Semantic Differential Scale: Definition, Questions, Examples

Albina Zakharenko

18 years of experience in online marketing

In simple terms, the semantic differential scale is a type of survey rating scale used for psychological measurement. It helps to get to know your audience’s attitudes, approaches and perspectives. A researcher develops a survey allowing a respondent to express a judgment, using a scale of five to seven points.

What Is a Semantic Differential Scale?

A famous American psychologist, Charles Egerton Osgood, came up with the semantic differential scale in 1979. With the help of his research, it became possible to record and further analyze the “connotative meaning” of emotional attitude towards various matters.

Questionnaires that use the semantic scale are considered to be a very reliable way to get information on people’s emotional reactions when it comes to a wide variety of subjects. For instance, you can measure customers’ attitudes towards a new product launching on the market or employees’ level of satisfaction. Ratings are basically “oscillating” to the extent that they display two adverse characteristics of a subject under study (for example, low to high scale or good to bad scale).

In the article, we provide illustrations and sample surveys utilizing semantic differential scales that are created in the AidaForm Online Survey Maker. You can use ready-made survey fields to create your own differential scales in no time, or you can customize AidaForm templates and conduct your surveys and questionnaires free of charge.

The Semantic Differential Scale: Advantages

Easy for Respondents to Take
The main benefit of using the semantic differential scale is the ease with which respondents will understand the scale. Almost everyone has encountered this type of survey. Thanks to a scale connecting extremely opposite adjectives, the respondents can express their opinions more specifically with the help of specific measurements.

Gives an Objective Picture
As the semantic scale questionnaires are pretty easy to take, respondents may express their opinion in full. That helps the results to be as accurate and as statistically significant as they can be.

Simple for the Interviewer to Make
Saving time is important, so another advantage is that the interviewer only needs to find two opposite terms to use it as a measurement tool for a survey to work. Plenty of online services help to find a good antonym — definitely check them out!

The Semantic Differential Scale: Examples

Charles Egerton Osgood’s research was conducted on a large database and Osgood found that there are three scales (often referred as EPA) that were commonly effective, regardless of race, culture or difference in language:

  • Evaluation (good to bad, safe to dangerous, excellent to poor)
  • Potency (high to low, strong to weak)
  • Activity (fast to slow, active to passive)

Let’s consider a couple of relatable examples!


Researching an attitude towards a product

So, let’s imagine that a company has developed and put a robotic vacuum cleaner on the market. Of course, they have tested the product’s efficiency and demand among a huge sampling of people a thousand times. But still, it’s just necessary to make sure the vacuum cleaner is performing outstandingly, and everybody loves it. Keeping a consumer fulfilled is the target for every company in order to uplift the business. What should the organization do? Just email their clients a questionnaire like this that helps to get perspective on usability, pricing and the design of the product:

It seems like you purchased our new robotic vacuum cleaner a month ago. How would you rate it on the following criteria?

Evaluation survey templates with semantic scales

Add the templates to your AidaForm account to customize them and use them free of charge to collect valuable feedback!


Measuring a job satisfaction level

Getting and retaining the best employees is the goal of all HR specialists. A happy employee is a patriot of a company, the biggest fan of a brand, and a person who makes it all work. Satisfied workers are more loyal to the company and ready to pursue the objectives strenuously. Try using semantic differential questions to measure the level of employee satisfaction:

How do you feel about your job overall?

How likely are you to recommend a friend get a job at the company?

Job satisfaction survey semantic differential scales

Add the templates to your AidaForm account to customize them and use them for free to collect valuable feedback.


Brand attitude analysis

Attitude towards a brand is essentially both what customers assume and how strongly they feel. Clients may be aware of the product but have a negative or neutral attitude. Even a big brand like Netflix uses the semantic differential scale to get feedback on customers’ emotional experience (see the first question of the survey). Not only the sensual part, but also the issue of pricing is a question of great interest (see the second one).

When thinking about Netflix, how would you rate Netflix on each of the following attributes?

Check out more semantic differential scale example surveys

Add the templates to your AidaForm account to customize them and use them for free!

Likert and Semantic Differential Scales

At first glance, semantic differential scales and Likert scales look very similar: both scales are used to find out what clients like or don’t like about specific product characteristics, or a service or brand in general. Both scales ask respondents to point out their experience on a five- or higher point rating scale.

Nevertheless, Likert and semantic differential scales differ greatly in how the questions are asked and what information is derived from the customers’ responses. While the Likert scale question asks the customer to agree or disagree with a given statement, the semantic differential scale question invites them to express their emotional perception on a scale between two polarized options (for example, on the good to bad scale).

You will find more detailed information and various examples in the blog articles devoted to the Likert scale and other types of survey rating scales.

How to Make an Effective Semantic Scale Questionnaire


Use Osgood’s EPA

Why reinvent the wheel, right? Just use Charles Osgood’s research based on a rich source of data. Don’t forget that the most effective scales are considered to be evaluation, potency and activity scales.


Design it!

Pay close attention to your survey’s appearance: even the color and font for the title may affect your audience’s decisions and participation. If you don’t have any UX-designers on board, AidaForm service will come in handy as it has dozens of ready-made templates.


Find the right adjectives

Make sure you’ve chosen the right “bipolar” adjectives as it’s the hardest and probably the most important part of the job to do to get accurate results. Finding a proper adjective and its antonym is the key to success. If you’re unsure of your strength when it comes to linguistics, then definitely check the next point.


Consider easy alternatives if you don’t find the antonyms

If you think that a semantic differential scale is too complicated, there are at least two more options.

An Adjective Check List
When using such a survey technique, you don’t need to contrast opposite adjectives. Just list positive and negative concepts for participants to choose from.

Tip: Randomize the adjectives to make sure you’re not influencing respondents’ choice.

Click on the button next to each word that describes how you feel about getting voluntary insurance.

A Semantic Distance Scale

The semantic distance scale also helps to avoid the issue of struggling with thinking up antonyms but still lets participants rate each concept:

How well do the following terms describe your experience with our new website?

1 is Not at All, 7 is Perfectly

Thank you for reading the article to the end. Would you like to create your own survey with semantic differential or any other rating scales? Try AidaForm — a complete online service where you can create forms and surveys, share them, gather responses, and evaluate data in your member’s area. What is more, you can use AidaForm free of charge without any limits on the number of forms and form fields. Start conducting your surveys today!

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