Are You Using Unbalanced Survey Scales? Stop Now. Please.

Pet peeves. We all have them. If you work in market research long enough, you begin to develop your own unique standard of pet peeves within the industry. Many times you'll come across survey instruments written by other analysts or agencies displaying evaluation questions using an unbalanced scale.

In survey writing, it's always important to keep a neutral mid-point when using scaled questions.

What is an unbalanced scale? An unbalanced scale in market research is a survey question that offers an unequal amount of positive selections and negative selections to choose from. Therefore, the scale is weighted and biased towards one direction or the other. This is a fairly common amateur survey writer mistake or a crafty way for an experienced survey writer to bias responses to garner a more positive or negative response.

Are You Using Unbalanced Survey Scales? Stop Now. Please.

Here are a few examples of unbalanced scales used in surveys in which the response mid-point is not neutral:

  • How would you rate your most recent experience at our restaurant?
    • Great
    • Very good
    • Good
    • Okay
    • Poor

  • How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statement: "Market research is a great career choice."
    • Strongly agree
    • Agree
    • Somewhat agree
    • Slightly agree
    • Disagree
    • Strongly Disagree

My recommendation in listing aided scaled responses is to provide the respondents with the extremes using a point scale (e.g., 1 to 5). By labeling the anchors "5" high and "1" low, it allows the respondent to understand "3" as the mid-point and does not induce any labeling bias by over-describing each scale point. The respondent may be asking him or herself "what is the difference between good and okay anyway?"

Drive Research is an online survey consultant in Syracuse, NY. We specialize in designing, managing, administering, and analyzing online surveys. Contact us for more information at 315-303-2040 or emailing [email protected].

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