Tips for designing a rating scale

Our Tips for Effectively Designing Rating Scales and how to make sure your respondents have the best survey experience.

Rating scales are one essential component of survey design. Rating Scale questions are probably the easiest indicator of respondent’s highs and lows. The responses provide terrific data in a standardized manner for the creation of insights, which can help you convey to others how your product or service is performing. As any market research project, it is important to have all the clues in hand to design an effective rating sale and a strong questionnaire to gather the insights of your consumers.

Some basic goals

When it comes later on to the analysis stage of the collected data, you will be happy to notice that with an effective rating scale and a good questionnaire, you will save a lot of time and the results will be easy to interpret. It all comes down to start your project on a strong basis. Before designing a survey scale, we should be considering defining some basic goals for the scale points and their labels:

Easy to interpret:

Respondents must identify clearly what each answer means in terms of the scale, where each answer is located according to the scale. It is important for the user experience of the respondent.

Interpreted similarly by every respondent:

Identifying each point of the scale with a value or place in the scale provides the respondents with an idea of how to interpret answers similarly.

Reliable data:

This means that if the question were asked again, respondents would give you the same response.

Easy to complete:

Rating scales are closed-ended questions, can be single or multi answer questions, as they may request to just answer a score-value or choose from a list of answers, which is really easy to complete.

When designing the questions, a rating scale must consider these goals and some other important recommendations that can help make the questions clearer in definition, easy to answer for the respondents, avoid subjectivity in the answers, and finally useful for getting interesting insights about the customer experience with easy to understand survey questions. This is linked with the experience of the respondent. If the respondent feels he understand what we are asking him, he is likely to give better insights in opposition to a poor rating scale that might cause some confusion to him.

These are some things that rating scales should consider when designing the questions and scales. We will be sharing our top tips to build the best rating scales and ensure a good experience when it comes to answering your questionnaire.

Let's share our top tips to keep in mind when designing rating scales.

Use a limited number of scale points

When using Likert scales, we usually use a worded 1 to 5-point or a 1 to a 7-point rating system, and always include a neutral rating in the middle, and additional options like “N/A”, “I Don't Know”, “I prefer not to answer” with no scale value. In these scales, including more than 7 categories can confuse respondents, and eventually could respond differently if you asked them again the same question. So it is best to make sure to get it right from the very first question and your point scale.

Here are some examples of Likert scales with 1 to 5-point scales:

Please indicate your level of agreement/disagreement with the following statement: “I found the website difficult to navigate.”

  1. Strongly Disagree
  2. Disagree
  3. Neutral
  4. Agree
  5. Strongly Agree
  6. N/A / I Don't Know / I prefer not to answer

“How satisfied/dissatisfied are you with our product?”

  1. Very satisfied
  2. Satisfied
  3. Neutral
  4. Dissatisfied
  5. Very Dissatisfied
  6. N/A / I Don't Know / I prefer not to answer

When using numbered scales, we usually use a 1 to 5-point or 1 to 10-point rating system. Values are often labeled on a scale from 1 to 5 or 1 to 10 (usually being 1 the lowest and 5 or 10 the highest). The researcher labels the endpoints so that both ends represent the extremes of this value.

Some examples of numbered scale questions are the Net Promoter Score (NPS) or rating on products and services:

“How likely are you to recommend the product to a friend or colleague?

“On a scale of 1-10, 1 being very poor and 10 being very good, how would you rate the following?”

Always include a middle or neutral alternative in the middle

In order for the respondent to have a neutral option and the opportunity to answer all of your questions within the questionnaire, it is important to have a moderate or neutral position in the middle of the scale. Forcing respondents to take a side may introduce unwanted variance or bias to the data which you want to avoid when it comes to response options. At least, they will be able to associate what best describes their feeling at this precise moment with suitable options in the survey.

Some examples where we can see neutral positions in the middle in 1 to 5 and 1 to 7-point scale questions:

Include options like “N/A”, “I Don't Know”, “I prefer not to answer”.

