Online Survey Tip: Use Balanced Survey Scales In Your Questionnaires

Are your survey scales balanced? Typically when you think of survey questions using a scale, you think of each point holding the same amount of weight with the same number of options on either side of the middle point.

Example of a customer satisfaction survey question with a balanced scale: How satisfied are you with your current vehicle?
Customer Quality Survey Samples

However, sometimes people don't stick to this surveying rule of thumb and lean towards using unbalanced scales. Here are a couple cons to using unbalanced scales and reasons why you should use balanced scales:

• Unbalanced survey scales create bias data: Very satisfied, Satisfied, Neutral, Unsatisfied. What about people who are Very unsatisfied? It makes the data look better than it may actually be.

• Unbalanced scales can be frustrating for the survey respondent. If someone is very unsatisfied, they want to mark they are very unsatisfied in your customer survey. Not allowing them to tell you how they feel could make them just abandon the survey all together.

• Balanced scales give the surveyor more analysis options than unbalanced scales. While this is a topic for a seperate post, many people will apply numbered interval scales to balanced scales for the purpose of completing their survey analysis. Interval scales give a wider range of analysis potential over ordinal survey question types.

That said, unbalanced scales can be useful when you know there will be an overwhelming response in a specific direction. A good example is customer services feedback surveys or employee surveys about benefits. Take these sample survey question:

Sample customer service survey question with unbalanced scales: How important do you feel each of these are for us to provide you with excellent customer service?
Sample Employee Satisfaction Questionnaire

Rarely will you find a customer who believes these categories are unimportant.

Example of employee survey with unbalanced scales: How important are the following benefits?
Sample Employee Satisfaction Questionnaire

Most employees think all of these are important benefits.

In both of these examples of survey questions, you will find a variance of how important survey respondents think each category is - and that's what you're trying to gauge. In these cases, unbalanced scales would provide better data than a balanced scale.

I urge you to seriously think about why you want to use an unbalanced scale. If used inappropriately, they could quickly bias your data.

If you're beginning to plan your next survey project, I encourage you to attend our webinar on best practices for conducting web surveys. Then when the time comes, our professional survey services team would be happy to consult with you on your questionnaire design to flush out any question issues like this one.
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