Scales of measurement can be considered in terms of their mathematical properties. The most widely used classification of measurement scales are: (a) nominal scale; (b) ordinal scale; (c) interval scale; and (d) ratio scale.
Nominal scale: Nominal scale is simply a system of assigning number symbols to events in order to label them. The usual example of this is the assignment of numbers of basketball players in order to identify them. Such numbers cannot be considered to be associated with an ordered scale for their order is of no consequence; the numbers are just convenient labels for the particular class of events and as such have no quantitative value. Nominal scales provide convenient ways of keeping track of people, objects and events. One cannot do much with the numbers involved. For example, one cannot usefully average the numbers on the back of a group
of football players and come up with a meaningful value. Neither can one usefully compare the numbers assigned to one group with the numbers assigned to another. The counting of members in each group is the only possible arithmetic operation when a nominal scale is employed. Accordingly, we are restricted to use mode as the measure of central tendency. There is no generally used measure of dispersion for nominal scales. Chi-square test is the most common test of statistical significance that can be utilized, and for the measures of correlation, the contingency coefficient can be worked out. Nominal scale is the least powerful level of measurement. It indicates no order or distance relationship and has no arithmetic origin. A nominal scale simply describes differences between things by assigning them to categories.
Nominal data are, thus, counted data. The scale wastes any information that we may have about varying degrees of attitude, skills, understandings, etc. In spite of all this, nominal scales are still very useful and are widely used in surveys and other ex-post-facto research when data are being classified by major sub-groups of the population.
Ordinal scale: The lowest level of the ordered scale that is commonly used is the ordinal scale. The ordinal scale places events in order, but there is no attempt to make the intervals of the scale equal in terms of some rule. Rank orders represent ordinal scales and are frequently used in research relating to qualitative phenomena. A student‘s rank in his graduation class involves the use of an ordinal scale. One has to be very careful in making statement about scores based on ordinal scales. For instance, if Ram‘s position in his class is 10 and Mohan‘s position is 40, it cannot be said that Ram‘s position is four times as good as that of Mohan. The statement would make no sense at all. Ordinal scales only permit the ranking of items from highest to lowest.
Ordinal measures have no absolute values, and the real differences between adjacent ranks may not be equal. All that can be said is that one person is higher or lower on the scale than another, but more precise comparisons cannot be made. Thus, the use of an ordinal scale implies a statement of ‗greater than‘ or ‗less than‘ (an equality statement is also acceptable) without our being able to state how much greater or less. The real difference between ranks 1 and 2 may be more or less than the difference between ranks 5 and 6. Since the numbers of this scale have only a rank meaning, the appropriate measure of central tendency is the median. A percentile or quartile measure is used for measuring dispersion. Correlations are restricted to various rank order methods. Measures of statistical significance are restricted to the non-parametric methods.
Interval scale: In the case of interval scale, the intervals are adjusted in terms of some rule that has been established as a basis for making the units equal. The units are equal only in so far as one accepts the assumptions on which the rule is based. Interval scales can have an arbitrary zero, but it is not possible to determine for them what may be called an absolute zero or the unique origin. The primary limitation of the interval scale is the lack of a true zero; it does not have the capacity to measure the complete absence of a trait or characteristic. The Fahrenheit scale is an example of an interval scale and shows similarities in what one can and cannot do
with it. One can say that an increase in temperature from 30° to 40° involves the same increase in temperature as an increase from 60° to 70°, but one cannot say that the temperature of 60° is twice as warm as the temperature of 30° because both numbers are dependent on the fact that the zero on the scale is set arbitrarily at the temperature of the freezing point of water. The ratio of
the two temperatures, 30° and 60°, means nothing because zero is an arbitrary point. Interval scales provide more powerful measurement than ordinal scales for interval scale also incorporates the concept of equality of interval. As such more powerful statistical measures can be used with interval scales. Mean is the appropriate measure of central tendency, while standard deviation is the most widely used measure of dispersion. Product moment correlation techniques are appropriate and the generally used tests for statistical significance are the ‗t‘ test and ‗F‘ test.
Ratio scale: Ratio scales have an absolute or true zero of measurement. The term ‗absolute zero‘ is not as precise as it was once believed to be. We can conceive of an absolute zero of length and similarly we can conceive of an absolute zero of time. For example, the zero point on a centimeter scale indicates the complete absence of length or height. But an absolute zero of temperature is theoretically unobtainable and it remains a concept existing only in the scientist‘s mind. The number of minor traffic-rule violations and the number of incorrect letters in a page of type script represent scores on ratio scales. Both these scales have absolute zeros and as such all minor traffic violations and all typing errors can be assumed to be equal in significance. With ratio scales involved one can make statements like ―Jyoti‘s‖ typing performance was twice as good as that of ―Reetu.‖ The ratio involved does have significance and facilitates a kind of comparison which is not possible in case of an interval scale. Ratio scale represents the actual amounts of variables. Measures of physical dimensions such as weight, height, distance, etc. are examples. Generally, all statistical techniques are usable with ratio scales and all manipulations that one can carry out with real numbers can also be carried out with ratio scale values.
Multiplication and division can be used with this scale but not with other scales mentioned above. Geometric and harmonic means can be used as measures of central tendency and coefficients of variation may also be calculated. Thus, proceeding from the nominal scale (the least precise type of scale) to ratio scale (the most precise), relevant information is obtained increasingly. If the nature of the variables permits, the researcher should use the scale that provides the most precise description. Researchers in physical sciences have the advantage to describe variables in ratio scale form but the behavioural sciences are generally limited to describe variables in interval scale form, a less precise type of measurement.