Using Composites

Composite scores represent small sets of data points that are highly related to one another, both conceptually and statistically. Combining and presenting these items as a single score reduces the potential for information overload. Learn more about Combining Measures Into Composites or Summary Scores.

Display Options

Some people just want to look at the composite score while others are interested in the item-specific details. Consequently, report designers may want to consider alternative ways of presenting composite scores and test them with likely users:

  • Display the composite score only.
  • Display the composite score along with a list of the individual measures or survey items they include.
  • Display the composite score as well as scores for the individual measures or survey items. While providing layers of information can be difficult on paper, it is relatively easy to allow users who want details to “drill down” into layers of data in a Web-based report.

Learn how to test alternative displays of composite scores with your audience in The Purpose and Process of Cognitive Testing.

Presenting Information in Layers

There is no hard and fast rule about which of the approaches above is better. What is most important is to use a “layering” strategy that provides the composite score first and doesn’t force users to look at the details if they don’t want to.

  • In a Web-based report, users may have the option to link to greater detail.
  • In a print report, the detailed measures may be on a page that can be skipped, right after the composite measures, or in an entirely different part of the document.

Learn more about layering information in a report.

Also in "Organizing Measures To Reduce Information Overload"

Page last reviewed June 2016
Page originally created February 2015
Internet Citation: Using Composites. Content last reviewed June 2016. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/professionals/quality-patient-safety/talkingquality/create/organize/composites.html