Using Screening Questions to Find the Right Audience

What Is a Screening Question? How Should You Use It to Find Your Target Audience?

A screening question is one of the most useful tools in survey audience targeting. Whether you already have a specific set of respondents in mind , or are trying to reach a new audience, screening questions – when properly designed – can “filter out” those users who are not relevant to your target sample.

What is a Screening Question?

A screening question is a question placed at the beginning of the survey, designed to qualify or not a respondent from taking the survey, depending on the answer they give. It is one of the most important tools available to researchers who are looking to identify the right audience that holds the valuable insights that are among the objectives of the study.

Screening questions can be tailored to find a specific sample based on different criteria, such as:

A specific population, for example, parents of 3 or more children. See an example of a Screening question that would help you target this population:

“What best describes your family situation?”

I have one child

I have two children

I have three or more children

I have no children

People with certain opinions. Here is another example on how to get people’s honest opinion on important issues:

“Do you support or oppose abortion?”

I believe in women’s right to abortion

I am pro-life

I am undecided/have no opinion

People with specific behaviors. See an example of a Screening question that would help you identify smokers, for example:

“What best describes you?”

I currently smoke up to 1 pack a day

I currently smoke 1 pack or more a day

I currently use vaping technology

I currently chew tobacco

I do not smoke

Or even people with similar experiences. Here’s how:

“How did you spend Super Bowl night?”

I watched at home

I watched at a bar

I didn’t watch

You should not use “Yes” or “No” answers, as this may lead to false-positives. Make the user sort through a few answers, and then you can select specific criteria of who should take your survey.

What are the benefits of screening questions?

Screening questions, when properly designed, can reduce cost – by eliminating respondents who don’t match certain criteria from taking a survey.

Screening questions can improve data quality and analysis by reducing the time it takes to filter out unwanted participants. E.g. If you want responses from people who are not routine survey-takers to get a pure response, you may ask “Have you taken an online survey in the past 6 months?”

A well formulated screening question will reduce respondent bias – by disqualifying those who don’t answer a question in a certain way, or aren’t knowledgeable about a subject. For example, If you are looking for people without a college degree, you may ask “Do you have a 2-year, 4-year or other advanced degree?” and only accept the negative response.

A screening question will also manage the respondent’s expectations – to be specific about what the survey is about, and whether the respondent qualifies. E.g. A survey about beagles is very specific, vs a survey about “pets” where they may not want to answer questions on cats.

Screening questions establish the foundation for valid and reliable data collection, and can maximize the likelihood of obtaining honest answers related to your survey objectives.

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