Likert scales and questionnaires

By Gordon Rugg

I really, really, really hate badly designed questionnaires.

That’s an issue, because most questionnaires are badly designed. The bad design makes them worse than useless. At least if something is useless, it isn’t making the situation actively worse. Badly designed questionnaires, however, can make a situation significantly worse, by adding disinformation into the story, so that a problem takes longer to solve.

This is even more of an issue because questionnaires are so widely used. Any idiot can design a bad questionnaire, and many idiots do, with a variety of excuses, such as:

  • Every other idiot is doing this, so I want to get in on the act
  • Nobody ever got fired for using a questionnaire
  • It’ll all come right in the end anyway, even if I do it badly
  • Who cares?

None of these arguments inspire much confidence or respect with regard to the person using them.

In this article, I’ll make a start on the issues affecting questionnaires. They’re big issues, that have deep roots and broad implications, so discussing them in full will take a number of articles. For now, I’ll focus on a single topic, namely how Likert scales can be used within questionnaires.

Likert scales, and Likert-style scales, are widely used (and widely misused) in questionnaires. In this article, I’ll look at some of the key concepts involved, and at some of the issues involved in using this approach properly.

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