What is a Semantic Differential Scale?

Albina Zakharenko

13 years of experience in online marketing

In simple terms, the Semantic Differential Scale is a type of survey usually used for psychological measures. It helps to get to know your audience’s approaches and perspectives. A researcher develops a system of a survey in the way to allow a respondent to express a judgment, using a scale of five to seven points.

The Semantic Differential Scale: Definition and Purposes

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 that the “connotative meaning” of emotional attitude towards various matters is recorded and put to good use.

Ratings are basically “oscillating” to the extent that they specify two adverse concepts of a continuity (fast-slow, good-bad, high-low). 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.

The Semantic Differential Scale: Advantages

Easy for Respondents to Take
The main profit of using the Semantic Differential Scale is the simplicity of understanding the scale by responders. Almost every person has ever encountered this type of survey. Due to a scale connecting extremely opposite adjectives, the respondents can more specifically express their opinions with the help of specific measurements.

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

Simple for the Interviewer to Make
Saving time is important, so another advantage consists of the fact that the interviewer only needs to find two opposite terms to use it a measuring tool for a survey to work. Plenty of online services help to find a good synonym — 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 3 scales (commonly referred as EPA) that were commonly effective, regardless of race or culture or difference in language:

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

Let’s consider a couple of relatable examples to make everything completely clear…

1

Researching an Attitude towards a Product

So, let’s imagine that a company has developed and put on the market a robotic vacuum cleaner. 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 essential target of 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 a perspective on usability, pricing, and design of the product:

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



2

Researching a Job Satisfaction Level

To get the best employees and make sure nobody leaves are the key goals 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 the Semantic Differential Scale survey to measure the level of employees’ satisfaction:

How do you feel about your job overall?


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


3

Researching an Attitude towards a Brand

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 such a big brand as 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 the question of great interest (see the second one).

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


How to Make Your Semantic Scale Questionnaire More Effective

1

Use Osgood’s EPA

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

2

Design It!

Pay close attention to your surveys’ appearance: even the color and font of a title may affect your audience’s decisions and several participations. If you don’t have any UX-designers on board, AidaForm service will come in handy as it has ready-made templates for Semantic Differential Scale questionnaires!

3

Choose the Right Words

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 linguistic means, then definitely check the next point.

4

Take an Easy Path

If you think that Semantic Differential Scale is too complicated; there are at least two more options.

An Adjective Check List
In the case of 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 the terms describe your experience with our new website?

1 is Not at All, 7 is Perfectly

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