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Chapter 8 Measurement of Variables : Operational Definition and Scales

Measurement of the variables in the theoretical framework is an integral part of research and an important aspect of research design. How variables are measured There are at least 2 types of variables : one lends itself to objective and precise measurement ; the other is more nebulous and doesnt lend itself to accurate measurement because of its subjective nature. Despite the lack of pysical measuring devices to measure the latter type ,there are ways of tapping the subjective feelings and perceptions of individuals.One technique is to reduce the abstract notions , or concepts.the abstract notions are broken down into observable characteristics behavior.Reduction of abstract concepts to render them measurable in a tangible way is called operationalizing the concepts. Operational definition : dimensions and elements Operationalizing or operationally defining a concept to render it measurable ,is done by looking at the behavioral dimensions ,facets, or properties denoted by the concept. Operationally defining a concept involves a series of steps. Operational definition consists in the reduction of the concept from its level of abstraction , by breaking it into its dimensions and elements.By tapping the behaviors associated with the concept , we can measure the variable. An operational definition doesnt describe the correlates of the concepts. Operationally defining a concept doesnt consist of delineating the reasons,antecedents, consequences or correlates of the concept.Rather it describes its observable characteristics in order to be able to measure the concept. Operational definitions are necessary to measure abstract concepts such as those that usually fall into the subjective areas of feeling and attitudes Scales A scale is a tool or mechanism by which individuals are distingushed as to how they differ from one another on the variables of the interest to our body. There are 4 basic types of scale :

Nominal : allows the resercher to assign subjects to certain categories or groups. Ordinal : not only categorizes the variables in such a way as to denote differences among the various categories,it also rank orders the categories in some meaningful way. Interval : allows us to perform certain arithmetical operations on data collected from the respondents. Ratio : overcomes the disadvantage of the arbitrary origin point of the interval scale , in that it has an absolute zero point ,which is a meaningful measurement point.

International dimensions of operational definition and scaling Certain variables have different meanings and connotations in different cultures. The issue of scaling needs to be addresed in cross cultural research.Different cultures react differently to issues of scaling. In developing instruments for cross cultural research ,one should be careful about both the operational definition and scalling methods used.