Likert Scales: Dispelling the Confusion
Here's the bottom line for the busy reader. Over time and in common usage, theterm, "Likert scale" has come to be applied to things far removed from its original meaning.Most importantly:
is a multi-item scale, not a single item. A single item, regardless of itsformat, should not be called a Likert scale.
, which is a single item or question, should adhere to certain formatrequirements. An item that is merely ordered-categorical, even if it is combined withsimilar items in a composite scale, should not be called a Likert item or a Likert-typeitem. The term,
discrete visual analog scale
(DVAS) is more generic and an alternativein many cases.
An item with ordered response levels but which has neither a Likert nor a DVASformat should simply be called an
A scale composed of several ordered-category items which are not Likert items shouldbe referred to by the more generic name,
summated rating scale
Nature of the problem
People have gradually come to use the term, "Likert scale" in very different ways. It isvariously applied it to both groups of items and to single items, and in either case there isdisagreement about what specific formats apply.This is a not good in general, since we would like mutually agreed-on definitions. Otherwiseif a researcher says, "We used a Likert scale" it isn't clear what's meant.Further, there is lack of consensus about what statistical methods are appropriate for this classof variables. This is an important matter because such variables are often used in seriousapplications like clinical trials. To make headway on the issue of what statistical methods areappropriate for such variables (and this is the subject of some degree of controversy), we mustfirst agree on terms.
The Origin of Likert Scales
Likert scales were originally developed by Rensis Likert, a sociologist at the University of Michigan from 1946 to 1970. Likert was concerned with measuring psychological attitudes,and wished to do this in a "scientific" way. Specifically, he sought a method that wouldproduce attitude measures that could reasonably be interpreted as measurements on a propermetric scale, in the same sense that we consider inches or degrees Celsius true measurementscales.