Nominal, ordinal and scale in SPSS

Nominal, ordinal and scale is a way to label data for analysis. In SPSS the researcher can specify the level of measurement as scale (numeric data on an interval or ratio scale), ordinal, or nominal. Nominal and ordinal data can be either string alphanumeric or numeric. Each of these has been explained below in detail.

In the primary research, a questionnaire contains questions pertaining to different variables. Some of those variables cannot be ranked, some can be ranked but cannot be quantified by any unit of measurement. While some can be ranked as well as can be quantified. Upon importing the data for any variable into the SPSS input file, it takes it as a scale variable by default since the data essentially contains numeric values. It is important to change it to either nominal or ordinal or keep it as scale depending on the variable the data represents.

Difference between nominal, ordinal and scale in SPSS

In SPSS input file, it is required to define the variables on the basis of nominal, ordinal or scale. At the same time, it needs to code the variables according to the categories those variables are divided into.


A variable can be treated as nominal when its values represent categories with no intrinsic ranking. For example the department of the company in which an employee works. Examples of nominal variables include region, zip code, or gender of individual or religious affiliation. The nominal scale can also be coded by the researcher in order to ease out the analysis process, for example; M=Female, F= Female.


A variable can be treated as ordinal when its values represent categories with some intrinsic ranking. For example, levels of service satisfaction from highly dissatisfied to highly satisfied. Examples of ordinal variables include a degree of satisfaction among the consumers, preference degree from very high to very low, and degree of concern towards the certain issue. Generally, it is preferable to assign numeric codes to represent the degree of something among respondents. For example 1=Highly satisfied, 2=satisfied, 3= neutral, 4= dissatisfied, 5= highly dissatisfied.


A variable can be treated as scale when its values represent ordered categories with a meaningful metric, so that distance comparisons between values are appropriate. Examples of scale variables include age in years, and income in thousands of Rupees, or score of a student in GRE exam. For example in a classroom of 60 students, each one would have given GRE entrance test, and therefore Scale is used to determine the average score for the class, or the highest and lowest score in the class so on and so forth.


Generally, for an analysis, represent all options in a close-ended questionnaire in the form of numbers by coding them. “Gender” can be “Male” or “Female” but do not give “M” or “F”. Define the options as 1= Male; 2= Female. Therefore we keep the option under “Measure” as “Nominal” only.

Importing data and creating datasheet in SPSSIntroducing data in SPSS

Priya Chetty

Partner at Project Guru
Priya is a master in business administration with majors in marketing and finance. She is fluent with data modelling, time series analysis, various regression models, forecasting and interpretation of the data. She has assisted data scientists, corporates, scholars in the field of finance, banking, economics and marketing.
22 thoughts on “Nominal, ordinal and scale in SPSS”
  1. Avatar tiku 2 years ago

    Hi.. my name is Tiku. i am a social work student. and i am doing my research on stress of students. what scale i have to select for measure stress among students? can help me to select a scale for my project?

  2. Avatar Shruti Datt 2 years ago

    Dear Tiku,

    There are different scales however, the objectives would be able to define which scale you would want to apply within your research. You can even combine two-three stress scales together.

  3. Avatar canaan chiradza 2 years ago

    Hie my name is canaan, a natural resources student am doing my research on climate change, can you assist me on how to go about on chi-square and correlation analysis, as well as on making decisions after analysi.

  4. Avatar Felix DARKO 2 years & 1 month ago

    I have really enjoyed this your piece of work. I am embarking on a rural social development workshop and I got stacked with the pre-coding but after reading your article, I am moving on with it confidently. Thanks a lot.

    • Avatar Sudeshna Chakraborty 2 years & 1 month ago

      Dear Felix,

      It is a pleasure indeed and an accomplishment to be able to assist researchers like you!
      All the best for your study.
      You are welcome to share your thoughts/queries on topics or areas which you need to us to work upon and keep assisting.

  5. Avatar abdirazak 1 year & 10 months ago

    hi my names abdirazak i am doing staff motivation research ,so when enter all my respondent data I have encountered problem about analyzis of data for example the frequencies table doesnot appear so can you help me.

    • Avatar Saptarshi 1 year & 4 weeks ago

      Hello Abdirazak,

      After entering the data, follow these steps for its descriptive analysis. In the ‘Data View’ of SPSS input file, click on ‘Analyze’ from the taskbar that appears at the top of the page. It will give you a drop-down menu. In that menu, Put the cursor (but don’t click) on ‘Descriptive Statistics’. Upon doing that, it will give you another drop-down list on its side. Click on the ‘Frequencies’ menu in that list. It will open a dialogue box. The box includes two boxes inside it. The one on the left-hand side contains names of the variables as you labeled them. Select the ones you want to analyze and move them to the right-hand side box using the arrow that appears in between the boxes. After this, click on ‘Statistics’ menu that appears on the side of the right-hand box. Select the ones (such as mean, median, mode, standard deviation) you need for your analysis from the new dialogue box and click on ‘Continue’. Next, select the item ‘Display Frequency Table’ appearing below the left-hand side box by putting a tick mark on it. After that, click on ‘OK’ and you will get frequency table and measures of central tendencies of the selected variables in the output file. Hope this helps.

