Guide with Examples
Learn how to design effective screening questions for surveys and research studies, and discover the benefits of using them to improve data accuracy and representation.
Screening questions are a critical part of any survey or research study, as they help to identify and exclude respondents who do not meet the target population or research criteria. By filtering out respondents who are not a good fit, screening questions can help to ensure that the final data is more accurate and representative of the population of interest.
However, designing effective screening questions can be a challenge, as they must be carefully worded to avoid bias or confusion. In this guide, we’ll provide tips and best practices for designing effective screening questions, as well as explore the benefits of using screening questions in research studies.
Watch this video to find out what screening questions are and how you can use them with resonio to further segment your target group for free.
What are Screening Questions?
Also known as screeners, screening questions are types of questions asked in surveys with the sole intention of filtering out certain types of respondents from the sample pool. Screeners in essence prequalify certain respondents from a large pool of users, specifically targeting a given audience based on their interests, views and behavior. By filtering out what are deemed as inappropriate respondents in a given survey, researchers collect only the required feedback pertinent to their targeted audience, leading to concise and accurate data.
Screeners can either qualify or disqualify respondents from taking a given survey, depending on their answers. Consequently, they are asked initially, often during demographic screening, so respondents only see screening questions once they have decided whether or not to continue with the survey.
A perfect example to illustrate screening questions would be a hospital undertaking research into the side effects of covid-19, post-recovery. If a post-recovery period of at least 2 months after the infection is considered appropriate, then a screening question such as the following would be suitable:
“How long has it been since your recovery from COVID-19?”
- A – Less than a month
- B – 1-2 months
- C – 2-3 months
- D – 3-5 months
In the above scenario, in order to ascertain that only the right respondents fill out the survey, respondents who fill out options C and D are more likely to be suitable for the research. But outside filtering out unqualified responses, screening questions offer many other tangible benefits when properly designed. Since they eliminate respondents that do not fit a certain criteria, they reduce overall cost and time, which makes them popular with businesses seeking to reduce market research costs through limiting the amount of irrelevant, unusable data.
Many brands also use screening questions when seeking to survey their current target audience on a new product, features or even packaging. Nevertheless, it should be noted that when screening questions are deployed, the response rate can be low by virtue of user filtration. In this case, it may be prudent to increase the number of people accessing the survey so as to get closer to the number of responses desired.
Did you know that with resonio you can add screening questions at the beginning of your survey to ensure that you only ask your target group and do not pay extra for it?Learn more about resonio’s market research tool
Benefits of Using Screening Questions
- They help businesses and brands reach the specific target they want to survey
Screening questions ensure that all respondents meet the specifications of your target. When sending surveys through research panels, some of the target options may not be available, screening questions play a major role in confirming that respondents meet a give help your criteria.
- They reduce survey costs
In situations when paying for a panel of respondents, payment is often dependent on the number of people who take the survey. Screening questions filter out respondents whose responses are less valuable, helping you receive responses from those you value the most. Considering that you don’t get charged for disqualified responses, this helps you reduce costs.
- They help you analyze the response data, faster
Screening questions save you extra time that would be spent filtering out irrelevant responses since you only receive answers from your target audience. You receive only valuable high-level responses by default, making it easy to filter through and discover in-depth insights.
- They help eliminate the issue of respondents’ bias
Considering that most people who take surveys are not qualified to do so and may not have the knowledge on a given topic, screening questions remove such individuals from taking your survey, and put a higher standard on the quality of responses you receive.
- They improve the respondent experience
Screening questions help eliminate respondents that know nothing or have limited knowledge on the topic at hand. That way respondents are able to take only surveys that are relevant and worth their time, saving time for both respondents and researchers.
- Screening questions allow you to confirm your audience
People’s personal and professional situations can drastically change over time. They get older, marry, and have children yet their needs and desires keep changing. Screening questions make it easy to limit the respondents to your target audience and to ensure that your target criteria is up to date. This does not only increase the accuracy of your research, but also reduces costs.
Drawbacks of Screening Questions
- Potential bias:
If screening questions are not carefully developed, they may cause bias and may not select the desired participants or exclude groups that may be relevant.
- Restriction of sample size:
If the screening criteria are too narrow, the number of eligible participants may be limited, which may reduce the sample size and potentially result in lower statistical significance.
- Rejecting Participants:
Screening questions may discourage or discriminate against participants who may be willing and able to participate in the study but do not meet the established criteria.
Time and Resource Expenditure:
Developing and conducting screening questions requires time and resources, which may increase the effort and cost of conducting the study.
There are concerns about the ethics of screening questions, especially when dealing with sensitive topics such as mental health or sexual orientation, as they could potentially promote discrimination or stigma.
Potential errors in data collection:
If questions are not clearly and precisely worded, this may lead to incorrect responses or a high failure rate, which may affect the validity and reliability of the study.
Missing contextual information:
Screening questions can be misleading due to missing contextual information and may place participants in the wrong category or exclude groups that are actually relevant.
Screening questions may create artificial selection of participants who may not be representative of the overall population or target group, which may affect the external validity of the study.
Lack of flexibility:
If the screening criteria are too rigid, this may result in the exclusion of participants who could potentially benefit from the study, which may affect the internal validity and utility of the study.
Potential Effects on Sample Composition:
The way screening questions are developed and used may affect the composition of the sample by favoring or disfavoring certain groups, which may have implications for the repräsentativeness of the sample and the generalizability of the results.
Screening Question Types
Screening questions can differ depending on the industry in which a survey is being conducted or the behavioral choices of a target audience.
