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Nominal Ordinal Interval Ratio

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1. Nominal

Nominal: nominal is from the Latin nomalis, which means “pertaining to names”. It’s another name for a category.

Examples:

Gender: Male, Female, Other.

Hair Color: Brown, Black, Blonde, Red, Other.

Type of living accommodation: House, Apartment, Trailer, Other.

Genotype: Bb, bb, BB, bB.

Religious preference: Buddhist, Mormon, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Other.

2. Ordinal

Examples:

High school class ranking: 1st, 9th, 87th…

Socioeconomic status: poor, middle class, rich.

The Likert Scale: strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, strongly agree.

Level of Agreement: yes, maybe, no.

Time of Day: dawn, morning, noon, afternoon, evening, night.

Political Orientation: left, center, right.

3. Interval

Interval: has values of equal intervals that mean something. For example, a thermometer might have intervals of ten

degrees.

Examples:

Celsius Temperature.

Fahrenheit Temperature.

IQ (intelligence scale).

SAT scores.

Time on a clock with hands.

4. Ratio

Ratio: exactly the same as the interval scale except that the zero on the scale means: does not exist. For example, a

weight of zero doesn’t exist; an age of zero doesn’t exist. On the other hand, temperature is not a ratio scale,

because zero exists (i.e. zero on the Celsius scale is just the freezing point; it doesn’t mean that water ceases to

exist).

Examples:

Age.*

Weight.

Height.

Sales Figures.

Ruler measurements.

Income earned in a week.

Years of education.

Number of children.

*It could be argued that age isn’t on the ratio scale, as age 0 is culturally determined. For example,

Chinese people also have a nominal age, which is tricky to calculate.

ORDINAL, INTERVAL AND RATIO

/ Data Analysis

There are four measurement scales (or types of data): nominal, ordinal, interval and ratio. These are

simply ways to categorize different types of variables. This topic is usually discussed in the context of

academic teaching and less often in the “real world.” If you are brushing up on this concept for a statistics

test, thank a psychologist researcher named Stanley Stevens for coming up with these terms. These four

measurement scales (nominal, ordinal, interval, and ratio) are best understood with example, as you’ll

see below.

Nominal

Let’s start with the easiest one to understand. Nominal scales are used for labeling variables, without

any quantitative value. “Nominal” scales could simply be called “labels.” Here are some examples,

below. Notice that all of these scales are mutually exclusive (no overlap) and none of them have any

numerical significance. A good way to remember all of this is that “nominal” sounds a lot like “name” and

Note: a sub-type of nominal scale with only two categories (e.g. male/female) is called “dichotomous.” If

you are a student, you can use that to impress your teacher.

Continue reading about types of data and measurement scales: nominal, ordinal, interval, and ratio…

Ordinal

With ordinal scales, it is the order of the values is what’s important and significant, but the differences

between each one is not really known. Take a look at the example below. In each case, we know that a

#4 is better than a #3 or #2, but we don’t know–and cannot quantify–how muchbetter it is. For example, is

the difference between “OK” and “Unhappy” the same as the difference between “Very Happy” and

Ordinal scales are typically measures of non-numeric concepts like satisfaction, happiness, discomfort,

etc.

“Ordinal” is easy to remember because is sounds like “order” and that’s the key to remember with “ordinal

scales”–it is the order that matters, but that’s all you really get from these.

Advanced note: The best way to determine central tendency on a set of ordinal data is to use the mode or

Example of Ordinal Scales

Interval

Interval scales are numeric scales in which we know not only the order, but also the exact differences

between the values. The classic example of an interval scale is Celsius temperature because the

difference between each value is the same. For example, the difference between 60 and 50 degrees is a

measurable 10 degrees, as is the difference between 80 and 70 degrees. Time is another good example

of an interval scale in which the increments are known, consistent, and measurable.

Interval scales are nice because the realm of statistical analysis on these data sets opens up. For

example, central tendency can be measured by mode, median, or mean; standard deviation can also be

calculated.

Like the others, you can remember the key points of an “interval scale” pretty easily. “Interval” itself

means “space in between,” which is the important thing to remember–interval scales not only tell us about

Here’s the problem with interval scales: they don’t have a “true zero.” For example, there is no such thing

as “no temperature.” Without a true zero, it is impossible to compute ratios. With interval data, we can

add and subtract, but cannot multiply or divide. Confused? Ok, consider this: 10 degrees + 10 degrees =

20 degrees. No problem there. 20 degrees is not twice as hot as 10 degrees, however, because there is

no such thing as “no temperature” when it comes to the Celsius scale. I hope that makes sense. Bottom

line, interval scales are great, but we cannot calculate ratios, which brings us to our last measurement

scale…

Ratio

Ratio scales are the ultimate nirvana when it comes to measurement scales because they tell us about

the order, they tell us the exact value between units, AND they also have an absolute zero–which allows

for a wide range of both descriptive and inferential statistics to be applied. At the risk of repeating myself,

everything above about interval data applies to ratio scales + ratio scales have a clear definition of

Ratio scales provide a wealth of possibilities when it comes to statistical analysis. These variables can be

meaningfully added, subtracted, multiplied, divided (ratios). Central tendency can be measured by mode,

median, or mean; measures of dispersion, such as standard deviation and coefficient of variation can also

This Device Provides Two Examples of Ratio Scales (height and weight)

Summary

In summary, nominal variables are used to “name,” or label a series of values. Ordinal scales provide

good information about the order of choices, such as in a customer satisfaction survey. Intervalscales

give us the order of values + the ability to quantify the difference between each one. Finally, Ratio scales

give us the ultimate–order, interval values, plus the ability to calculate ratios since a “true zero” can be

defined.

summary of data types and scale measures

That’s it! I hope this explanation is clear and that you know understand the four types of data

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