Advantages and disadvantages of ranking scales

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If you want customers to say how much they like the services or products that you provide, it can be tempting to ask them to use ranking scales to rank these things relative to one another. However, it is important to be aware of some of the advantages and disadvantages of ranking scales first.

Ranking scales

Ranking scales are commonly used to assess people's preferences. If you need to know which of a number of options each of your customers, clients or employees likes most (or least), a ranking scale will allow you to easily collect that information.


If you give respondents a ranking scale, they are forced to make decisions as to how much they like each of the options presented. This advantage of ranking scales is especially useful if you need to differentiate among a number of different choices, or if you suspect that your respondents may not be motivated to make these distinctions on their own.


One disadvantage of ranking scales is that they can be difficult to administer. If there are too many options in a ranking scale, respondents may take a long time to complete it. They may also experience survey fatigue or provide answers that are not very meaningful. Respondents may have particular difficulty remembering all of the options that they need to rank if a survey is being administered over the phone.


If you want to take a closer look at your data, it is more difficult to analyse the answers people give to ranking scales than to alternatives such as rating scales. For example, one respondent might strongly prefer her number one choice to her number two choice, while another respondent may see his first two choices as equal - but gave one his #1 ranking only because the question required him to. Because the distances between ranking choices are unknown, it is not possible to compute average rankings for items.

Alternatives to ranking scales

Rating scales are a common alternative to ranking scales. Rating scales ask respondents to say how much they like items independently of any other items on the list. People may then say that they like certain items equally. Rating scales also avoid some of the disadvantages of ranking scales. Ratings are generally easier to provide than rankings (especially over the phone), and it is possible to compute average ratings for each item.

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