You may have used the Likert scale in your survey questionnaires to measure various topics such as learner satisfaction, employee engagement, or organizational culture. When American social psychologist Rensis Likert developed a five-point response scale in the 1930s, his original wording was strongly approve, approve, undecided, disapprove, and strongly disapprove (Likert, 1932). Since then, the wording in the Likert scale has been changed to strongly agree, agree, neutral (or neither agree nor disagree), disagree, and strongly disagree.
How do you analyze and report the data obtained from the Likert scale? Some of you may report percentages (for example, strongly agree = 75%, agree = 13%, neutral = 5%, disagree = 3%, strongly disagree = 4%); some of you may report average scores (e.g., M=4.2). Which method should you use? Your decision can depend on whether you treat the Likert scale as an ordinal or interval scale.
To make the most appropriate choice for your data presentation, you need to know what ordinal and interval scales are about.
There are four levels of measurement scales, each of which produces different types of data (Stevens, 1946).
- Nominal scales produce name-like data without any rank-ordering, as shown below:
What is your job title?
a. Instructional designer b. Trainer c. E-Learning developer d. Other
- Ordinal scales produce rank-ordered data:
How often have you used the checklist since it was made available?
a. Never b. Seldom c. Sometimes d. Often e. Always
- Interval scales also produce rank-ordered data, but all sets of two consecutive points have the same interval, and any zero value indicated is an arbitrary value:
How satisfied are you with the program?
Extremely dissatisfied 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 Extremely satisfied
(This can be changed to a negative to positive scale, illustrating the zero value being an arbitrary value.)
- Ratio scales produce continuous data with the same interval and a true zero value (e.g., an income value of $0 means no income, and a test score of zero means no correct answers):
What is your current income?
Figure 1. A possible perception of the five levels in the frequency scale.
In fact, research (Worcester and Burns, 1975) shows that people perceive disagree to be close to strongly disagree and agree to be close to strongly agree, making the Likert scale an ordinal scale; however, when an adjective such as “slightly” is added to disagree and agree, people perceive disagree slightly to be close to the hallway point between strongly disagree and neutral, and agree slightly to be close to the hallway point between neutral and strongly agree, as illustrated in Figure 2.
Figure 2. An illustration of changed perceptions after adding a modifier Slightly to Disagree and Agree on the Likert scale (based on Worcester and Burns, 1975).
Based on this research evidence, it would be reasonable to add an adjective such as slightly or somewhat to disagree and agree, especially if you intend to use the Likert scale as an interval scale. Although the additional wording may not make the Likert scale perfectly an interval scale, doing so makes the Likert scale close to an interval scale, allowing you to report and compare average scores of your survey data (for example, Branch 1 with the training program has made as twice as much improvement as Branch 1 without it).
You will also find that some online survey programs such as Qualtrics provide such wording (somewhat disagree and somewhat agree) as the default when you select a Likert scale to be used (Figure 3), while other programs use the conventional wording, disagree and agree, as the default. If your online survey program populates disagree and agree as the default, you may want to add slightly or somewhat.
Figure 3. A screen shot of Qualtrics showing a new survey item with an automatic choice of a five-point Likert scale.