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Imagine you’re designing a new app, website, or product and want to know how users feel about it. You could ask them, but how do you turn those feelings into actionable insights? That’s where rating scales step in.

In user experience (UX) research, a rating scale poor to excellent can help you understand user opinions and preferences. This tool holds the key to deciphering user satisfaction, identifying pain points, and uncovering opportunities for improvement.

This comprehensive guide aims to shed light on the significance of the rating scales, demystify their nuances, and show you how to leverage their potential for invaluable insights. 

Whether you’re a UX researcher striving to fine-tune your methodologies or a product designer eager to create better solutions, this guide has everything you need to know.

What is a Rating Scale?

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

A rating scale is a tool used to measure and assess different qualities, characteristics, or performance ratings. You assign a numerical value, typically in the range 1 to 5. It helps people express their opinions, judgments, or preferences about a particular subject or object in a structured way.

The primary purpose of rating scales is as follows:

  1. Quantify opinions: Rating scales play an important role in design thinking as they allow individuals to quantify their thoughts, feelings, or experiences about something. Instead of using vague terms like “good” or “bad,” people can use numbers to provide a more precise evaluation.

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  1. Facilitate comparison: Rating scales of the same type make it possible to compare and analyze data. For example, a higher rating often suggests a better product in product reviews. This will help consumers make informed choices about their purchases.

  2. Collect data: Various fields, such as research, customer feedback, education, and healthcare, use rating scales to gather data. Data analysis techniques can help to conclude, make improvements, or inform decisions.

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Rating scales cater to numerous fields:

  • Healthcare: Doctors use pain scales to assess patients’ discomfort, while patient satisfaction surveys help providers improve their services.

  • Education: Teachers use grading scales to evaluate students’ performance ratings. This enables them to provide feedback for improvement.

  • Market research: Companies use rating scales in customer surveys to understand consumer preferences and measure satisfaction with their products or services.

  • Psychology and social sciences: Researchers use rating scales to measure psychological traits, attitudes, or behaviors. This enables them to study and understand human behavior in-depth.

  • Quality assurance: Manufacturing industries employ rating scales to maintain consistent product quality and identify areas for improvement.

Types of Rating Scales: Which One to Use?

5 types of rating scales

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Choosing the correct performance rating scale is akin to selecting the perfect tool for a specific task. It can make all the difference in the world. Understanding the nuances of different rating scales and knowing when to deploy each one is a fundamental skill for researchers, analysts, and decision-makers alike. Let’s discuss the different types of rating scale descriptions:

1. Binary Rating Scale

A binary rating scale is one of the most straightforward rating scales. It consists of “yes” or “no” as the response.

Pros

  • Binary scales are straightforward for respondents to understand and use.

  • They allow for rapid data collection and analysis. They are suitable for time-sensitive situations.

  • The binary nature leaves no room for ambiguity.

Cons

  • Lacks nuance and detailed information.

  • It may not capture subtle differences in opinions.

When to use

Binary rating scales are most appropriate when you need a concise, binary response to straightforward questions. The applications include:

  • Verifying attendance at an event.

  • Obtaining consent.

  • Determining agreement or disagreement with a basic statement.

2. Likert Scale

The Likert scale, a performance rating scale from 1-5 or 1-7, gives respondents various options. These responses usually range from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” Respondents choose the option that most matches their level of agreement or disagreement with a specific statement or question.

Pros

  • Likert scales enable respondents to provide nuanced feedback, capturing a range of opinions and attitudes.

  • They are versatile and used in research and surveys across diverse fields.

  • Statistical Analysis: Analyzing Likert scale data can provide valuable insights for decision-making and research.

Cons

  • Susceptible to response bias.

  • Interpretation may vary among individuals.

When to Use

Likert scales are ideal when researchers need to measure the intensity of agreement or disagreement on a particular issue. Likert scale examples also include when researchers want to assess respondents’ opinions or attitudes with a high level of detail.

3. Semantic Differential Scale

The semantic differential scale is a performance appraisal rating scale 1-5 or 1-7 that presents respondents with pairs of opposing adjectives or adjectival phrases (e.g., “good” vs. “bad” or “efficient” vs. “inefficient”). You ask respondents to rate an item or concept by choosing a point between two opposing descriptors on a continuum.

Pros

  • This scale offers a clear contrast for evaluation by using opposing adjectives. It makes it easier for respondents to convey their sentiments.

  • It helps in understanding the emotional or qualitative aspect of a concept. This scale is valuable for brand perception or product evaluation.

  • The scale provides a structured format for collecting qualitative data in a more standardized manner.

