process was easy
3. The software 1 2 3 4 5
solved my needs
4. I am happy with 1 2 3 4 5
Historic Trivia: The Likert scale question itself was invented by the educator and psychologist Rensis Likert in his thesis at Columbia University. You never know when this might come up in Market Research Trivia night at your local bar.
So given this new information, when should you use a Likert scale?
To answer that, it’s important to look at how you’d report and analyze the data for this question type. So let’s take a look.
Reporting on Likert Scales
The traditional way to report on a Likert scale is to sum the values of each selected option and create a score for each respondent. This score is then used to represent a particular trait (particularly when used for sociological or psychological research).
This is also quite useful for evaluating a respondent’s opinion of important purchasing, product, or satisfaction features. The scores can be used to create a chart of the distribution of opinion across the population. For further analysis, you can cross tabulate the score mean with contributing factors.
Important Tip: For the score to have meaning, each item in the scale should to be closely related to the same topic of measurement.
In the example Likert scale above, the third option is actually slightly out of place, as it doesn’t relate to the purchasing or checkout process — which is the intended topic.
Ideally, in a Likert scale question, all of the items would be categorically similar so the summed score becomes a reliable measurement of the particular behavior or psychological trait you are measuring.
If you have an item on the scale that doesn’t fit, the total score for the respondent becomes potentially polluted and you’ll end up spending a great deal of time deciphering the results!
When to Use Likert Scales
This is a very useful question type when you want to get an overall measurement of a particular topic, opinion, or experience and also collect specific data on contributing factors. Measuring the satisfaction (the trait) of a recent shopping experience is a common use.
You should not use this form of question (or at least you should not call it a Likert scale) when the items in the question are unrelated to each other, or when the options are not in the form of a scale.
As with all other rating and scale questions — we encourage you not to mix scales within your surveys. Choose a particular scale (3 point, 5 point, 7 point, etc) and use it as your standard to cut down on potential confusion and fatigue. This will also allow for comparisons within and between your data sets!
Use the Comments & Discussions area below the article to discuss Likert scales! Here are some ideas:
- Have additional information you want to share?
- Do you have successful examples of Likert scales you’d like to share?
- Follow up questions?