An Easy Way to Reverse Code Scale items

by Karen Grace-Martin

Before you run a Cronbach’s alpha or factor analysis on scale items, it’s generally a good idea to reverse code items that are negatively worded so that a high value indicates the same type of response on every item.

So for example let’s say you have 20 items each on a 1 to 7 scale. For most items, a 7 may indicate a positive attitude toward some issue, but for a few items, a 1 indicates a positive attitude.

I want to show you a very quick and easy way to reverse code them using a single command line. This works in any software.

Rather than specifying each individual recoded value–a 1 to 7, 2 to 6, and so on, just subtract the values from a constant one value higher than the highest value on the scale.

For example if OldVariable is reverse coded and on a 1 to 7 scale, in SPSS, do this:

COMPUTE NewVariable = 8 – OldVariable.  (You can also do it in the menus in Transform–>Compute).

In SAS, do this within a data step.

Data scale;
Set scale;
NewVariable = 8 – OldVariable;
Run;

The value from which you subtract your old variable will always be one value higher than the highest value you have. So I subtracted my old variable from 8 because I have a 1 to 7 scale. If I had a 1 to 5 scale, I would subtract my old variable from 6.

You can see how it works:

8-7=1
8-6=2
8-5=3
8-4=4
8-3=5
8-2=6
8-1=7

If you only have to reverse code one item, this isn’t a big deal.  But I have found that data cleaning and creating new variables often is the step in data analysis that takes the longest. I use whatever shortcuts I can.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

cmg

Just a quick thanks from a survey researcher who was given a hard copy table set and that’s all. I was not a part of the design, and they had a ranked mean reversed. When will people learn that it takes a professional to design a survey!?!

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Dan Kuchinka

Duh….lol…I was subtracting from 7. Thank you Dr. Karen. Once I got help from you I realized who you were by seeing the book add under “Read Our Book”…I have it right next to me as I am writing this.

Great book when I was a student.

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Masoud Khamallag

Alpha still negative !!!!/ even after reversing the negative wording, the sample is 900, the question is multiple responses (includes 5 sub-questions) wither it is selected or not. what to do? please ?

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Student

How to reverse coding continuous variables?
Thanks

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SAGAR

My questions in negative form like how often you faced problem from dampness? Scale i used 1 never and 6 very often.. So most of answer came near 2 or 3… Then can i use reverse coding?

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Anna

If appears a negative factor loading in second order exploratory factor analysis, what I do? Can I reverse de coding of that first order factor? If yes, how I do that?

My main goal is to calculate the internal consistency of a second order factor, but on of the loadings gave a negative value…

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thush

how I categorical in 5 likert scale in this frequencies. 1 strongly agree
2 Agree 3 Neither agree or disagree 4 Disagree 5 Strongly disagree

Valid 2.00
3.00
4.00
5.00
Total 120

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MAL

I’m doing a pre-post test for students in a class using different methods for half the class sessions – same students. I want to compare which collection methods are received or appreciated the most. How can I use a paired t-test for this comparison?

MAL

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diana

Thanks! That saved me a lot of time.

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Tan

Hello.. can you teach me how to compute data which got question in Likert scale? how to compute the score to the answer as 1 = "Strongly disagree" , 2 = "Disagree", 3 = "Agree", 4 = "Strongly Agree"Thank You.

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ftreu

The way you propose is the quickest ro reverse the direction of an item. I use it often.

If you have missing values you have to complete the action with a new assignment for missing values.

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Karen

Good point. You’re creating a new variable so it does need new missing value assignments.

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Cynthia

Hello,

Agreed data cleaning is very challenging. So my colleague and I have followed the steps to reverse code into a different and new variable, then when we computed the recoded variables and other unchanged variables our output seemed wrong. Are there any additional steps we may have missed, I have made efforts to do research, but I am wondering if I am not using the correct language when research. Any guidance would help tremendously.

Thank you,
Cynthia

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Derek

Cool! Thank you very much!

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Ruth

Hello –
How do I label items on a sub-scale that were first (1) reversed scored by recoding into a different variable, (2) then were averaged (Transform > Compute, etc)? Do I use the label from the reversed scored items, or the labels from the not-reversed scored items? For example, of my 10 items on the IPIP 50-item scale, for “Extroversion” 5 items were reversed scored. When I get the MEAN of those items, in the Variable view, under “Label”, how do I label that new scale on a scale of 1 – 5? Thanks so much for your help!
Ruth

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student

this might work, if your intention is: high number on a scale is a good thing. but if your scale is supposed to measure sexist attitudes, you better inverse the positive worded items.

this equals a low mean value on the whole scale, indicating that those low on the scale are not sexist, those high are!

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Karen

Well, yes, that’s the whole point of recoding the direction of the scale.

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Lise

What if my categories have names like “agree” “somewhat agree” “somewhat disagree” and “disagree”? How do I keep the names without transforming the categories into number?

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Karen

Hi Lise,

You can still recode them, but you’ll have to do it the long way. Recode each old value into a new value.

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Roze

Thank you sooo much! So simple.

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Sheng

This saved me a bunch of time! Thanks!

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Karen

Awesome. 🙂

Reply

Ryan

So clever. Thanks!

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Jake

The method you have presented works well when the lowest possible scale value is 1. The more general method for reverse scoring would be:
reversed score = (minimum score) + (maximum score) – actual score

Reply

Karen

Ah, yes! Excellent.

Karen

Reply

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