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


Scales of Unipolar Degree

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

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


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

  • Never, Quarterly, Monthly, Weekly, Daily
  • Never, Less often than once a month, Monthly, Multiple times a month, Weekly, Multiple times a week, Daily, Multiple times a day
  • Never, Just once, Annually, Once or twice a year, Multiple times a year
  • Never, More than six months ago, Within the past six months, Within the past month, Within the past week
  • 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.

Originally published February 28, 2018. Updated to reflect best practices taught by Allyson Holbrook, Ph.D.