Advantages & Disadvantages of Ranking Scales

A ranking scale is a survey question tool that measures people's preferences by asking them to rank their views on a list of related items. Using these scales can help your business establish what matters and what doesn't matter to either external or internal stakeholders. You could use ranking scale questions to evaluate customer satisfaction or to assess ways to motivate your employees, for example. Ranking scales can be a source of useful information, but they do have some disadvantages.

Ranking Scale Overview

Businesses typically use ranking scales when they want to establish preferences or levels of importance in a group of items. A respondent completing a scale with five items, for example, will assign a number 1 through 5 to each individual one. Typically, the number 1 goes to the item that is most important to the respondent; the number 5 goes to the one that is of least importance. In some cases, scales do not force respondents to rank all items, asking them to choose their top three out of the five, for example. Online surveys may remove the need to key in numbers, allowing respondents to drag and drop items into order.

Advantages of Ranking Scales

Ranking scales give you an insight into what matters to your respondents. Each response to an item has an individual value, giving results that you can easily average and rank numerically. This can be a valuable business tool, as it gives a statistical breakdown of your audience's preferences based on what you need to know. If you are making business decisions and have various options to choose from, data from a ranking scale might give you a clearer insight into how to satisfy your audience based on what is important to them.

Disadvantages of Ranking Scales

Ranking scales cannot tell you why something is important or unimportant to respondents. They address items in relation to each other rather than individually, and they may not give fully accurate results. Respondents cannot give the same rating to two items, even if they are of equal importance to them. There is no way to measure how much of a distance there is between levels of importance for each rating, even though this may be variable. Survey results may suffer from "order bias," where respondents rank the first set of items more positively than later ones. This may also be a problem if you ask respondents to rank too many items at once, because they may lose focus.

Using Rating as an Alternative to Ranking

Rating scales are the most common alternative to ranking scales. They also gather information about respondent preferences and opinions, but their design is slightly different. This option asks respondents to use a scale to rate items individually rather than ranking them within a group. For example, a Likert scale might make a statement and ask respondents to show their agreement with it by rating it from 1 through 5. This option allows respondents to give the same rating to more than one item if they wish.

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About the Author

Carol Finch has been writing technology, careers, business and finance articles since 2000, tapping into her experience in sales, marketing and technology consulting. She has a bachelor's degree in Modern Languages, a Chartered Institute of Marketing.certificate and unofficial tech and gaming geek status with her long-suffering friends and family.