- Demographic screening questions
Demographic screening questions are part of market research, especially in market segmentation surveys which seek to give insights into gender, age, ethnicity, marital status, education, ethnicity, income levels, employment status, or household composition among other variables. Demographic questions are hence the most used screeners. There is a variety of questions to ask candidates in this category. However, the fact that they are put into boxes and endless Excel sheets doesn’t elicit the best feelings in most cases. In fact, respondents tend to often ditch demographic surveys quickly, especially after the first question. This is because some of these questions such as those on annual income are considered rude in some cultures. It is thus tactical when asking some questions.
- Behavioral screening questions
Also known as lifestyle inquiries, behavioral screeners are designed to help understand respondents’ typical routines. They limit the survey to people with certain behavior, such as how they spend their money or even time. The main objective of asking screening questions about one’s attitude, behavior, and decision-making process is to get deep insights into their real behavior so as to understand how to reach them.
- Industry-specific questions
Industry-specific questions are used in order to eliminate biased participants and those who have no specific ties to a given industry/ brand. These screeners are used to filter out respondents who may be biased, based on the work they do. In some cases, respondents may be biased because they work in the same industry or have ties with someone who does. It is essential to eliminate such respondents if trying to get honest feedback.
- Product or service-specific questions
Product or service-specific questions are best in cases when a researcher wants to better understand the potential customers for a product or service. These screeners eliminate respondents who are not targeted for a given product, increasing the accuracy of the research. By asking these questions, responses from those who are not the best fit for a given product or service will easily and quickly be filtered out.
Tips for Creating Screening Questions for Surveys
- Ensure to put screeners first
It is essential for all screening questions to go before the main part of the survey. Otherwise, it would be a waste of time for both you and your respondents in case it turns out that they don’t actually qualify as your target audience. So make sure to start with screeners before the rest of the survey.
- Use question types correctly
For starters, screening questions must be clear, brief, and unbiased. This is because general or vague screening questions will most likely confuse your respondents and also fail to disqualify those that shouldn’t be taking part in the survey. That’s why it is essential to clarify who the survey is for.
- Use the right number of screeners
Most often one screener question will suffice mostly because it won’t overwhelm your respondents and it will reduce the amount of time you spend analyzing the answers. However, you shouldn’t hesitate to use more screening questions if it will result in better quality of responses you get. After all, if the respondents are the right target for your survey, they should not find more questions too bothersome.
- Make sure to avoid yes/no questions
This is because people tend to answer yes and no questions without giving them much thought. Avoiding them will help reduce the chances of acquiescence bias, a context whereby respondents tend to agree with statements irrespective of what their actual opinion really is.
- Limit answer choices
When screening for a very specific answer, avoid providing respondents with many additional options which will be screened out. Disqualifying answers is how the incidence rate is determined, and a low incidence rate suggests a narrower, harder-to-reach audience. In fact, several survey tools charge more for lower incidence rates, as this means that the audience will be harder for them to provide.
- Try to avoid leading questions or questions that might be too difficult
Leading questions that contain subjective pieces of information inserted to push respondents towards one answer option is one major way to ruin the screening process. Another sure way to ruining the screening process is by adding questions that would make your respondents think too hard about the answer or feel stupid in cases where they don’t know the appropriate answer.
- Be sure to shuffle answers
Considered one of the best practices in writing good survey questions, screening questions should be shuffled especially in cases when they offer an unordered set of answers to select from. In cases when the answer choices are ordered, such as those in a Likert Scale, it is essential to reverse the order so as to provide some randomization while still maintaining the order so as not to confuse the respondents.
- Do not overuse
When used correctly, screening questions are powerful and a great way to narrow in on consumer behavioral attributes that may not easily be extracted through regular targeting. However, it should be noted that when too many questions are applied, incidence rate drops, respondents become confused and as a result, the final results may suffer as respondents become less representative of the total population. It is thus essential to try and use as few screening questions as possible to maximize a survey’s reach. Ideally three or fewer screening questions should be enough.
When you use screening questions, you improve the quality of your data analysis, the experience of respondents, and database. This in turn saves you time and money and also eliminates survey bias. For any survey, it’s very important to remember that the shorter the survey, the more responses you are likely to elicit. When properly designed, screening questions offer a number of benefits. Since they eliminate respondents that do not fit the criteria, they reduce overall cost and time. These questions are great for business seeking to reduce market research costs through limiting the amount of irrelevant, unusable data. Screening questions are important when you are trying to identify loyal audiences and desired behaviors.
However, it should be noted that when you add screening questions to a survey, the response rate reduces but this is fine since all the feedback you receive will be more valuable. In this case, you may want to increase the number of people you want to survey so as to get closer to the number of responses you originally had in mind.
It should also be noted that when too many screening questions are applied, the incidence rate drops, and respondents can become confused. Consequently, the final results will suffer as respondents become less representative of a total population. It is thus essential to try and use as few screening questions as possible to maximize your survey’s reach. Ideally three or fewer screening questions should be enough.Learn about further Online Survey Question Types
FAQ on Screening Questions
What are screening questions?
Screening questions are survey questions that are used to specifically target a given audience based on their interests, views and behavior. They prequalify respondents of a given survey and narrow down a big number of respondents to get answers from your target market.
What are the different types of screening questions?
There are different types of screening questions; demographics, behavioral, industry-specific, and product-specific.
What are the benefits of screening questions?
What are the benefits of screening questions?
How many screening questions should you ask on a survey?
It is essential to try and use as few screening questions as possible because when too many screening questions are applied, the incidence rate drops.