An easy way to follow the best practice of using 5-point fully-labeled unipolar scales when writing surveys is to use common rating scales like the following.

Common Unipolar Scales

Frequency: Always, Often, Sometimes, Rarely, Never
Importance: Essential, Significant, Important, Insignificant, Unimportant
Liking: Like extremely well, Like quite well, Like somewhat, Like slightly, Don’t like at all
Priority: Essential, High priority, Medium priority, Low priority, Not a priority
Quality (traditional): Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor, Very Poor
Quality (contemporary):  Excellent, Good, Acceptable, Poor, Terrible
Quality (relative): Excellent given the price, Good given the price, Average given the price, Poor given the price, Terrible given the price
Quantity: All, Most, Half, Some, None

Scales of Unipolar Degree

A common pattern is Completely cromulent, Very cromulent, Somewhat cromulent, Hardly cromulent, and Not at all cromulent. Replace cromulent with the word or phrase below. For some attributes, Extremely is better than Completely (e.g., Extremely influential vs. Completely influential).

Completely___  Very___  Somewhat___  Hardly___   Not at all___
___true of me
___true of what I believe
Extremely___ Very___ Somewhat___  Hardly___   Not at all___


Bipolar Rating Scales

When it comes to bipolar scales, where the first and last choice are opposites, it’s typically better to write such questions using the unipolar scales above or to break the questions into three or four questions. When that’s impractical, use these scales, but try to avoid the agreement scale if you can.

Agreement: Completely agree, Somewhat agree, Slightly agree, Neither agree nor disagree, Slightly disagree, Somewhat disagree, Completely disagree
Appropriateness:  Absolutely appropriate, Somewhat appropriate, Slightly appropriate, Neutral, Slightly inappropriate, Somewhat inappropriate, Absolutely inappropriate
Change: Increase significantly, Increase somewhat, Increase a little, Stay the same, Decrease a little, Decrease somewhat, Decrease significantly
Effort: Extremely easy, Very easy, Fairly easy, Moderate, Fairly hard, Very hard, Extremely hard
Liking: Like a great deal, Like somewhat, Like a little, Neither like nor dislike, Dislike a little, Dislike somewhat, Dislike a great deal
Relative: Greatly above average, Somewhat above average, Slightly above average, Average, Slightly below average, Somewhat below average, Greatly below average


Other Ordinal Rating Scales

Some ordinal scales list responses that have an order relative to one other. Of course, this order can be subjective. (Once a respondent bitterly complained to me that a vocational diploma was superior to “some college”; I can’t say I disagree, but I think the scale reads better as is.)

Education (U.S.) Some high school or less; High school diploma, GED, or equivalent; Vocational or technical diploma; Some college; Associate’s degree; Bachelor’s degree; Master’s degree; Doctorate
Employees 0 employees (just you the owner), 1-9 employees, 10-99 employees, 100-999 employees, 1,000 to 9,999 employees, 10,000+ employees
Household Size 1, 2, 3, 4, 5+
Management (U.S.) Staff, Team Lead, Supervisor, Manager, Director, Vice President, President, Chief Officer
Government (U.S.) City, County, State, Federal
Marital Status Single (never married), Living with partner, Married and living with spouse, Married but separated from spouse, Divorced, Widowed

Usage frequency and periodicity can vary widely for products and services and for whether they are intended for consumers or business people. Samples of these scales include:

  • Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly, Never
  • Multiple times a day, Daily, Multiple times a week, Weekly, Multiple times a month, Monthly, Less often than once a month, Never
  • Multiple times a year, Once or twice a year, Annually, Just once, Never
  • Within the past week, Within the past month, Within the past six months, More than six months ago, Never
  • In the past month, In the past 3 months, In the past 12 months, More than a year ago, Never
  • Within an hour, Within two hours, Within four hours, Within a business day, Within two business days

Different organizations may have different house styles and scales that they use for benchmark purposes. In general, it’s easier and more reliable to use these rating scales than to develop your own wording.

For more on why scales are oriented from positive to negative, see Failing to Listen to Research… on Research.

Originally published February 28, 2018. Updated to reflect best practices taught by Allyson Holbrook, Ph.D. as well as by Reg Baker, the former executive director for the MRII.

Author Notes:

Jeffrey Henning

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Jeffrey Henning, IPC is a professionally certified researcher and has personally conducted over 1,400 survey research projects. Jeffrey is a member of the Insights Association and the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers. In 2012, he was the inaugural winner of the MRA’s Impact award, which “recognizes an industry professional, team or organization that has demonstrated tremendous vision, leadership, and innovation, within the past year, that has led to advances in the marketing research profession.” In 2022, the Insights Association named him an IPC Laureate. Before founding Researchscape in 2012, Jeffrey co-founded Perseus Development Corporation in 1993, which introduced the first web-survey software, and Vovici in 2006, which pioneered the enterprise-feedback management category. A 35-year veteran of the research industry, he began his career as an industry analyst for an Inc. 500 research firm.