Survey questions play a vital role in collecting accurate and actionable data in consumer research. In a scenario where an e-commerce giant endeavors to refine its product recommendation system. Should they rely on a rating scale, allowing customers to assign numerical values to their satisfaction with past purchases, or would a ranking scale, seeking to understand the order of priority for preferred items, better serve their goals? The choice between these scales can redefine the e-commerce experience, guiding users towards tailored product suggestions that resonate deeply with their tastes.
The choice between Rating and Ranking Scales has long been a topic of intrigue and deliberation. These two distinctive measurement techniques hold the power to unlock invaluable insights into human preferences, opinions, and behaviors. As researchers and decision-makers strive to harness the full potential of data, understanding the nuances and impact of rating vs. ranking scales becomes an indispensable voyage towards data-driven precision.
In this blog, we will explore the differences between rating and ranking scales, and uncover the secrets behind these scales, revealing a universe of insights that empowers us to fine-tune strategies, elevate user experiences, and propel our decisions with data-backed certainty.
What is a Rating Scale?
A rating scale question asks participants to evaluate a product, service, or idea by rating their opinion on a predefined scale.
Some common types of rating scales include:
- Numeric scales, i.e., scales of 1-5 or 1-10, like Net Promoter Scores (NPS)
- Likert scales gauge how much a respondent agrees or disagrees with a given statement
- Frequency scales ask how frequently an occurrence or behavior occurs and can be scaled from "Never" to "Always."
- Comparison scales help evaluate two variables with answer choices like "Better" and "Worse."
Some examples of rating scale questions include:
- How satisfied are you with the service you received?
- On a scale of 1-5, how likely are you to recommend our product to a friend?
- How important is the price when selecting a product?
Rating scales are widely used to gather customer feedback, measure satisfaction levels, and identify areas for improvement.
When to Use Rating Scales: Pros and Cons
Rating scales are prevalent since they are simple to use and administer. They are suitable for surveys where the researcher needs to understand the intensity or strength of the respondent's opinion, behavior, or attitude. They are best used when the options being rated are similar, and the researcher wants to know the degree of difference between them.
But what if a respondent rates two competing brands equally; how do you determine which one is preferred? Are they equal, or did little differences sway the respondent's decision? It's difficult to understand this with only a rating question.
Here's a summary of the upsides and downsides of rating scales:
Advantages of Rating Scales
- Ease of usage: Rating scales are easy to understand and can be quickly completed by respondents. This makes them a popular choice for surveys with many questions.
- More reliable data: Rating scales provide a better measure of the respondent's attitude, behavior, or opinion than other question types, as respondents can rate on a more specific scale.
- Simple administration and analysis: Rating scales provide quantitative data, which can be easily analyzed and used for statistical purposes.
Disadvantages of Rating Scales
- Limited insights: Rating scales are limited in providing insights into the reasons behind the rating, as they do not allow respondents to explain their answers in detail.
- Limited differentiation: Rating scales may not provide enough differentiation between answers, as the scale may be too small to capture the nuances of an opinion accurately.
- May not provide accurate rankings: While rating scales help identify the strength of opinion, they may not accurately rank the options being rated.
What is a Ranking Scale?
A ranking scale question asks participants to order items based on a specific criterion. Respondents are typically presented with a list of things and are asked to rank them from most important to least important or vice versa by comparing them and selecting the ones they prefer. This process is repeated until all items have been compared and ranked.
Ranking scales are commonly used to identify customer preferences, prioritize product features, and understand the importance of different factors. Here are some examples of ranking scale questions:
- Please rank the following product features in order of importance.
- Rank the following brands in order of preference.
- Please rank the following customer service factors in order of importance.
When to Use Ranking Scales: Pros and Cons
Ranking scales are suitable for surveys where the researcher needs to understand the relative importance of a set of options. They are best used when the options being compared are dissimilar, and the researcher wants to identify the most preferred choice.
However, ranking questions alone cannot explain the close relationship between each ranking. For example, what is the distinction between first and second place? What about the third and the fourth place? The respondent may be equally enthusiastic about their first and second rankings and had to flip a coin to decide. The further they go down the list (, the more options they have to rank), the more their interest subsides, or they get frustrated and start ranking options randomly.
Here's a summary of the upsides and downsides of ranking scales:
Advantages of Ranking Scales
- Nuanced insights: Ranking scales provide a more nuanced understanding of respondent opinions, as they are required to give an order of preferences and priorities.
