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Nominal: Categorical data and numbers that are simply used as identifiers or names represent a nominal scale of measurement. Numbers on the back of a baseball jersey and your social security number are examples of nominal data. If I conduct a study and I'm including gender as a variable, I may code Female as 1 and Male as 2 or visa versa when I enter my data into the computer. Thus, I am using the numbers 1 and 2 to represent categories of data.

Ordinal: An ordinal scale of measurement represents an ordered series of relationships or rank order. Individuals competing in a contest may be fortunate to achieve first, second, or third place. first, second, and third place represent ordinal data. If Roscoe takes first and Wilbur takes second, we do not know if the competition was close; we only know that Roscoe outperformed Wilbur. Likert-type scales (such as "On a scale of 1 to 10, with one being no pain and ten being high pain, how much pain are you in today?") also represent ordinal data. Fundamentally, these scales do not represent a measurable quantity. An individual may respond 8 to this question and be in less pain than someone else who responded 5. A person may not be in exactly half as much pain if they responded 4 than if they responded 8. All we know from this data is that an individual who responds 6 is in less pain than if they responded 8 and in more pain than if they responded 4. Therefore, Likert-type scales only represent a rank ordering.

Interval: A scale that represents quantity and has equal units but for which zero represents simply an additional point of measurement is an interval scale. The Fahrenheit scale is a clear example of the interval scale of measurement. Thus, 60 degree Fahrenheit or -10 degrees Fahrenheit represent interval data. Measurement of Sea Level is another example of an interval scale. With each of these scales there are direct, measurable quantities with equality of units. In addition, zero does not represent the absolute lowest value. Rather, it is point on the scale with numbers both above and below it (for example, -10degrees Fahrenheit).

Ratio: The ratio scale of measurement is similar to the interval scale in that it also represents quantity and has equality of units. However, this scale also has an absolute zero (no numbers exist below zero). Very often, physical measures will represent ratio data (for example, height and weight). If one is measuring the length of a piece of wood in centimeters, there is quantity, equal units, and that measure cannot go below zero centimeters. A negative length is not possible.

The table below will help clarify the fundamental differences between the four scales of measurement:

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