The next time you create a survey — whether for market research or for your employees, students, or customers — consider including a Likert scale. They’re simple to understand, user-friendly, and beneficial for both collecting and analyzing valuable data.
While you’ve probably taken a Likert scale survey in the past, the term may be unfamiliar to you. Likert scales are rating scales — used to measure the overall attitudes and satisfaction levels of respondents — that primarily range in response options from 3-point (one positive, one negative, and one neutral) to 9-point (four positive, four negative, and one neutral).
When it comes to Likert scales, you’re not limited to measuring levels of satisfaction and agreement. They can also measure frequency (Not Often at All to Very Often), likelihood (Very Unlikely to Very Likely), quality (Poor to Excellent), or importance (Very Unimportant to Very Important).
Though there are several kinds of Likert scales you can use in your surveys, two of the most popular are the 5-point and 7-point Likert scales. They have a few things in common:
- They provide a wide array of choices, including a neutral option.
- They offer confidentiality, which often makes respondents more willing to be open and honest.
- They produce actionable, quantitative data that’s easy to interpret and analyze.
- They enable respondents to clarify their opinions with specific options.
To best demonstrate how each operates, let’s imagine your company recently released a new product. After testing it with friends, family, and loyal clientele, you decide to create and disseminate a new product survey to collect some overall feedback from them before you release it to the general public.
Before we discuss which is the best option for your new product survey, let’s first explore a bit more about these 5-point and 7-point Likert scales.
5-point Likert scale
Using the 5-point Likert scale can provide you with nuanced, actionable, and clear-cut feedback — and it provides variety without the fanfare of extra (and possibly unnecessary) options.
For example, the 3-point Likert scale offers only one positive, one negative, and one neutral option — like Satisfied, Neutral, and Dissatisfied. Those options don’t provide much feedback in terms of specificity. Likewise, the 6-point Likert scale doesn’t allow a neutral option at all — simply three positive and three negative. For many, the 5-point Likert scale serves as the sweet spot between too few and too many response options.
Think of your new product survey. Here are three questions you might include:
- How satisfied are you with the quality of this product?
- How satisfied are you with the price of this product?
- How satisfied are you with the accessibility of this product?
Five response options — like Satisfied, Somewhat Satisfied, Neutral, Somewhat Dissatisfied, and Dissatisfied — will give your participants room to express a subtle sentiment, instead of requiring a definitively positive or negative response. That way, you can gather an array of relevant feedback, while your respondents will likely appreciate the nuanced, though direct, response options.
7-point Likert scale
Though similar to the 5-point Likert scale in terms of simplicity and usability, the 7-point scale requires respondents to practice a bit more self-reflection, as it adds two more sentiments to the satisfaction scale — Extremely Satisfied and Extremely Dissatisfied.
In regards to the three questions mentioned above, the 7-point scale enables your respondents to give even more granular, accurate feedback about the quality, price, and accessibility of your product.
And though it may require more of your time to go through the responses — and more time for your respondents to answer — it may provide a better picture of how your respondents feel about your new product.
The caveat here, though, is that your respondents may find the seven options excessive, which can lead to boredom or disinterest as they progress through your survey (aka survey fatigue). Worse yet, they may be overwhelmed by the sheer number of response options at first glance and avoid the questionnaire entirely.
5-point vs 7-point: The head-to-head comparison
So which survey scale is better — the 5- or 7-point Likert scale? It all depends on what (and how many) people you’re surveying.
While they’re both ideal for larger sample sizes, the 5-point scale helps both researchers and respondents get straight to the point. It offers a variety of choices while ensuring easy comprehension and usability, and it delivers valuable information. If you’re looking for more specific feedback, though, the 5-point scale may not be enough for your research purposes.
The 7-point Likert scale, on the other hand, can probably provide you with the precision you’re looking for. By offering more response options, the 7-point scale has the potential to capture better intel overall, which can lead to more effective decision-making and product improvements on your part.
However, when it comes to interpreting the results, it can be more laborious to analyze responses to a 7-point Likert scale, as there’s more data to sort through. This can be particularly taxing if you survey hundreds of people or you’re pressed for time.
Neutrality: A blessing and a curse
There’s one feature common among odd-numbered Likert scales (like the 5- and 7-point Likert scales): They include a neutral midpoint while even-numbered Likert scales don’t. By offering a neutral response option, your survey participants have another choice to consider.
While this can be helpful if your respondent truly feels indifferent on a subject, they may also use it as a cop-out to avoid answering questions thoughtfully. Without a neutral option, though, you’d be forcing them to answer either positively or negatively when they may not have an opinion on the matter, and that would skew your results.
By first deciding what type of feedback you need from your new product survey and who exactly your audience is, you’ll be better equipped to choose either the 5-point or 7-point Likert scale. But regardless of which Likert scale you ultimately choose, you’re bound to receive valuable feedback that will help you decide the next best steps for your business.
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