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TYPES OF DATA & MEASUREMENT SCALES: NOMINAL,

ORDINAL, INTERVAL AND RATIO


There are four measurement scales (or types of data): nominal, ordinal, interval and ratio.
These are simply ways to categorize diferent types of variables. This topic is usually
discussed in the context of academic teaching and less often in the real world.! "f you are
brushing up on this concept for a statistics test, than# a psychologist researcher
named $tanley $tevens for coming up with these terms. These four measurement scales
(nominal, ordinal, interval, and ratio) are best understood with example, as you%ll see below.
Nominal
&et%s start with the easiest one to understand. 'ominal scales are used for labeling
variables, without any(uantitative value. 'ominal! scales could simply be called labels.!
)ere are some examples, below. 'otice that all of these scales are mutually exclusive (no
overlap) and none of them have any numerical signi*cance. + good way to remember all of
this is that nominal! sounds a lot li#e name! and nominal scales are #ind of li#e names!
or labels.
Examples of Nominal Scales
Note: a sub,type of nominal scale with only two categories (e.g. male-female) is called
dichotomous.! "f you are a student, you can use that to impress your teacher.
.ontinue reading about types of data and measurement scales: nominal, ordinal, interval,
and ratio/
Ordinal
0ith ordinal scales, it is the order of the values is what%s important and signi*cant, but the
diferences between each one is not really #nown. Ta#e a loo# at the example below. "n
each case, we #now that a 12 is better than a 13 or 14, but we don%t #now5and cannot
(uantify5how much better it is. 6or example, is the diference between 78! and 9nhappy!
the same as the diference between :ery )appy! and )appy;! 0e can%t say.
7rdinal scales are typically measures of non,numeric concepts li#e satisfaction, happiness,
discomfort, etc.
7rdinal! is easy to remember because is sounds li#e order! and that%s the #ey to
remember with ordinal scales!5it is the order that matters, but that%s all you really get from
these.
Advanced note: The best way to determine central tendency on a set of ordinal data is to
use the mode or median< the mean cannot be de*ned from an ordinal set.
Example of Ordinal Scales
Interval
"nterval scales are numeric scales in which we #now not only the order, but also the exact
diferences between the values. The classic example of an interval scale
is .elsius temperature because the diference between each value is the same. 6or
example, the diference between => and ?> degrees is a measurable @> degrees, as is the
diference between A> and B> degrees. Time is another good example of an interval scale in
which the increments are #nown, consistent, and measurable.
"nterval scales are nice because the realm of statistical analysis on these data sets opens
up. 6or example,central tendency can be measured by mode, median, or mean< standard
deviation can also be calculated.
&i#e the others, you can remember the #ey points of an interval scale! pretty easily.
"nterval! itself means space in between,! which is the important thing to remember5
interval scales not only tell us about order, but also about the value between each item.
)ere%s the problem with interval scales: they don%t have a true zero.! 6or example, there is
no such thing as no temperature.! 0ithout a true zero, it is impossible to compute ratios.
0ith interval data, we can add and subtract, but cannot multiply or divide. .onfused; 7#,
consider this: @> degrees C @> degrees D 4> degrees. 'o problem there. 4> degrees is not
twice as hot as @> degrees, however, because there is no such thing as no temperature!
when it comes to the .elsius scale. " hope that ma#es sense. Eottom line, interval scales
are great, but we cannot calculate ratios, which brings us to our last measurement scale/
Example of Interval Scale

