Here’s the question: Do you use a mid-point or not?
The standard five point scale gives you two degrees of positivity, two degrees of negativity, and one degree right in the middle that can be interpreted as neutrality, uncertainty, or whatever the responder feels like using it as. The six point scale provides three degrees of positivity, three degrees of negativity, and no way for anyone to waffle. Is there a right way to set your Likert scale?
Sometimes, researchers really want to know which side of the fence you’re on. When you go to vote, you aren’t there to tell both candidates that they’re doing a good job or that they are both equally horrible. You are there to pick one, the winner. However, when given the choice between a Crunchie bar and a Snickers bar, it is certainly possible that you will end up buying one of each. And I would whole heartedly stand behind that decision. Sometimes a mid-point is logical, other times it’s just not so clear. Here are a few things to consider.
1) Does the survey refer to something that people truly have to choose between? Is it reasonable for me to buy Dove and Herbal Essences, or will I really only buy one Dell computer.
2) How much do you want to annoy survey participants? Put your feet back in the shoes of a normal everyday person and think about how it feels to answer a survey without midpoints. You know you hate it. You know responders hate it. And hate equals decreased data quality. Hate equals lower response rates. Hate equals increased costs of panel recruitment. Are these risks worth that one point?
3) Do you know how to use decimal places? Remember, you aren’t using a 5 or 6 point scale. Because you really aren’t concerned about individual responses, but rather averages of hundreds of responses, you’ve got a bazillion decimal places on your side. 1, 2, and 3 may reflect the positive side of a 6 point scale, but so does 1 to 2.4 on a 5 point scale. You can cut your midpoint, top box or bottom box anywhere you like with decimals.
What is my choice? In almost every case, I stick with odd numbered scales. To be more specific, 5 point scales.
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