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We are making a simple Likert scale radio group for feedback and will group it as follows:

Please rate the service you received:

  • Very poor
  • Poor
  • Average
  • Good
  • Very good

According to usability guru Jakob Neilsen, radio choices should have one option selected as a default. In a typical Likert scale like above, what would be the most appropriate to select as default? 'Average', as it is in the middle or 'Very good', which might appear presumptuous?

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up vote 14 down vote accepted

It is perfectly acceptable for a radio group not to have a default selection if you don't want to influence the user's response (such as in a survey). Microsoft provides this advice in its design guidelines for radio buttons:

Don't have a default selection if...The goal is to collect unbiased data. Default values would bias data collection.

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A possible alternative to this is to add a 6th button of "No Opinion", however I would personally agree with your answer. If one ended up in a situation where for whatever reason it was decided that there had to be a selection, this alternative would be a good compromise. – Charles Wesley Feb 21 '14 at 17:01
@CharlesWesley Yes, I agree. If the radio group is optional there would need to be an explicit response for that. – Matt Obee Feb 21 '14 at 17:07
Great, thanks for the Microsoft source – neil Feb 21 '14 at 19:54
Radio buttons without anyone being selected are a non-sense. The essence of button radios is to have one and only one possible choice. With your non-sense, a user would be able to tick one choice but then would not be able to get the form back at its initial state. The solution is this case is to have a default choice “No answer”. A more precise meaning is sometimes necessary, like “Don’t want to answer” or “Don’t know”. – Nicolas Barbulesco Feb 23 '14 at 14:30
@NicolasBarbulesco It's not "non-sense". If a radio group is mandatory, there is no need for a user to reset it to its original null state since the form cannot be submitted in that state anyway. If a radio group is optional, I think we all agree (as per the earlier comments) that there would need to be an explicit 'No answer' option. – Matt Obee Feb 26 '14 at 9:31

Classic testing theory suggests you should use an even number of options as people tend to plump for the middle one. Even numbers force a more positive/negative decision.

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Your answer is not too far away from the OP perspective, if you can rewrite to make it closer, it would be better. – PatomaS Feb 28 '14 at 14:03
This is an interesting idea, but sometimes there are situations where people don't care one way or the other about things so a middle option is useful. "How do you feel about kitchen tables?" for instance. Sometimes it's useful to be able to answer "I have no opinion on this question". – JonW Feb 28 '14 at 14:11
You are right, JonW. But in this case it would be better to have an option like n/a or don't know or other, but separated a little from the main question. This would tell the compiler not to include those answers in any averages or stats. Although they might reveal useful info in themselves - like unnecessary features. – Andy Mar 19 '14 at 12:20

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