Sometimes respondents may not identify with any answer, don´t have an opinion, or maybe just don´t want to answer. These options are added with a value of say “” which is excluded from any response calculations. Including these options are not entirely necessary but can help avoid too many “neutral” answers when the respondent does not know what to answer or does not want to give an opinion on something so it is best to have different response options and include the latest to not miss any insight. In the worst-case scenario, if the respondent feels there are not suitable options that reflect best his opinion, he might give up during the survey and we want to avoid this kind of situation.

An example in a Likert scale: “How satisfied/dissatisfied are you with our product?”

Display answers in order

It is important to display the options in order, either from the lowest to the highest, or highest to lowest. This is important so the respondents have a clear interpretation of where each scale point is located.

In the following example of a Likert scale, we can see answers ordered from lowest to highest levels of agreement: “The website was easy to navigate”

When using a numbered scale, 1 should always be the “pain” point of the scale (negative endpoint), and 5 or 10 should always be the “positive” point. People tend to consider low numbers to be bad, and high numbers to be good. Using the scales otherwise could confuse the respondents.

Then, it is important to be clear when it comes to the rating scale to avoid any misunderstanding from the respondent. Look at the following example:

“How likely are you to recommend the product to a friend or colleague?”

A clear description of what each of the answers means on the scale

The most accurate surveys will have a clear and specific label that indicates exactly what each point means to avoid confusion for the respondent for every scale question.

When using Likert scales, all respondents must easily interpret the meaning of each scale point and there should be no room for different interpretations between respondents. If there is confusion, you will end up with a wrong set of data as the respondent might be confused with the response scale when he answers your survey. Labels are key to avoiding ambiguity and respondent confusion. The following example of a Likert scale shows clearly how each point scale is tight to a bad or good feedback input from the respondent.

When using numbered scales, it is important to clarify the endpoints (the labels for 1 and 5 or 10) of your scale. The labeling of both ends helps to avoid too much subjectivity and gives all the needed explanations for the respondent to give his best opinion according to what he thinks.

What to keep in mind

When designing a rating scale, don´t forget to keep in mind:

  1. Using a limited number of scale points.
  2. Always include a middle or neutral alternative in the middle to give multiple options for the respondent to answer.
  3. Include options like “N/A”, “I Don't Know”, “I prefer not to answer”.
  4. Display answers in order to make it clear and organized.
  5. A clear description of what each of the answers means on the scale to avoid any confusion.

Benefits of designing effective rating scales. Yes, they are benefits to consider There are a lot of positives that come out of designing effective rating scales.

  • Save time. Scales that are easy to interpret help the respondents answer fast and with no misinterpretations. It is good news that you can save some quality time and focus on another important matter.
  • Easy to process and handle results. Rating scales provide the researcher with standard data that can be easy to handle and compare. The analysis will be easier to handle.
  • Improve Customer Experience. Rating scales allow us to get identify where products and services are failing to comply with the customer and so, bring the opportunity to work on the definition of an action plan for improving the customer experience. Solutions will be offered to the client for better improvement.

We hope our article helped you to understand the basics of how to design a rating scale when it comes to surveying and what are the best tips to keep in mind while designing your questionnaire. Make sure to have all the tips in hands to the best user experience for your respondents. You understood that response scale and response options are two important matters to take into account before asking questions.

TGM can support you when it comes to designing rating scales within your questionnaire. TGM Research has decades of experience in qualitative and quantitative research. We can support you with any type of survey including advising you, in that case, which scale will be better for your project. We have a global reach covering more than 120 countries with proprietary panels and additional sources of respondents.

The Team is located around reach out to the team if you have any questions or would like to know more. Get in touch now!

Get better responses. Faster.

TGM Research Panel Audience gives access to millions of respondents waiting to take your survey.

TGM Academy aims to educate on the transformative potential of market research and insight technology. On this website, you'll find articles covering everything from research design, sample selection to analysing results.

Connect with us on Social Media:

© 2022 TGM Academy, Copyright © TGMResearch