Cons

  • Limited to bipolar concepts and may not suit all situations.

  • It may not capture subtleties in opinions.

When to Use

Semantic differential scales are most appropriate when researchers seek to capture the emotional or qualitative aspect of a concept, product, brand, or service.

4. Numerical Rating Scale

A numerical rating scale assigns a numerical value to rate an item or concept. Respondents rate items on a scale within a specified range, such as from 1 to 10.

Pros

  • Numerical rating scales provide a finer grain of detail without the limitations of specific labels.

  • They offer flexibility in choosing the scale range and allow some customization.

  • Researchers can perform calculations, or compare data on numerical scales. This makes them practical for research and evaluation purposes.

Cons

  • Interpretation may vary among respondents.

  • It may not be as intuitive as other scales for some individuals.

When to Use

Opt for a numerical rating scale when you need precise quantitative data for analysis and comparison, such as when evaluating attributes or features numerically.

5. Visual Analog Scale (VAS)

The visual analog scale (VAS) requires respondents to mark a point along a continuous line to indicate their response to a specific question or statement. Researchers use this performance appraisal rating scale to measure a particular attribute’s intensity or preference.

Pros

  • VAS offers a visual representation of intensity or preference, making it easier for respondents to express their feelings.

  • It provides continuous data, allowing for more detailed analysis and interpretation.

  • VAS allows for fine-grained measurement of attributes, making it suitable for capturing subtle differences in responses.

Cons

  • It requires more effort to implement.

  • Interpretation may vary due to the lack of fixed categories.

When to Use

Consider a visual analog scale when you require a high level of precision in capturing the degree of a particular attribute, such as pain levels, satisfaction, or preferences. 

The choice of rating scale depends on your research objectives and the type of data you need. Consider the pros and cons of each scale and select the one that best fits your specific context and research goals.

Bias in Rating Scales: Understanding and Mitigating its Impact

Like all research methods, rating scales aren’t immune to biases. Recognizing and understanding these biases is critical to ensure the validity and reliability of research findings.

1. Recency Bias

This bias occurs when respondents give more weight to recent events or experiences than earlier ones. 

Example: If a user faced a minor glitch in a software application just before filling out a survey, they might rate the overall experience as negative due to the recent frustration.

Mitigating the bias: Hold feedback sessions or conduct them at various points during the user experience to capture a holistic view.

2. Primacy Bias

Individuals tend to recall and give more importance to items presented at the beginning of a list or sequence.

Example: In a list of product features to rate, users might give higher ratings to the initial ones and neglect the latter items.

Mitigating the bias: Rotate the order of questions or features presented to users to counteract this bias.

3. Halo/Horns Effect Bias

The Halo effect is where a positive impression in one area influences impressions in other areas. The Horns effect is the opposite.

Example: A visually stunning website might make users overlook usability issues (Halo). Conversely, one poor feature could make users rate all other features negatively (Horns).

Mitigating the bias: Ask for specific feedback on distinct features to prevent generalization.

4. Centrality/Central Tendency Bias

Respondents avoid using extreme response options and stick to the middle or neutral options.

Example: On a scale with an odd number of responses, users predominantly choose the middle,  irrespective of their true feelings. So on a 5-point scale, ‘3’ is the central tendency.

Mitigating the bias: Provide clear and distinct descriptions for each point on the scale. Also, consider using an even-numbered scale to force a choice.

5. Leniency Bias

Some raters are overly generous in their ratings.

Example: A tester always gives a maximum score in a product test, even if there are evident flaws.

Mitigating the bias: Combine quantitative scales with open-ended questions to gather context from the provided ratings.

6. Similar-to-me Bias

Raters favor those who are similar to them or share similar views and experiences.

Example: A tester prefers a product that someone of the same age group, background, or views designed.

Mitigating the bias: Ensure diversity in research panels and consider blinding evaluators to certain demographic information.

7. Confirmation Bias

Raters seek out and prioritize information that confirms their pre-existing beliefs.

Example: A user who believes a certain brand is superior may ignore the negative aspects of its products and only focus on the positives.

Mitigation: Frame questions neutrally and avoid leading questions. Incorporate diverse methods of data collection.

8. Law of Small Numbers Bias

Raters believe that small sample sizes are just as representative of the population as large ones.

Example: Drawing a firm conclusion about a product’s popularity based on feedback from a small group.

Mitigation: Educate stakeholders about the importance of sample size. Ensure adequate sample sizes in research for more accurate results.

