When doing research, it’s critical to have tools to gather quantifiable data about beliefs, tendencies, attitudes, and opinions. This is where the Likert scale comes into play.

Whereas traditional, prescriptive survey questions rely on specific answers, a Likert scale question gives respondents a range of answers representing their orientation to the question or statement… a vital tool for measuring user subjectivity.

In this guide, we’re discussing the Likert scale, how you can use it in your surveys, and best practices for making the most of the data that you get.

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What is a Likert Scale?

The Likert scale is a popular and widely used tool in survey research. Named after its creator, psychologist Rensis Likert, this tool was designed to capture the intensity or frequency of survey responses, opinions, or behaviors.

A typical Likert scale consists of a series of statements, and respondents are asked to indicate their agreement or disagreement with each statement based on a scale encompassing a gradient of potential responses.

With that said, there are a few critical components of a Likert Scale question:

  • The Statement, or the proposition, is provided to the respondent.
  • The Options, or the items on a scale the respondent uses to rate their answer. The options will typically encompass something like agreement, likelihood, or an emotional response that can be rated on a scale.
  • Anchors, or the items on the farthest ends of the scale. For example, “Strongly Agree” and “Strongly Disagree.”
  • Scale Points, or the individual items between the anchors, signify potential response points. These will include a “neutral” point in the middle (with an equal number of scale points in either direction” and, often, numerical scores for each item.

The Likert scale is a versatile and straightforward method for gathering complex data, offering valuable insights into human attitudes and behaviors. Whether used in psychology, marketing, social sciences, or health studies, its adaptability makes it a cornerstone of survey-based research methodologies.

What Are Likert Responses, and How Do You Design Them?

The Likert scale uses a series of choices in response to a survey question or statement to measure how much someone agrees/disagrees with a statement or how they feel about it on a continuum of positive and negative emotions.

By using a rating scale, you can offload the work of framing survey responses to a scale. It’s critical, however, that you carefully design these questions so that the scale and the reactions are meaningful for the respondent and your data.

Some design considerations to balance include:

  • Keep Questions Narrow: To avoid ambiguity, each question should target a specific attitude, opinion, or behavior. Also, avoid “double-barreled” questions that seem to ask multiple things simultaneously.
  • Be Clear and Impartial in Your Questioning: Keeping your questions simple and impartial is crucial. Steer clear of phrasing that might nudge the respondent towards a specific answer or hint at the ‘right’ way to respond.
  • Stick to One Scale Type: Consistency is key. If you start with a 5-point or 7-point scale, use the same scale throughout your survey. Mixing different scales can lead to confusion and inconsistent responses.
  • Offer a Middle Ground: Not everyone will have a strong opinion on every question. That’s why including a middle option, like “neither agree nor disagree,” is essential for those who are neutral or unsure.
  • Balance Your Options: Make sure you have an even spread of positive and negative options. This balance is vital for capturing an accurate snapshot of how your respondents truly feel.
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When Should I Use a Likert Scale?

In academic research, Likert scales are instrumental for psychology, sociology, and education studies, allowing researchers to quantify subjective experiences and measure attitude changes over time. Likewise, these studies can help marketers gauge their customers or clients from the same perspective–quantifying experiences to inform decision-making regarding product development or advertising.

Likert scales are an ideal tool for survey research in several scenarios, particularly when you’re interested in measuring attitudes, opinions, perceptions, or behaviors.

Typically, you should consider using Likert scale surveys when you are:

  • Evaluating Subjective Qualities: They are beneficial for gathering data on subjective matters such as satisfaction, likelihood, importance, frequency, and quality, where quantitative measurement might otherwise be challenging.
  • Comparative Studies: If your research compares attitudes or perceptions across different markets (but anchored by similar characteristics or demographics), Likert scales offer a standardized way of measuring and comparing these subjective responses.
  • Longitudinal Studies: For tracking changes in attitudes or opinions over time. By using the same Likert scale in repeated surveys, you can effectively measure how and why attitudes change.
  • Employee and Customer Feedback: To gauge employee satisfaction, organizational climate, or customer satisfaction, you need to understand different degrees of perception or opinion.
  • Market Research: To understand public opinion on social issues, consumer preferences, and perceptions in market research.

How Can I Analyze Data Gained from a Likert Scale Survey?

One of the strengths of a Likert scale survey is that it provides quantified data from which you can gain insights. However, it’s essential to recognize the limitations of what’s possible so that you gain the right insights backed with actual statistical relevance.

Importantly, you should be able to divide data collected from a Likert survey into two overall categories:

  • Ordinal Data, or data that can be classified and ranked.

  • Interval Data, or data that can be classified, ranked, and evenly spaced on a continuum.

Some common approaches will include:

  • Mode: Getting the most commonly chosen response for each question can give your insight into what the survey population is selecting overall using ordinal data points.

  • Population Averages: By adding respondent scores and then averaging them across the population, you can get the standard deviation and mean scores (using the capacity to gather interval data from Likert surveys).

  • Frequency Distribution: Count the frequency of each response for each question, which can be particularly informative for understanding the most and least popular choices.

  • Central Tendency: Using the mean, median, and mode, you can tabulate the central tendency or how respondents may drift towards neutral answers.