  6. Avatar abira 1 year ago

    hi .. we code variables and only then we are able to work in spss . u mean to say the other options like ordinal or nominal that are given in spss are of no use ? we have to select all variable measure as ‘scale’ only since we have coded all varibles as 1,2,3 and so on?

    • Avatar Saptarshi 1 year & 4 weeks ago

      Hello Abira,

      To be able to analyze data in SPSS, the values of all the variables need to be defined or coded as you said. All the three measures (nominal, ordinal and scale) are of use and which measure you select depends on the variable itself and the way you coded it. It is well explained in this article. The nominal measure is used when the variable involves no intrinsic ranking (such as gender), the ordinal measure is used when the variable involves intrinsic ranking (level of satisfaction, utility level) but is not generally quantifiable by a unit. On the other hand, scale measure is used when the variable is measurable by standard units such as age, income level etc. SPSS by default identifies any variable with numeric codes as scale variables. You just need to change it to nominal or ordinal when the variables fall in these categories. Hope this clears your doubt.

  7. Avatar salda sam 1 year & 2 months ago

    hi…if I put about weight or height, i select variable measure as scale, it is true?

    • Avatar Saptarshi 1 year & 4 weeks ago

      Hello Salda,

      Yes, you are correct. When the variable under consideration is height or weight, you select variable measure as scale. This is because both height and weight can be measured in standardized units (height in cms or inches, weight in lbs or kilograms etc).

  8. Avatar le yi 1 year & 1 month ago

    Hi, i am measuring cyberbully and what type of measurement should i put? ordinal or scale?

    • Avatar Priya 1 year & 1 month ago

      You may use Likert scale questions, they are suitable for most types of exploratory researches.

  9. Avatar Ida Mikisa 1 year & 3 weeks ago

    Hello, how do I identify the most significant predictor >

  10. Avatar Saptarshi 1 year & 3 weeks ago

    Hello Ida,

    To identify the most significant predictor(s), you need to analyze the data in SPSS with the help of regression technique. For this, first identify the dependent variable and the independent variables (predictors). Then select the regression technique that is the most appropriate for your model. Linear regression is one of the most widely used regression techniques. When you run linear regression with the chosen variables, it will give coefficient values and significance levels for each predictor as output along with the model summary and analysis of variance. The most significant predictors are those which have significance values less than 0.01. Those predictors are significant at 1% level of significance. Conventionally, predictors with significance value less than 0.05 are called significant predictors (at 5% level of significance).

  11. Avatar Abhishek Bhattacharjee 1 year & 3 weeks ago

    In terms of inputting “Semantic Differential Scale” variables in spss, what will be the measurement for “Semantic Differential Scale?

  12. Avatar shahinoor bente khan 9 months ago

    i m shahinoor,student of msc in physiotherapy. i m conducting a thesis work title is task oriented physiotherapy along with conventional therapy for patients with stroke. my tools is berg balance scale, time up and go test and functional independent measure scale.what type of test should done?

  13. Avatar harpreet 6 months & 4 weeks ago

    hi, i am harpreet,my study is on construction of learning style scale where each item of scale have three options representing (a) for visual learning style, (b) for auditory learning style and (c) for tactile learning style and give 1 score to each preferred w option and total of highest a , b and c option will be preferred leaning style of the respondent, but the problem is I do not understand that how to do the item analysis of this type of scale. if there is use of chi square then how the selection of item process will going on. Please help me……

  14. Avatar izaz 3 months & 2 weeks ago

    hi my name is izaz
    I am doing a cross-sectional study and i have 7 variable age and 3 psychosocial issues age is divided in 3 group and is coded 1,2,3 and rest of question is has 5 coded which test i can apply

  15. Avatar Divya 3 months & 2 weeks ago

    Hi Izaz,

    The type of statistical tests which would be applied depends on the aim and objectives of the study. If you just want to analyze the trends then frequency analysis is enough but if you want to examine the impact of some variables over the other then regression or exploratory factor analysis could be used.

  16. Avatar maryam 3 months ago

    hi,i am maryam,in entering the data in spss for 5 point likert scale…how should i allot score.
    the scores are for Highlysatisfied(Coded as 1 in spss) -score is 5,satisfied(coded as 2)score is-4,neutral-3,dissatisfied-2,highly dissatisfied-1?
    should i multiply my reponse wid the corresponding score like HS =1*5=5 or just entre de code as ‘1’..please explain