How To Create Effective Screeners
Whether you’re experienced or just breaking into qualitative research, it never hurts to review what makes a screener effective in finding just the right people for a research project. It is a questionnaire that recruiters will use to find qualified participants for the study. It is called a “screener” because it is like panning for gold—we have to sift through many people to find the nuggets (qualified people) to be invited to participate. Screeners are used by telephone recruiters, or they may be online surveys as a way to automate the recruitment process. Automation helps reduce expense by eliminating the human effort of dialing phones and talking to potential participants. Keep in mind that automated screeners still have costs associated with them – most notably programming costs which may include quota control, skip patterns, and conditional questions (all of which are typical of any online survey).
All the rules/guidelines about questionnaire construction apply to qualitative research screeners. The most effective screeners have the following characteristics:
They Are Short
If a screener is too long, participants may hang up the phone with a recruiter or simply decide to discontinue completing an online survey. Ideally, screeners have no more than 10-15 questions, or they take no longer than 5 minutes to administer (online or offline).
They Are Clear about the Purpose at the Beginning
Tell participants that it is not a sales call. Explain that we are looking for people to participate in a market research interview, but we must spend some time asking some questions to determine if they qualify.
They Do Not Provide Hints that Encourage Cheating
They include an intentionally general description of the nature of the research so as to not tip off participants to answer a particular way so that they can be invited. For example, say, “We are putting together a focus group on beverages,” instead of “We are putting together a focus group to determine what consumers think of Starbucks.”
They Include Questions Up Front that Are Easy to Answer and that Quickly Eliminate People Without Taking too Much Time
For example, if we are looking for millennial females, we will first ask about gender and age so that non-millennial males are quickly excused.
They Include Need-to-Know Questions – Not Nice-to-Know Questions
Asking nice-to-know questions lengthens the screener, can be frustrating to potential participants going through the screening process, and makes the recruitment process less efficient and possibly more expensive. Keeping the focus on questions that help determine whether a person should be invited or not is best.
They Include Intriguing Questions
Interesting questions keep survey-takers engaged. The objective is to not lose them along the way due to boredom.
They Feature Mostly Closed-End Questions
Again, this is designed to help the prospective recruit move through the process as quickly as possible. Closed-end responses also make the task easier for the recruiter (no judgment required).
They Often Include One or More of the Following Question Types
- Product/service category use
- If they are not users of a particular product or service, they are unlikely to be useful.
- Brand(s) used more often and/or brands they would never use
- If the project is about a particular brand, we probably do not want individuals who reject the brand outright (unless, of course, the purpose is to attract those who reject the brand).
- Past participation in market research surveys, focus groups, and interviews
- Preference is given to those who are not considered “professional” participants, so that they approach the research experience with a fresh attitude.
- Employment in certain industries
- We typically do not want those who are employed in advertising, public relations, or market research. In addition, we tend to rule out those who are employed in the industry that the project is about, because they may “know too much” and not represent the typical customer for the product/service.
They May Include an “Articulation” Question
Such open-end questions are used to help ensure that a participant will be able to make a meaningful contribution to the discussion. Sometimes questions are asked that pose a creativity challenge to the potential participant (e.g., “List 10 ways in which rubber bands might be used”). Ideally, however, a question that is related to the product category will be more relevant (e.g., in a study of high-end golfing equipment, potential participants might be asked to demonstrate some core knowledge of current equipment). In markets where participants may have differing levels of proficiency with the language to be used in the group (e.g., English), the recruiter may be asked to judge the ability of the potential participant to be clearly understood. This serves as an additional articulation assessment.
Jeff Walkowski is the principal of QualCore.com Inc., a consulting firm providing traditional and online qualitative research services to a wide range of industries including health care, financial services, automotive, and information services. He was schooled as a quantitative specialist and entered the industry in the 1980s as a statistician. He later discovered his talents as a moderator and evolved into a qualitative specialist by the mid-1990s.