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Scale-related Pet-Peeves

Blog #4


Identify the Source of Your Scales

This post is addressed primarily to scholars because they are the most likely to publish their studies. But, the suggestion is relevant to practitioners as well when they prepare reports of their work.

My main point is very simple: tell the reader who developed the scale you used. Is it original or did you borrow it from someone else? Did you borrow the scale intact or did you modify it in some way?

It is shocking how many researchers do not clearly identify the source of their scales or do not do it accurately. In more cases than I am comfortable with, I have found scholars who have provided cites that were either totally wrong or stretching the truth at best. By "stretching the truth" I mean that the cite provided is not really about the scale they used though it may be related to it, e.g., the information has to so with the construct or a related measure of the construct. The greatest abuse seems to come with phrases such as “modified” or “adapted.” Although those terms put the readers on notice that the authors did not borrow scales in tact from the cited sources, the degree of change made by the authors is usually unspecified. I believe that readers expect a strong resemblance between the original version and the "modified" version, especially when no details of the changes are provided. My guess is that giving authoritative cites adds credibility to what researches have done and reduces the likelihood that reviewers will ask authors for as much evidence of scale quality as they would if the scale was described as original. My suggestion is that if there is minor rephrasing of the items or the addition/subtraction of an item or two of a previously published scale then it is okay to describe one’s scale as a modification/ adaptation of the older one. On the other hand, if over half of the items are unique to the current usage then it should be described as original. Even in that case, however, users should give credit to the original developers by saying something like “inspired by a measure developed by . . . .” Of course, that raises a question in reviewers’ and readers’ minds about why you did not use the original scale. The authors should give the reason. As much as I don’t like recreating the wheel, there are good reasons for developing a new scale rather than using an previously developed one. (I won’t go into those reasons in this blog but hope to write something about it in a future blog.)

A related question I can imagine some researchers asking is, how do I know if a scale has been used before or who originally developed it? The easy answer is that the Marketing Scales Handbooks simplify the process, at least it is easier when it comes to the thousands of scales that have been used in marketing research for the last 30 years. If the scales are not reviewed in the books or found in the Marketing Scales database then, the search is more difficult. Scholars are expected to conduct a literature review of previous research bearing on their own and in the process of doing that they should have a reasonably good idea of how constructs have been measured before. The greater challenge may be for practitioners when they begin work at a company and come across legacy measures that have been used for years. There may be few if any staff around with knowledge of who developed them, why they were developed, or what their quality has been. There may be no priority to document these things. Having said that, I hope professional researchers view measurement to be important enough that records are kept so that it is clear to future users of those measures in a firm of their history and quality.

Finally, the worst offense is not giving a cite at all because it implies that a measure is original to the users. When it is not original then the offense is tantamount to plagiarism. Now, I don’t see our field as being too legalistic on this point at this time and I am not suggesting that we go that direction but I am expecting researchers in academia, if not in industry as well, to act professionally. Part of being a professional researcher is giving credit to the appropriate party for critical aspects of our research that are not original. Unlike in psychology where many scales are considered proprietary and payment is expected for usage, I have come across almost no scales like that in marketing. Extremely few researchers even claim personal copyright for their scales. So, while they don’t expect to be financially compensated for use of their scales, they would appreciate being acknowledged. It provides evidence of the impact they are having on the wider world of science which, in turn, may affect how they as well as others view the value of their work.