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The challenges of market research screeners

09 Nov 2022
Young researcher sitting in front of a computer looking puzzled as he tries to write a screener

As a market researcher, your job is to collect insightful data from the right respondents. A well-designed screening questionnaire, or screener, can help you accomplish that goal by screening in profiles who are best placed to give you the information that you need and screening out people who don’t meet your criteria. In this post, we'll look at some pitfalls to avoid when creating market research screeners so you can avoid wasting time and missing opportunities to gather valuable insights in your research projects.

Include the right questions and quotas

A good screener is one that allows you (or someone else who is recruiting participants for you) to make an immediate decision on whether the person you are talking to is suitable for your research project. You therefore need to include all of the questions that are relevant to make a decision, but avoid adding questions that aren’t strictly necessary so that the screener doesn’t end up being so long that no-one wants to answer all of it.

If you have quotas for particular types of respondent, clearly specify how many of each type you need and avoid using vague terminology like ‘recruit a mix’. Be clear about whether your quotas need to interlock. For example, if you want equal numbers of people who buy your brand and competitor brands and you have four different age categories, do you actually need the same brand affinity split in each age group or just an even split overall?

Bear in mind that specifying multiple interlocking quotas tends to make the recruitment process slower and more challenging because a sequential approach to recruitment will tend to fill the easiest combinations first, leaving very rare (or potentially non-existent) combinations to find at the end.

Particularly with B2B research projects, think about what the key screening criteria really are. For example, is job title actually relevant, or is the person’s level of responsibility more important? Is it more relevant to ask about length of experience with their current employer, length of experience in that industry, or length of experience at their current level?

Place the screen-out questions at the start

Order your questions so that the ones which are most likely to result in someone being screened out come at the start while questions which gather background information come at the end. This is more efficient for your recruiters (they can make a decision sooner) but also more respectful of the people being screened (no-one wants to spend 10 or 15 minutes on the phone answering questions, only to be told they don’t qualify based on their answer to the final question).

From the perspective of efficiency, it’s ideal if you can determine after each question whether the person is still a potential candidate or not, but if you have to satisfy multiple conditions simultaneously then you’ll probably need to make a decision based on the combination of answers that someone provides. For example, we were asked to recruit people who book their own hotels with quotas for business and leisure travellers, age, gender, whether or not they had stayed in a hotel recently, and how they felt about the client’s hotel brand. We therefore needed to ask questions about all of these topics and make decisions based on all of the information provided.

Don’t tempt people to give you the answers they think you want to hear

Most people will give honest answers to the screener questions they are asked, but you can make it harder for people to guess what you are looking for by not including any obviously leading questions in your screener.For example, if you want to recruit pet dog owners, it’s better to ask “Which of the following animals do you keep as pets in your household? Dog, Cat, Hamster, Fish etc” than “Do you own a pet dog?”. If you are conducting your initial screening online, you may also want to screen people out after every three or four questions instead of after every question, to make it more difficult for people to game your screener.

Make sure your screener is appropriately localised

If you are conducting multi-country research, you are likely to need your screener to be translated - make sure you factor a couple of days for screener translation into your timeline. In addition, you’ll need to make sure that your questions are appropriate for each country. For example, any question that asks about company size or revenue should be adjusted to reflect the fact that the average size of company varies a lot from country to country, and any question that asks about household or personal income/expenditure should be adjusted to reflect variations in average income or GDP. Don’t forget to put monetary amounts in local currency, with the boundaries of any answer ranges rounded appropriately for that currency!

Other questions that typically need to be localised to take account of national differences include:

  • Questions about ethnicity
  • Questions about level of education
  • Questions that include lists of products or brands

Include a question to test articulation and creativity

Finally, if you are conducting qualitative research, it’s always wise to include an open-ended question to test how well people can articulate themselves - there’s nothing worse than starting an interview with someone who looks on paper to be the perfect respondent, only to find that you can’t understand what they are trying to tell you. If creativity is important to your research, you might want to ask people an open-ended question that forces them to use their imagination. Popular creativity questions include ones like “If you were an animal what would you be, and why?”, “Which famous person would you most like to meet, and why?”, “If you were asked to come up with a catchy name for your friend’s pub or bar, what would you suggest?”

At FieldworkHub, we always ask at least one articulation question over the phone so that we can hear how someone responds to this type of question on the spur of the moment. Telephone rescreening also allows us to check that potential respondents give consistent answers and establishes a personal relationship between them and our team, which helps with subsequent communications and reduces drop-out rate.
We hope you find these tips helpful next time you need to write a market research screener, or check a screener that someone else has written. If you need further advice on writing a screener for your project, please reach out to the FieldworkHub team.
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