Debate: Use a Mid-Point or Not?



In the responses from our followers to “Use a Scale with a Midpoint – A midpoint doesn’t force those ‘on the fence’ to take a side”, a recent Zoomerang Survey Tip of the Day, our attention was caught by one response in particular “That’s exactly why I think you should NOT use a mid-point – gives people a way to avoid making a choice”. That is an interesting viewpoint and I would like to discuss the mid-point survey tip in a bit more detail.

In most cases you want to give people a mid-way option, but it might depend on your survey objectives. If you are testing a product concept and will move it into building prototypes based on the data, you don’t want to force people to take a side: If the respondents are truly lukewarm or agnostic about your product, you want to know that. If you are doing a political survey, you want to know how strongly people feel about your candidate: It’s important to know whether there is a cluster of persuadable respondents, that’s what campaigns spend a majority of their time and money on. As you near your survey objective deadline (i.e.: the night before the election, as you move your product into production, etc…) you may want to force a choice. 


Using (or not using, as the case may be) a mid-point comes down to what your objectives are and how important it is to know whether you’ve got some people who are wavering. Most people are pretty opinionated, so it’s unlikely that you get a majority of people choosing the midpoint. It also depends on how informed your respondents are about the topic, or how important it is to them. You will get a lot more of the mid-point responses when people don’t know a lot about it or just don’t care that much and that is important information to have.


Providing a (neutral) midpoint


With midpoint

Extremely negative

Very negative

Neither negative nor positive

Very positive

Extremely positive

Without midpoint

Extremely negative

Very negative

Somewhat negative

Somewhat positive

Very positive

Extremely positive



It is apparent that opinions vary regarding the appropriateness or usefulness of a midpoint, particularly for agreement scales. Research suggests a forced response will yield roughly the same proportion of agree/disagree as a scale with a midpoint.


For example:


Results with a midpoint: 30% con, 50% neutral, 20% pro


Results without a midpoint: 60% con, 40% pro


Let’s keep the debate going by adding your insights on mid-point usage below. After all, sharing knowledge and opinions is what Zoomerang is all about!

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One Response to Debate: Use a Mid-Point or Not?

  1. mlavra says:

    Many of our surveys are used internally to ask staff members to provide feedback on programs or processes. I’ve found that when provided a midpoint, many take the “safe” way out by choosing that neutral point, which isn’t particularly helpful when trying to make decisions that affect programs or procedures. Removing the midpoint seems to make staff members be more thoughtful in their responses and provides us with better direction.

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