Ratio
Fatio scales are the ultimate nirvana when it comes to measurement scales because they
tell us about the order, they tell us the exact value between units, +'G they also have an
absolute zero5which allows for a wide range of both descriptive and inferential statistics to
be applied. +t the ris# of repeating myself, everything above about interval data applies to
ratio scales C ratio scales have a clear de*nition of zero. Hood examples of ratio variables
include height and weight.
Fatio scales provide a wealth of possibilities when it comes to statistical analysis. These
variables can be meaningfully added, subtracted, multiplied, divided (ratios). .entral
tendency can be measured by mode, median, or mean< measures of dispersion, such as
standard deviation and coeIcient of variation can also be calculated from ratio scales.
This Device Provides Two Examples of Ratio Scales (height and weight)
Summary
"n summary, nominal variables are used to name,! or label a series of values.
Ordinal scales provide good information about the order of choices, such as in a customer
satisfaction survey. Interval scales give us the order of values C the ability to (uantify the
diference between each one. 6inally, Ratio scales give us the ultimate5order, interval
values, plus the ability to calculate ratios since a true zero! can be de*ned.
Smmar! of data t!pes and scale measres
That%s itJ " hope this explanation is clear and that you #now understand the four types of
data measurement scales: nominal, ordinal, interval, and ratioJ
MEAN, MEDIAN, MODE, RANGE
Mean, median, and mode are three kinds of "averages". There are many "averages" in statistics, but
these are, I think, the three most common, and are certainly the three you are most likely to encounter in
your pre-statistics courses, if the topic comes up at all.
The "mean" is the "average" you're used to, where you add up all the numbers and then divide by the
number of numbers. The "median" is the "middle" value in the list of numbers. To find the median, your
numbers have to be listed in numerical order, so you may have to rewrite your list first. The "mode" is the
value that occurs most often. If no number is repeated, then there is no mode for the list.
The "range" is ust the difference between the largest and smallest values.
Find the mean, median, mode, and range for the following list of values:
13, 18, 13, 14, 13, 16, 14, 21, 13
The mean is the usual average, so!
(13 + 18 + 13 + 14 + 13 + 16 + 14 + 21 + 13) 9 = 15
"ote that the mean isn't a value from the original list. This is a common result. #ou should not
assume that your mean will be one of your original numbers.
The median is the middle value, so I'll have to rewrite the list in order!
13, 13, 13, 13, 14, 14, 16, 18, 21
There are nine numbers in the list, so the middle one will be the (9 + 1) 2 = 10 2 = 5th
number!
13, 13, 13, 13, 14, 14, 16, 18, 21
$o the median is 14. %opyright & 'li(abeth )**+-)*,, -ll .ights .eserved
The mode is the number that is repeated more often than any other, so 13 is the mode.
The largest value in the list is 21, and the smallest is 13, so the range is 21 13 = 8.
MEAN: 15
MEDIAN: 14
MODE: 13
RANGE: 8
Statistial !ools "sed for Sales
Nominal
The lowest measurement level you can use, from a statistical point of
view, is a nominal scale.
- nominal scale, as the name implies, is simply some placing of data
into categories, without any order or structure.
- physical e/ample of a nominal scale is the terms we use for colours.
The underlying spectrum is ordered but the names are nominal.
In research activities a #'$0"1 scale is nominal. It has no order and
there is no distance between #'$ and "1.
and statistics
The statistics which can be used with nominal scales are in the
non-parametric group. The most likely ones would be!
mode
crosstabulation - with chi-s2uare
There are also highly sophisticated modelling techni2ues
available for nominal data.
Ordinal
-n ordinal scale is ne/t up the list in terms of power of measurement.
The simplest ordinal scale is a ranking. 3hen a market researcher asks
you to rank 4 types of beer from most flavourful to least flavourful,
he0she is asking you to create an ordinal scale of preference.
There is no obective distance between any two points on your
subective scale. 5or you the top beer may be far superior to the second
prefered beer but, to another respondant with the same top and second
beer, the distance may be subectively small.
-n ordinal scale only lets you interpret gross order and not the relative
positional distances.
and statistics
1rdinal data would use non-parametric statistics. These would
include!
Median and mode
rank order correlation
non-parametric analysis of variance
Modelling techni2ues can also be used with ordinal data.
Interval
The standard survey rating scale is an interval scale.
3hen you are asked to rate your satisfaction with a piece of software on
a 6 point scale, from 7issatisfied to $atisfied, you are using an interval
scale.
It is an interval scale because it is assumed to have e2uidistant points
between each of the scale elements. This means that we can interpret
differences in the distance along the scale. 3e contrast this to an
ordinal scale where we can only talk about differences in order, not
differences in the degree of order.
Interval scales are also scales which are defined by metrics such as
logarithms. In these cases, the distances are note e2ual but they are
strictly definable based on the metric used.
and statistics
Interval scale data would use parametric statistical techni2ues!
Mean and standard deviation
%orrelation - r
.egression
-nalysis of variance
5actor analysis
8lus a whole range of advanced multivariate and modelling
techni2ues
Remem#er that you can use non-parametric techni2ues with
interval and ratio data. 9ut non-paramteric techni2ues are less
powerful than the parametric ones.
Ratio
- ratio scale is the top level of measurement and is not often available
in social research.
The factor which clearly defines a ratio scale is that it has a true (ero
point.
The simplest e/ample of a ratio scale is the measurement of length
:disregarding any philosophical points about defining how we can
identify (ero length;.
The best way to contrast interval and ratio scales is to look at
temperature. The %entigrade scale has a (ero point but it is an arbitrary
one. The 5arenheit scale has its e2uivalent point at -<)o. :8hysicists
would probably argue that -bsolute =ero is the (ero point for
temperature but this is a theoretical concept.; $o, even though
temperture looks as if it would be a ratio scale it is an interval scale.
%urrently, we cannot talk about no temperature - and this would be
needed if it were a ration scale.
and statistics
The same as for Interval data