Rating Scales for Surveys

Philip Cleave
January 12, 2023
Man completing rating scale satisfaction survey featuring star graphics

When it comes to survey questions, the choice is wide and varied, with each having their own advantages and disadvantages.

Yet, there’s one particular question type whose popularity only continues to grow. Known as the rating scale, given how easy this question is to understand and recognise with formats such as star and smiley face ratings, its growing popularity shouldn’t be too hard to appreciate.

So, if you would like to find out more about rating scale questions, the various types available and the benefits of using them be sure to read on.

What is a rating scale question?

The rating scale is one of the most commonly used questions for online surveys. Based on the closed-ended question format, it presents respondents with a question and then a series of options for them to select their answer from.

Typical areas it looks to examine includes:

  • Satisfaction levels
  • The extent to which a respondent agrees with a statement
  • How easy they found something to complete
  • The degree to which they would recommend a service

Subsequently, rating scale questions are popular for those looking to conduct market research, as they can be used to gather more relative information about a product or particular aspects of it.

The scale is also commonly used to obtain more generic feedback, making it ideal for gaining an insight into customer service performance, employee satisfaction and much more.

For example, consider the following rating style question that tries to assess customer satisfaction with the service they’ve just received on a four-point scale with the use of emojis.

How satisfied were you with the service we delivered for you today?

Different types of rating scale

When we talk about rating scales, we’re referring to questions that can be broadly divided into two categories ordinal scale and interval scale.

Ordinal scale

Under this category, the scale depicts the answer options in an ordered manner. The difference between the two answer options may not be calculable, but the options will always be presented in a certain natural order. Parameters such as attitude or feedback can be presented using an ordinal scale.

Interval scale

With this category of scale, not only is the order of the answer variables established but the size of difference between each answer variable is also calculable. In terms of examples, the Net Promoter Score and Likert Scale are among some of the most effective types of interval scale questions.

Having examined the two main categories, we can now explore the six types of rating scale questions which can be used in an online survey:

  • Numeric scale
  • Verbal scale
  • Slider scale
  • Likert scale
  • Graphic scale
  • Descriptive scale

Numeric rating scale

The numeric scale question uses numbers to identify the items in a scale. However, not all the numbers need to have an attribute directly attached to them.

For example, you might ask your target audience to rate your product on a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 represents extremely dissatisfied and 5 very satisfied.

Verbal rating scale

Verbal scale questions are particularly popular in healthcare settings as they are used for pain assessment.

Also known as verbal descriptor scales, these types of rating questions typically include a number of statements describing pain intensity and duration.

For example, on a visit to your dentist, you may be asked to rate the intensity of your tooth pain on a five-point scale from ‘none, mild and moderate to severe and very severe’.

Slider or analog scale

The idea behind slider scale questions, is to let the respondent select any value from the scale between two endpoints. In the scale, only the endpoints have attributes allotted to numbers, and the rest of the scale is empty.

For example, you could use a slider scale question to see how satisfied customers were with different aspects of your business.

In the question below, the answers to a slider scale question depict a respondent’s satisfaction with different aspects of a company’s services on a slider scale of 0 to 100. On this scale, 0 on the left-hand side represents totally unsatisfied and 100 on the right-hand side totally satisfied.

How satisfied are you with the following?

Likert scale

If you’ve ever been asked the extent to which you agree or disagree with something, it’s likely that you’ve been asked a Likert scale question.

This type of rating scale question is widely used to measure attitudes and opinions and is particularly useful when you’re looking to gather information on frequency, experience, quality and likelihood to do something.

For example, if you were doing some follow up research after hosting an event, a Likert question could be very helpful in finding out how useful visitors found particular aspects of your event, such as in the question outlined below.

How helpful was the content presented at our event?

Graphic rating scale

With this rating scale question, instead of numbers respondents are presented with easy to understand pictures and asked to rate their answer from graphics such as stars and smiley faces. This makes this question type extremely easy to use and analyse and is particularly useful for obtaining data in situations which might otherwise prove challenging due to issues such as language barriers.

Descriptive scale

For some surveys and areas of research a numeric scale may not be that helpful for a respondent. In such a scenario a descriptive scale could provide a more thorough explanation of each option, ensuring respondents can understand and complete the question and the researcher has data which they can gather and use moving forward.

Benefits of rating scale questions

As you will have seen from what we’ve discussed so far, there are many types of rating scale questions that you can use for a variety of purposes. But there are also some more generic reasons for using rating scale questions:

  • They’re simple to use and easy to understand – both for researchers and audiences alike
  • They don’t require too much respondent time to complete
  • The wide range of rating scale questions available, enables you to populate your survey with a mix of rating scales, keeping things interesting and engaging for respondents
  • They are quick and easy to analyse

Disadvantages of rating scale questions

As with anything, there is also a flip side to using rating scale questions. So, it’s prudent to be aware of this in order to use rating scale questions in the right the way and enable you to get the most value from their use.

Common issues with rating scales include:

  • They don’t gather the reasons behind each respondent’s answer
  • Similarly, you’re not able to gain any clarity about your audiences’ perception with these types of questions
  • In the case of verbal rating scales, the scale may sometimes overestimate the patient’s pain experience. It may also be difficult for patients with limited vocabulary to understand the statement of a verbal descriptor scale.

Concluding thoughts

It’s important to note that while rating scale questions will never give you a complete picture of why people answered in a particular way, if used in conjunction with open questions that enable more detailed answers from respondents, you’ll be able to maximise the insight from their use. As with any survey you create, it’s all about getting the right balance of questions. Proper planning at the beginning is also vital, if you’re to give your survey the best chance of meeting your objectives.

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