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What are the Advantages and Limitations of a Likert Scale?

Whether you’ve heard of the Likert Scale or not, it’s likely you’ve come across it when you’ve completed or designed surveys. The scale measures reactions or opinions and provides a list of responses that the respondent must select from.

This article will outline the pros and cons of using the Likert Scale in your current or future surveys and, specifically, what you should consider when deciding whether to include it.

The Likert Scale, developed in 1932 by Rensis Likert, was originally created to measure attitudes. The close-ended scale is designed to measure how much a respondent agrees or disagrees with a given statement or question and encourages choice rather than giving the option for the respondent to add different responses.

The quantitative results provide respondent opinions and should be easy to analyse. Typically, the Likert Scale uses a scale of five to seven responses to a question, but this can vary and may be influenced by each question.

The Likert Scale, commonly used in social science research, allows respondents to self-report the extent of their agreement or disagreement with given questions. Because the responses are fixed, the data should be quicker and easier to analyse than information from open-ended, qualitative survey questions.

Although questions with simple yes or no responses give basic data, they do not provide subtle differences in opinion. By providing a variety of answers, the Likert Scale gives further detail, which is why it’s used often in psychological research.

  • Easy to analyse – the scale provides quantitative data that provides a wealth of information but should also be relatively quick and easy to interpret.
  • Flexible – they allow you to measure personality, a range of opinions, behaviours and attitudes. Instead of just offering a yes or no response, you can design the question and answers to give a range of responses. 

For instance, it can be used to measure opinions about a person in employee 360-degree feedback, so if a manager wants to understand more about an individual’s time management skills, for example, they might ask a question on a satisfaction scale:

       Overall, how satisfied or dissatisfied are you with their ability to deliver work on time?

  • Very satisfied 
  • Somewhat satisfied
  • Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied
  • Somewhat dissatisfied
  • Very dissatisfied
  • Wide range – you can use many scales to collect respondents' information and opinions. For example, you could have a question or statement with a range of “strongly agree to strongly disagree” at each end of the scale or around frequency or importance from “very important to not very important”. 
  • Specific feedback – it can be beneficial for gathering detailed information about a product, person, customer service or event. By providing Likert Scale responses, you can ask individuals what they thought about your latest event or product. 
  • Less intimidating – people are busy, and if you ask them to complete a survey full of open-ended questions that will take considerable time to respond to, they might pass or fail to finish it. The Likert Scale prompts responses and limits answers so they can be quicker to complete than qualitative surveys. 
  • Higher response rates – if the questions or statements given show specific responses, individuals may be more likely to complete the survey and increase response rates. 

To gain high response rates to surveys, questions with only five options should be quick and easy to respond to, for example:

I use the new online shopping product:

  • Frequently
  • Often
  • Sometimes
  • Rarely
  • Never

Or if these responses aren’t specific enough, you could follow up or replace them with different responses to the same statement:

  • Daily
  • Twice a week
  • Weekly
  • Monthly
  • Never
  • Focus on the areas you select – you can specifically focus on the area you are interested in. With open-ended questions, respondents can veer off the topic in their answers or provide information that is not relevant to the question. The Likert Scale, however, allows for clear focus and direction.
  • Forced responses – while respondents are given different options, they will be forced to commit to one they didn't want to if their preferred response is not listed. Therefore, when designing the survey questions and answers, consider which options will be most relevant so that individual responses will fit and responses match the question or statement.

For example, if you are gathering feedback about an event and you ask:

I found the event useful and informative:

  • Strongly Agree
  • Agree
  • Slightly Agree
  • Unsure

This is clearly leading respondents to give positive feedback as there is no option for a dissatisfied response! Therefore, more suitable responses might be:

  • Strongly Agree
  • Agree
  • Disagree
  • Strongly Disagree
  • Unsure
  • Social acceptability – respondents may select the responses from the Likert Scale that they believe to be the most socially acceptable. This can reduce honesty and may mean that the reactions are not entirely representative of the survey pool.

One way to potentially avoid this issue is to make the survey anonymous, but this will depend on your survey objectives.

  • Unequal responses – responses may not have a measurable or equal distance between them. Therefore, it may not be easy to rank the answers you receive. For example, if you have responses that include always, regularly, sometimes, or not at all, the distance between each of these responses is not equal or measurable.
  • No mean measurement – Likert Scale data does not provide meaningful average data. Instead, you can measure the results using the mode of the responses that occur the most frequently. 
  • Less information – if you ask open-ended questions, you may gather more information than by asking closed questions with Likert Scale responses. Therefore, you won’t gain new insights or ideas from responses, only opinions.

Whether you’re designing a survey with a mix of open and closed questions or just closed questions, the Likert Scale may have a place in your survey. Not only can Likert Scale questions dig deep into specific areas, but they also provide data that should be quick and straightforward to analyse. However, like any measurement method, the Likert scale has advantages and disadvantages. So, before you include the Likert Scale, ensure you understand the objective of your survey to decide whether it would be suitable and carefully plan the question responses.

If you would like any help designing or carrying out a survey, we can provide you with templates and questionnaire examples, whoever your audience.

Why is a Likert Scale better than a yes/no question?

By giving respondents the opportunity to respond along a Likert Scale, you gain more insight into how deeply they feel about a topic, or how regularly they undertake an action. You also have the opportunity to see who sits neutrally when presented with a question. This insight can be valuable in understanding your respondents habits, feelings and needs. 

What are the key benefits of using Likert Scale questions?

  • Increased insights into respondents behaviours and attitudes
  • Inclusive survey design, meaning a higher completion rate
  • Familiarity means your respondents are comfortable sharing their views

What are the key disadvantages of using Likert Scale questions?

  • Likert Scale questions produce ordinal data, which means that even if a response is given, some opinions may fall between two scale points in reality
  • Careful construction of the scale and question is needed to ensure accurate results
  • Your results could be influenced by a tendency toward results clustering