Recognizing and addressing these biases helps you obtain accurate and actionable insights in UX research. If left unchecked, it can compromise the accuracy and reliability of UX research findings. By being aware of potential biases and actively taking steps to mitigate them, researchers can capture more genuine, actionable insights from their participants. 

Using Rating Scales in UX Research

In user experience (UX) research, rating scales are valuable tools for collecting data and gauging user sentiment. Let’s now discuss the benefits and limitations of employing rating scales to get a net promoter score in UX research, alongside other research techniques used in this field.

1. Simplicity and Ease of Use

Rating scales, especially those using a 1-5 range, offer simplicity in data collection. Participants can comprehend and respond to questions by selecting a number on the scale that best represents their experience.

2. Quantitative Data Collection

One significant advantage of using rating scales in UX research is the ability to gather quantitative data. Each rating corresponds to a numeric value, allowing researchers to quantify user experiences.

3. Versatility in Question Types

Rating scales can adapt to various types of questions. Researchers can use them to assess satisfaction, usability, likelihood to recommend, and more. This versatility makes rating scales a versatile tool for addressing a wide array of research questions.

4. Comparative Analysis

Rating scales facilitate comparative analysis. Researchers can examine average ratings to compare different user interface aspects, features, or products. 

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Limitations of Rating Scales

While a rating scale has its advantages, it’s important to acknowledge its limitations:

1. Lack of Depth

Competency rating scales provide numeric values but lack the depth of qualitative insights. They don’t uncover the ‘why’ behind a user’s rating. 

2. Subjectivity

User rating scales for satisfaction can be subjective. Two users may assign the same rating to an aspect of the UX, but their underlying experiences and expectations may differ. 

3. Limited Context

Performance appraisal rating scales offer a snapshot of a user’s experience at a specific moment. They may not capture the entirety of a user’s journey or the context in which they interact with a product.

4. Scale Interpretation

Interpreting what a rating on the competency scale represents can vary from person to person. For some, 4 out of 5 might indicate a positive experience, while for others, it might mean average.

Complementary Research Techniques in UX Research

1. Usability Testing

Usability testing involves observing users as they interact with a product. This method provides real-time insights into how users navigate through an interface. 

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2. User Interviews

User interviews involve one-on-one conversations with participants. These sessions allow researchers to dig deeper into user experiences, motivations, and preferences. Combine this research technique with quantitative questionnaires for comprehensive results.

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3. Heatmaps and Click Tracking

Heatmaps and click-tracking tools visualize user interactions with a website or application. These tools visually represent where users click, hover, or spend the most time.

4. A/B Testing

A/B testing compares two versions of a product or interface to determine which performs better regarding user engagement, conversions, or other key metrics.

Selecting the appropriate research method depends on the specific research goals and the stage of product development. Rating scales from 1-5, ranging from poor to excellent, effectively quantify user sentiment and complement them with other methods to understand user experiences fully.

How to Plan and Create Rating Scales

12 steps to plan and create rating scales.

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Designing effective rating scales requires careful planning and consideration. Researchers often use these scales in surveys, assessments, and user experience studies to collect quantitative data. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to plan and create rating scales:

  1. Define your research objectives: Start by outlining your research objectives. Clear goals will guide your rating scale’s design and content.

  2. Choose the type of rating scale: Select a suitable type (e.g., Likert, semantic differential, numeric) based on your research goals.

  3. Determine the number of response options: Decide the number of answer options (e.g., 3, 5, 7, or 9 points) that align with your data needs.

  4. Define the anchors or labels: Craft unambiguous labels representing the full range of possible responses.

  5. Consider the response order: Maintain a logical order of answer options, either negative to positive or vice-versa. But always be consistent.

  6. Pilot test the scale: Conduct a pilot test with a small group to identify and address issues.

  7. Ensure balanced response options: Include an equal number of positive and negative answer options to avoid bias.

  8. Consider using a neutral option: Add a neutral choice (e.g., “Neither Agree nor Disagree”) when needed.

  9. Include an opt-out response: Use “Not Applicable” for questions that may not apply to everyone. 

  10. Provide clear instructions: Clearly explain how respondents should use the scale.

  11. Test for consistency and reliability: Assess the scale’s internal consistency using methods like Cronbach’s alpha.

  12. Analyze and interpret data: Analyze the collected data using appropriate statistical techniques to draw meaningful conclusions.

Adhering to these steps can create a rating scale that efficiently collects valuable data to support your research objectives.

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Some Examples of Quantitative Surveys

If you’re looking for some real-world sample rating scales for surveys, have a look at these easy to difficult scale examples:

  1. You present a statement, and respondents choose from five options: strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree, and strongly disagree. This Likert scale captures the direction and intensity of feelings for consistent and easily analyzable feedback.