- Better differentiation: Ranking scales provide greater differentiation between answers, as respondents must distinguish between each item and provide an order of preference rather than rating them.
- Qualitative insights: Ranking scales provide deeper insights into the reasons behind a respondent's preference.
Disadvantages of Ranking Scales
- Time-consuming: Ranking scales can be more time-consuming than rating scales, as respondents must provide an order of preference for each item, making them unsuitable for surveys with many questions.
- Limited information: Ranking scales provide less precise data than rating scales, as respondents cannot give a specific rating for each item, limiting the information about the strength of preference for the options being compared.
- Difficult to interpret: Ranking scales can be challenging to interpret when the differences between the options are slight.
Choosing between Rating and Ranking Scales
So, which question type should you choose? The answer depends on your research goals and the data you hope to collect. Here are some key considerations:
- Type of Data: If you want to measure attitudes or opinions, rating scales may be the best option. If you wish to understand priorities or preferences, ranking scales may be more appropriate.
- Sample Size: Rating scales are better suited for larger sample sizes, as they are more efficient and easier to analyze. Ranking scales may be more time-consuming and complex for larger samples.
- Complexity of the Question: Rating scales are better suited for more straightforward questions, as they may be more difficult for respondents to understand and complete. Ranking scales may be more appropriate for more complex questions, allowing respondents to provide more nuanced responses.
- Context: Consider the context of your research and the expectations of your respondents. For example, a rating scale may be more appropriate for conducting a customer satisfaction survey, as it is a common and familiar question type.
Ultimately, the choice between rating and ranking scales depends on the goals of your research and the data you hope to collect. Generally, rating scales are better suited for gathering broad information about a product, service, or idea. In contrast, ranking scales are better suited for better understanding customer preferences and priorities.
It is essential to carefully consider the strengths and weaknesses of each question type before making a decision.
Combining Rating and Ranking Scales for Richer Insights
While it's helpful to understand the difference between rating and ranking scales and their advantages and disadvantages, choosing only one is unnecessary. Both question types often compensate for their flaws when combined, helping you derive more profound insights.
Moreover, rating and ranking questions are simple for respondents to answer, and including both in the survey is manageable. Ask both questions if you need to know relative positioning and understand gaps in ranking.
For instance, ranking different kinds of chocolate bars can give you a relative sense of which is preferred, but not by how much. A respondent may rank a Snickers bar higher than a Toblerone bar but might heavily dislike a Bounty bar. As we discussed, a ranking question will let you gauge the order of preferences rather than the strength of preferences.
To get around this gap in data, you can use a ranking question to pick a clear winner (if you don't care about the middle options). For instance:
- What is your favorite chocolate bar: Snickers, Toblerone, or Bounty?
- What is your least favorite chocolate bar: Snickers, Toblerone, or Bounty?
Here’s another example. Say the Snickers company wants to give the least liked Snickers products a flavor boost so consumers find all their products equally tasty; the company needs to find out the relative standing of all product types.
And if they care about the middle options, one ranking question can be split into various rating questions.
For example, instead of asking:
- Rank the Snickers product in order of preference: Snickers Original, Snickers Almond, Snickers Peanut Butter
The above question can be split into three rating questions:
- How much do you like Snickers Original: A great deal, A lot, Moderately, A little, Not at all
- How much do you like Snickers Almond: A great deal … Not at all
- How much do you like Snickers Peanut Butter: A great deal … Not at all
Once respondents individually score each of the three Snickers products, you can compute an average score for each Snickers item using these ratings. The average score for each product is then used to generate an overall ranking of liking for each product.
(Please note that these are examples and not a testament to the quality of the chocolate bars.)
Relevant Read: The Ultimate Guide to Survey Question Types in 2023
Summing it up
Both rating and ranking scales have unique advantages and disadvantages, and the choice between the two depends on the researcher's goals and the nature of the survey. Consider the type of data you hope to collect, the sample size, the complexity of the question, and the context of your research before deciding which question type to use or if combining them can be more helpful. With careful consideration and planning, you can ensure that your survey data is accurate and informative.
Fortunately, many consumer research tools today make this process easier. For instance, Entropik allows you to conduct quantitative and qualitative surveys with features like sentiment analysis and emotion intelligence to ensure you get accurate, dependable, and unbiased results every time. With 20+ question types, you can choose the best combination of question types for your survey.