The first step in writing great survey questions is to know what you are looking for. Knowing what kind of data you want will go a long way in helping you formulate questions that will actually result in the data you want. For example, when would a yes or no answer be sufficient? Do you need highly qualified responses in certain areas? If so, will a simple rating scale be sufficient, or are you looking for degrees of agreement or disagreement, as in the Likert Scale?

The Likert Scale was developed by psychologist Rensis Likert. The purpose of the the scale was to separate personal opinion from collective response by placing subjective responses on a scale that can be converted to objective metrics.

Perhaps the most famous example is the Agree/Disagree scale. A statement is made and the participant is asked the degree to which he or she agrees.

The scale usually looks something like this:

  • Strongly agree
  • Agree
  • Neither agree nor disagree
  • Disagree
  • Strongly disagree

Of course, the Likert scale can be used to measure other things besides agreement, including willingness to promote a particular business and other aspects of customer satisfaction.

The Likert Scale has several advantages. It is flexible and can be applied to a number of scenarios. In this way, it allows the survey to drill down to hard to reach details. It therefore provides quantifiable data about what would otherwise be only subjective opinion.

The Likert Scale is one of the most recognised survey techniques. It’s something the public is already familiar with and so it is easy to understand while, at the same time, it does not force the respondent to make an absolute declaration that he or she might be uncomfortable with.

However, there are disadvantages as well. The very fact that the respondent doesn’t have to take an absolute stand means that he or she can stay noncommittal throughout a whole series of questions. This ability to stay neutral can skew the results. People tend to come down in the middle because it is the easiest and least controversial. This can be compensated for, to some degree, by using an even number of answers or omitting the neither agree nor disagree option. Unfortunately, this eliminates what could be a valid answer and can also skew the results.

Even so, there is little doubt that the Likert Scale will continue to be used. It’s a versatile method that can be used in a number of different ways and can be delivered through various types of media from emails to snail mail, not to mention online. It is also a very effective way to get at information that would otherwise be unobtainable, and so we can expect its use to continue into the future.