1-5 Likert scale assessing agreement on organizational investment in employee tech updates.

© Questionpro, Fair Use

  1. This survey concerns a post-meeting experience on a digital platform, Hangouts Meet. Respondents indicate their satisfaction level using a five-point scale. This survey captures user experience insights crucial for platform improvements. The options range from “very satisfied” to “very dissatisfied”. Users can convey the depth of their sentiments about the platform’s performance.

    Post-meeting screen with Hangouts Meet satisfaction survey.

    © Hotjar, Fair Use

  2. This importance scale survey focuses on post-purchase satisfaction. Respondents use a 1-5 scale to express their satisfaction level with a recent purchase. This type of survey provides businesses with immediate feedback on their purchasing experience. The subsequent question seeks qualitative feedback that offers context to the given numerical rating.

Purchase satisfaction rating prompt with a feedback input box.

© Hotjar, Fair Use

  1. Here is a matrix-style rate your knowledge scale survey where respondents can rate different aspects of a product on a scale from 1 to 5. Specifically, you ask respondents to evaluate “Product Analytics,” “User Engagement Experiences,” and “User Feedback Tools.” The scale ranges from “very dissatisfied” (1) to “very satisfied” (5). Such a survey format enables businesses to gather granular feedback on multiple components of their product or service in a structured manner. But beware that matrices are taxing for respondents and may lead to abandonment, especially on mobile devices.

Survey rating products on a scale of 1 to 5.

© Userpilot, Fair Use

Analyzing and Interpreting Rating Scale Data

Analyzing the rating scale data accurately can offer deep insights and lead to more user-centered design decisions.

1. Understanding the basics of the scale

When analyzing data from a scale, it’s common to look at the mean (average), median (middle value), and mode (most frequently occurring value). These metrics offer a bird’s-eye view of the data distribution and general sentiment. For instance, a mean value of 4.5 might suggest a generally positive attitude towards a product or service.

2. Consideration of directionality

Always consider the directionality of the scale. In most cases, 1 signifies disagreement or dissatisfaction, and 5 signifies agreement or satisfaction. It’s crucial to interpret data with this in mind, understanding the nuances of each number. Be sure to check that your survey tool is applying values in the order you expect.

3. Examining central tendency and variability

The central tendency gives a general idea of the dataset’s center. However, variability shows how values are spread out. A high variability indicates diverse opinions, while a low variability suggests consensus.

4. Identifying response patterns

Analyzing patterns helps in understanding trends and commonalities. For instance, if most participants rate a service 4 or 5, it indicates high satisfaction. But dispersed ratings suggest mixed feelings.

5. Comparative analyses

By comparing data over time or against different datasets, one can draw conclusions on changing attitudes or opinions. Such analyses can help identify what’s working and what needs improvement.

6. Filtering and cross-tabulation

Filtering focuses on specific groups, such as responses from a particular age group or gender. This provides insights into specific segments of the population. Cross-tabulation, meanwhile, compares two or more datasets to understand the relationships between them. It can reveal how different groups perceive an issue in relation to others.

7. Visual representation

Visuals, such as bar graphs, pie charts, or histograms, can make data more digestible. They offer a quick way to understand the essence of the findings.

8. Beyond numbers: insights and stories

It’s not enough to present numbers. The real value lies in interpreting these numbers, identifying problems, offering solutions, and sharing stories that the data tells. For example, instead of merely stating that 70% of respondents rated a product as 5, understand why they loved it and how it stood out.

Rating scales provide valuable quantitative insights. For a holistic understanding, you can complement them with qualitative methods like open-ended questions. 

Combining numbers, patterns, and stories results in impactful conclusions that can drive improvements and strategic decisions.

The Take Away

Rating scales in UX research have emerged as the primary method for gathering qualitative data from users because of their simplicity and effectiveness. Scales offer a clear distinction between user experiences. They allow designers and developers to identify areas of strength and weakness in their product or service. 

Here are the four major takeaways from what we discussed: 

  1. Rating scales are straightforward for participants to understand and use. Well-designed scales increase the accuracy of responses and minimize confusion.

  2. While compact, scales offer enough gradation to capture varying degrees of satisfaction. Ranged scales provide more nuanced insights than a binary system.

  3. You can collate, visualize, and interpret the data you collect. These can help you with informed decision-making in the design process.

  4. Rating scales establish clear benchmarks for user satisfaction. Teams can measure the impact of changes and improvements over time.

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