Likert scales

The most commonly used scaling technique is the Likert scale, which has been named after its inventor, Rensis Likert. Over the past 70 years (Likert's original article came out in 1932) the number of research studies employing this technique has certainly reached a six-digit figure, which is due to the fact that the method is simple, versatile, and reliable.

Likert scales consist of a series of statements all of which are related to a particular target (which can be, among others, an individual person, a group of people, an institution, or a concept); respondents are asked to indicate the extent to which they agree or disagree with these items by marking (e.g., circling) one of the responses ranging from 'strongly agree' to 'strongly disagree.' For example:

Hungarians are genuinely nice people.

Strongly Agree Neither agree Disagree Strongly agree nor disagree disagree

After the scale has been administered, each response option is assigned a number for scoring purposes (e.g., 'strongly agree' = 5, 'strongly disagree' = 1). With negatively worded items the scores are usually reversed before analysis. Finally, the scores for the items addressing the same target are summed up or averaged. Thus, Likert scales are multi-item scales, following a 'summative model.'

The statements on Likert scales should be 'characteristic,' that is, expressing either a positive/favorable or a negative/unfavorable attitude toward the object of interest. Neutral items (e.g., "I think Hungarians are all right") do not work well on a Likert scale because they do not evoke salient evaluative reactions, and extreme items are also to be avoided. An important concern of questionnaire designers is to decide the number of steps or response options each scale contains. Original Likert scales contained five response options (as just illustrated), but subsequent research has also used two-, three-, four-, six-, and seven-response options successfully. The most common step numbers have been five or six, which raises a second important questions: Shall we use an even or an odd number of steps?

Some researchers prefer using an even number of response options because of the concern that certain respondents might use the middle category ('neither agree nor disagree,' 'not sure,' or 'neutral') to avoid making a real choice, that is, to take the easy way out. Although according to research, this may be true of roughly 20% of the respondents, it appears that the inclusion or exclusion of a middle category does not affect the relative proportions of those actually expressing opinions and thus does not modify the results significantly (Nunnally, 1978; Robson, 1993). My personal preference in the past has been to omit the 'undecided' category and to use a six-point scale such as the one illustrated in Sample 2.3 (on page 29).

The final question regarding Likert scales concerns the format of the respondents' answers: How do various physical appearances such as encircling options or ticking boxes compare to each other? Nunnally (1978) states that such variations appear to make little difference in the important psychometric properties of ratings as long as the layout of the questionnaire is clear and there are sufficient instructions and examples to orientate the respondents.

Likert scales have been used successfully with younger children as well; in such cases the number of the response options is often reduced to three and the options themselves are presented in a pictorial format instead of words. For example, in a three-point 'smilegram' children are asked to check the box under the face that best expresses how they feel toward a target:

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  • tiffany
    How reliable are likert scales?
    8 years ago
  • Mario
    How to write a likert scale concern?
    8 years ago

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