I was creating an online survey using Surveymonkey earlier this week. They asked me to try their new design, and so I did. There appeared to be a bug in one of the features. It kept preventing me from displaying the questions in a certain way. I tried a bunch of tricks but after ten minutes, decided to switch back to the old design. I clicked on their Feedback link and after describing my problem, they asked me to answer a few questions.
Here is one question:
This question is as standard as they come in a customer satisfaction survey.
My mood at the time was slightly unhappy. Just as I was about to click on that second-to-last radio button, I stopped. Can you see why? (Look at the choices more carefully.)
The fourth button is labelled "Slightly Satisfied". I was expecting it to say "Slightly Dissatisfied"!
Then I realized Surveymonkey is using a unipolar scale. All five answers are varying levels of satisfaction. I'm more used to a bipolar scale, such as:
- Extremely satisifed
- Somewhat satisfied
- Neither satisfied nor dissatified
- Somewhat dissatisfied
- Extremely dissatisfied
The bipolar scale is centered in the middle and allows answers in both positive and negative directions.
I was debating between the last two choices. Was I "slightly satisfied" or "not at all satisfied"? Surely, I wasn't 100 percent unhappy, far from it. But "slightly" was also inappropriate. The mirror image of "slightly dissatisfied" should be "mostly satisfied", which meant I should be debating between the second button and the last.
However, "very satisfied" didn't fit with my mood, even though technically it was the mirror image of it. I wanted to express a negative sentiment, albeit minor, not a positive sentiment, albeit qualified. (Since I couldn't bear to pick either, I abandoned the survey at that point.)
I am not a fan of unipolar scales for many applications. For example, if you are measuring political attitudes (conservative and liberal), would your choices be:
- Extremely conservative
- Very conservative
- Moderately conservative
- Slightly conservative
- Not at all conservative
or would they be
- Extremely conservative
- Somewhat conservative
- Neither conservative nor liberal
- Somewhat liberal
- Extremely liberal
The unipolar scale automatically creates the problem of which pole to feature in those answers. Conservatives probably won't have an issue with that unipolar conservative scale but it's difficult for a "somewhat liberal" person to think he/she is "moderately conservative" or "very conservative"; vice versa.
The criticism of bipolar scales is that people (and I think this means Americans, and I doubt it generalizes to other cultures) tend to bias toward the positive direction relative to the negative. I don't see that as a big problem if a 7-point scale is used, or have the scale re-centered.