What Are Some Common Challenges in Designing Likert Scale Questions?

Likert scales can provide significant insight into your respondents, but you must design the right questions and responses to get those insights and data. Unfortunately, like many other complex processes, designing these questions can lead to several pitfalls for the unprepared.

rating scale

When designing Likert scale questions, you should avoid the following:

  • Steer Clear of Ambiguity: It’s important to avoid questions that aren’t clear-cut. A vague or poorly worded question could result in inconsistent and unclear answers. Make sure each question is precise and straightforward.

  • Avoid Asking Two Things at Once: When a question tackles two topics simultaneously, it can leave respondents scratching their heads. This makes it tough to decipher what you’re asking. Focus on one key point per question for clarity.

  • Stay Neutral and Unbiased: If a question nudges respondents towards a specific answer or suggests one choice is better, it can skew your results. Keep questions impartial to capture genuine, unbiased responses. Additionally, by offering a middle-of-the-road option like “Neither agree nor disagree,” you let respondents accurately reflect their stance.

  • Keep It Simple: Overly technical language or complicated phrasing can muddy the waters. Stick to plain language to ensure everyone can easily grasp your questions, leading to more reliable answers.

  • Consistency is Key in Responses: Mixing up your scales, like flipping between 5-point and 7-point options or shuffling the order of answers, can throw respondents for a loop. Keep your scales and their order uniform throughout your survey.

  • Mind the Cultural Context: Questions and answers can be seen differently across cultures. It’s vital to tailor your survey so it resonates with the cultural context of your audience.

  • Ignoring the Order Effect: The order in which questions are presented can influence responses. Randomizing the order or carefully structuring the survey can help mitigate this effect.

  • Assuming Equal Intervals: Treating Likert scale data as having equal intervals between points can be misleading, as the scale is essentially ordinal. This assumption affects the choice of statistical methods used for analysis.

What Are the Advantages of Using Likert Scales?

It may go without saying, but there are several critical advantages to using Likert scales as part of your survey research. These advantages include:

  • Usability: Likert scales are simple to construct and easy for respondents to understand, making them highly accessible to various audiences.

  • Versatility: They can be used in various fields, including social science research, marketing, psychology, health studies, and more.

  • Nuance: Likert scales allow for various responses, capturing more nuanced opinions and attitudes than binary yes/no questions.

  • Quantification: They provide a straightforward way to quantify subjective data, making it easier to analyze attitudes, opinions, or behaviors.

  • Comparability: Responses across different groups or periods can be easily compared, useful in longitudinal studies or comparative research.

  • Comfort: Offering a range of response options can make respondents more comfortable, as they are not forced into a binary choice that might not represent their view.

Likewise, there are several drawbacks to using the Likert scale as well:

  • Central Tendency: Respondents may avoid extreme response categories and tend towards more neutral or middle options, skewing the results.

  • Acquiescence: Some respondents may agree with statements as presented, regardless of the content.

  • Shallowness: While Likert scales can capture the degree of agreement or disagreement, they don’t provide deeper insights into why respondents feel certain.

  • Scale Interpretation Issues: Misinterpretation of scale points by respondents can lead to inaccurate data. What one person considers “agree” might be “strongly agree” with another.

  • Ordinal Data Limitations: The intervals between scale points are not necessarily equal, yet they are often treated as interval data in analysis, which can be statistically inappropriate.

  • Survey Fatigue: Respondents may become tired or less thoughtful in their responses if too many Likert scale questions are used in a single survey.

Types of Likert Scales

The core purpose of a Likert scale is to provide a continuum of responses that respondents can take. Following that, respondents must be given meaningful choices that make sense across a scale.

For example, one of the most common forms of the Likert scale is based on willingness to take action. See the following example that you might find in any marketing survey:

“How likely are you to recommend our services to a friend or family member?”

  1. Extremely Likely
  2. Likely
  3. Undecided
  4. Unlikely
  5. Not at All Likely

The question includes the words “How Likely” to invite the respondent to see the connection between the question and their response. The neutral response does not lean in either direction, and each increasing or decreasing answer on the scale leads logically to a more committed response (Extremely Likely and Never Likely).

Another common Likert scale category is one of agreement:

“I agree that this is a significant concern for our organization.”

  1. Strongly Agree
  2. Agree
  3. Neutral
  4. Disagree
  5. Strongly Disagree

This question eschews a question by making a statement, asking the respondent to respond as if they were making it themselves. In this case, they can select a neutral ground or utilize different extremities of agreement (marked by “Strongly”).

Make In-Depth Forms with Likert Scale Questions and Other Features Using Cognito Forms

Likert scale questions are an essential part of complex forms, especially when looking for a way to gather quantifiable data on a vital demographic.

With Cognito Forms, you can build Likert questions using scales like Agree/Disagree, Good/Poor, or a Custom classification over 1-5 data points. More importantly, use our survey builder to exercise granular control over your question, including role-specific questions embedded into workflows or conditional fields based on user or contextual variables.

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Jamie T.

Jamie T.

Jamie is co-founder of Cognito Forms, an online form builder for organizations seeking to quickly and easily connect with their customers. In his free time, Jamie loves spending time with his wonderful wife and kids, training for triathlons, camping with boy scouts, singing in the choir, and trying out the latest gadgets.