Scaling is the branch of measurement that involves the construction of an instrument that associates qualitative constructs with quantitative metric units. Scaling evolved out of efforts in psychology and education to measure “unmeasurable” constructs like authoritarianism and self-esteem. In many ways, scaling remains one of the most arcane and misunderstood aspects of social research measurement. And, it attempts to do one of the most difficult of research tasks – measure abstract concepts.

Most people don’t even understand what scaling is. The basic idea of scaling is described in General Issues in Scaling, including the important distinction between a scale and a response format. Scales are generally divided into two broad categories: unidimensional and multidimensional. The unidimensional scaling methods were developed in the first half of the twentieth century and are generally named after their inventor. We’ll look at three types of unidimensional scaling methods here:

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, measurement theorists developed more advanced techniques for creating multidimensional scales. Although these techniques are not considered here, you may want to look at the method of concept mapping that relies on that approach to see the power of these multivariate methods.