Rule #1 When Writing Screener Questions for Your Survey

Screener questions are the gate-keepers of your market research surveys. They sit at the beginning of your survey instrument, and they disqualify anyone who you don’t want to hear from.

Poorly-designed screener questions will undermine the entire purpose of your survey project. They will let the wrong people into your survey, diminishing the accuracy of your data—that is, the extent to which your findings will reflect the feelings and preferences of your actual target market.

There’s more to writing screener questions, though, than just getting the “logic” right. The fact is, dishonest people will always be out there, trying to enter surveys for which they don’t qualify in order to be compensated. That said, here’s the most important thing to remember when writing your survey’s screener questions:

Don’t be obvious.

What does this mean? By way of example, imagine you’re trying to survey parents of children with asthma. The easy and obvious screener question would be something like:

Do you have a child with asthma?


This would be fine if all respondents were honest. But they aren’t. And the fact is, this approach makes the “right answer” obvious. Dishonest respondents who want to be compensated for taking your survey will know what to select (Yes) in order to proceed (because it seems unlikely that a survey would target parents of children who don’t have asthma).

So instead, ask a series of questions that don’t give away the right answers. Here’s an example we used in a recent survey project:

1. You have young children who still live at home.


2. Do any of your children have Asthma, ADHD, or Diabetes?


3. Which of the following conditions do any of your children have?

Asthma, Diabetes, ADHD

This approach doesn’t give away the “right” answers, and it has three points at which someone might disqualify. A much more robust approach than one simple question.

An additional quality control measure would be to disqualify anyone who selects all three diseases in question #3. While it’s possible that someone’s child, or children, has all three of these conditions, it’s highly unlikely. Better to just disqualify such respondents from your survey than risk allowing dishonest respondents to enter.

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to worry about all this. Respondents would simply be honest. But as surveys become more ubiquitous, dishonest respondents are finding creative ways to enter into surveys for which they don’t qualify. Robust screener question series combat this trend, and if written well, can almost entirely eliminate the risk of fraudulent responses.

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