Understanding Scales of Measurement


Unlike balances, which weigh objects by matching them against reference weights, modern scales use other operational principles, such as pneumatic load cells or hydraulics. But they all measure and display weight.

Future researchers developing scales should focus not only on the opinions of experts, but also those of target populations. Studies that neglect to assess the opinions of the target population may lose more than 50% of their initial item pool during scale development.


Scale is the ratio used to determine the dimensional relationship of a representation of an object to the real-world object. A scale model is a replica of an object made smaller than the original, with all the same features. Artists use scale models to study their work and create intricate miniatures.

In music, a scale is a series of tones ascending or descending according to fixed intervals, such as the major or minor scale. In rare cases, the word is also used to describe a sequence of different tone colours in a musical composition (e.g. Claude Debussy’s L’Isle Joyeuse), or in the context of Klangfarbenmelodie, to refer to an arrangement of pitch levels.

To alter according to a scale or proportion; adjust in amount: She scaled back her spending. To become coated with scale: The boiler was scaling with hard mineral deposits. (also scalding, scal*ing)


Scales of measurement are the different ways that researchers classify variables in data sets. The classification of a variable determines the type of statistical analysis technique used for the data set. Understanding scales of measurement is an essential element in research and statistics.

Generally, scales are classified by their interval patterns. For example, a scale of notes with an octave-repeating pattern can be categorized as chromatic, major, or diatonic depending on the width of each interval.

Nominal scales are the simplest form of scale, classifying variables according to qualitative labels that don’t carry any numerical value. For example, a survey might ask respondents to rate their hair color on a nominal scale that uses labels like blonde hair, brown hair and gray hair. Nominal scales can also be used to categorize an attribute by its importance to a respondent, as described by the constant sum scale. This type of scale is commonly used in market research.


Many different types of scale are employed within and outside of geography and academia. Some are defined based on spatial dimensions while others have important non-spatial characteristics. For example, a culturally defined community in a city does not necessarily have a physical geographic space associated with it. Similarly, the survival of grizzly bears in the Rocky Mountains depends on the availability of vast tracts of wilderness at a scale that allows for the habitat to provide food and shelter.

Some definitions of scale have no relationship to spatial extent at all, such as interval and ratio scales. These kinds of scales define classification schemes that do not depend on a relationship with space, but rather on internal processes and characteristics. This type of functional scale is also known as problem or functional scale. For example, the relative fraction of work experience that newcomers have is a function of time and duration, not of their size.


The development of new measures requires theoretical and methodological rigor. This is particularly important for measuring constructs that have not yet been adequately defined or for which there are ambiguities in the existing literature. Poor definition of a construct can result in a variety of problems, including confusion about what the measure is measuring and how it is related to other constructs. It can also lead to incorrect conclusions about the relationships between a construct and its predictors.

Several studies analyzed in this review identified specific limitations that occurred during the scale development process. These limitations can significantly weaken psychometric results and hinder the application of a new measurement tool in the future. Specifically, they can limit the ability of a new instrument to measure a given construct, and they may also interfere with obtaining adequate internal consistency.

Many of these limitations can be avoided by using appropriate methods and taking into account the needs of a particular research context. In addition, future researchers should use a pilot study to determine how the scale will be perceived by the target population and to ensure that it is clear and unambiguous.

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