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Journal Article

Deciding on the Scale Granularity of Response Categories of Likert type Scales: The Case of a 21‑Point Scale  pp159-171

Noel Pearse

© Sep 2011 Volume 9 Issue 2, ECRM 2011 Special issue, Editor: Ann Brown, pp87 - 197

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This research investigates the use of a 21‑point Likert type scale in the design of a questionnaire that explores factors related to staff turnover and retention. The paper examines the notion of granularity in researcher‑defined fixed rating scales, where granularity refers to the number of response categories or cut off points that are imposed on a scale (Smithson 2006). The aim of this research paper is to examine the usefulness of a scale with high granularity, from the perspectives of respondents and the researcher. The questionnaire was administered among employees in three different public sector organisations in South Africa, to create a combined data set of 178 respondents. Informing the formulation of the hypotheses was Parducci’s (1965 cited in Tourangeau, Rips & Rasinski 2000) range‑frequency model, which assumes that respondents make use of the various response categories available with equal frequency, if they are evenly spaced. It was therefore hypothesised that (1) there are no significant differences in the frequency of use of the 21 response categories, implying that all of the response categories are useful to respondents; (2) that there would be no difference in the response pattern of respondents when different scale types and lengths are used, implying that increasing the scale granularity did not lead to redundancy; and (3) that there are no significant differences in the variation of responses with ongoing use of the scale. That is, if the scale was useful to respondents, they would continue to use a wide range of the response options available. Chi‑square tests were primarily used to test the hypotheses. It was concluded that the 21‑point scale was useful to respondents and by implication to researchers as well. This was evident in the spread of responses across the 21 response categories of the scale, and that even with prolonged use, they continued to utilise a wide range of response options. It was recommended that researchers should give more explicit attention to scale granularity when designing a questionnaire and that further research is required to assess the value of various levels of scale granularity.


Keywords: questionnaire design, scale construction, likert scale, scale granularity


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Journal Issue

Volume 9 Issue 2, ECRM 2011 Special issue / Sep 2011  pp87‑197

Editor: Ann Brown

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The subject of research methods in business is showing an extra‑ordinary level of activity and innovation and this conference (the 10th European Conference on Research Methods in Business and Management) reflected this. These papers dealt with the problems facing management researchers in a variety of ways. Many Papers offer help in applying new methods such as Mixed Methods and Design Science and introduce new ideas such the use of visual imagery as stimuli in research interviews. The final selection of papers was agreed by the senior editor of the Journal and the guest editors. The comments of session chairs were taken into account in making the final selection of papers for this issue of the EJBRM. The papers selected were chosen for their quality of writing, their relevance to the Journal’s objective of publishing papers that offer new insights or practical help in the application of research methods in business research and the degree of innovation in the subject matter.

The chosen Papers

Two papers constitute a useful introduction to mixed methods – one used case examples to illustrate the potential value of the method (Stefan Cronholm and Anders Hjalmarsson) and one assessed the challenges facing the researcher who opts for this approach.(Roslyn Cameron)

Design Science seems to be acquiring more supporters – particularly for research into Information technology. One paper explains the technique illustrating with a detailed description of an ongoing study (Carcary). The paper by Venables suggests that few research methods courses currently include this method.

The conference received a surprisingly large number of papers on the teaching of research methods and on Project Management. This issue includes three papers on teaching research methods. One addressed the issue of the expanding range of research methods available to business researchers and proposed a framework that would help teachers to introduce the full set of options (Venables). A growing trend is that of doctoral candidates coming forward from industry and the professions. Two papers offer some extremely valuable ideas on how supervisors can support the special needs of this group of doctoral candidates – One paper argues for choosing research methods that specifically exploits this experience for the empirical research work (Caroline Cole, Steven Chase, Oliver Couch and Murray Clark). The other paper offers a framework that could help such students to work through the bewildering first few steps in the research journey that often proves too confusing and time consuming for mature candidates (Rahinah Ibrahim). The papers on Project Management while of great interest to managers tended to focus on Project Management issues rather than research methods. However one paper identified the lack of research support for the existing sets of Project Management standards produced by the professional societies (BoK) and discussed the implications.(Miles Shepherd and Roger Atkinson)

An interesting paper presents a visual technique, infographics to aid interviewers in the elicitation of relevant experiences from interview subjects (Robert Campbell, Gillian Green and Mark Grimshaw ). Pearse contributed an unusual paper on the Likert scale. This is widely used but at low levels of granularity (no of scales) and this paper presents research suggesting that we should consider using a much wider range of scales.

The PhD paper that won the award for best PhD paper was by Nicola Swan. This dealt with the problems faced by researchers collecting data in the emerging countries where facilities and attitudes differ markedly from the developed countries.

I would like to thank the help given in the reviewing of the papers from the conference from Marian Carcary, Marie Ashwin, Martin Rich, Roslyn Cameron, Gill Green, Gary Bell and John Warwick.

Ann Brown

September 2011.


Keywords: body of knowledge; business research; case study; certification; critical reflexivity; critical discourse analysis; critical research; curriculum design; design science research; dissertation; eagle table; graduate study; graphic elicitation; hermeneutics; inductive profession; inter-disciplinary; IS; IT CMF; knowledge representation; likert scale; maturity models; method combinations; mixed approaches; mixed methods; paradigms; pragmatism; publishing; qualitative methods; qualitative research; quantitative methods; questionnaire design; research design; research framework; research into professional practice; research methodology; research methods; research proposal design; scale construction; scale granularity infographics; teaching design science; teaching research methods


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