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The Uselessness of Likert Scales in Rating Books

Likert Scale exampleBack in my usability days, I talked often about measurement error, the idea that something throws a monkey wrench into an otherwise careful attempt at accurate observation. Biases, for example, pop up in all sorts of interesting and confounding ways—I’ve seen users struggle with a site but say they loved their user experience. If not an issue with the Web design itself, users bring expectations with them as they use Web sites; one man I interviewed for the Social Security Administration consistently used an interface wrong because he didn’t personally identify himself as disabled, even though it took him 10 minutes to cross the room with his walker before taking his seat.

Usability scientists who aim to measure the success and efficiency of online systems have created an arsenal of tools for gathering more accurate information that can stem the effect of whatever measurement error is in play. One of those tools is a Likert Scale. We’re all familiar with them, those are the “rate this from 1 to 5, 1 being least and 5 being most,” items that float around opinion surveys and rating systems like Yelp. In truth, a scale can go from 1 to 3, 1 to 4, or 1 to 10, or whatever the designer thinks the range should cover.

But Likert Scales are notorious in the world of usability data collection, because very few people design them correctly, and very few respondents react to them appropriately. Read More…

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