Screening Questions

Screening Questions

Survey studies have been using screening questions for a very long time now. However, many researchers are unaware of the many ways to implement these questions in a survey or their multiple impacts on a study. In this article we will discuss both the various benefits and ways to use screening questions in a survey. But first, let’s go over the basics!

What are Screening Questions

Screening questions are placed at the beginning of a survey in order to determine whether respondents or households have certain characteristics that would make them eligible to take part in a study. People deemed ineligible by these questions are then terminated from the survey. Used correctly, screening questions will allow the researcher to have a survey sample including only respondents that provide helpful information to the study’s research objectives.

Advantages to Using Screening Questions

Screening questions benefit survey studies in many ways. Most significant are their effects on a survey’s fieldwork costs, data analysis and level of bias. The following list explains the advantages of screening questions for these three parts of conducting a survey:

1) Lowers Cost: Most panel-based companies charge researchers based on the number of responses to their survey, fortunately many of these companies include the ability to use screening questions as a preliminary part of a survey in order to eliminate unwanted respondents. Being able to screen your responses will lower your costs dramatically, by avoiding wasting money on responses that do not provide input useful to your research objectives.
2) Easier Data Analysis: Data analysis can become needlessly more difficult and time exhaustive without proper screening questions. If your data includes responses from unwanted participants, these answers will have to be located and removed from the study before any results can be determined. This annoying step can be skipped if your screening questions remove invalid respondents before the data collection phase begins. This leaves you more time to analyse the useful data!
3) Eliminates Respondent Bias: Respondent bias is the thorn in the side of all survey researchers. Respondent bias occurs when participants answer questions incorrectly because of their own inability to provide accurate information or their unwillingness to be honest. Not only does this create error in the results of a study, but it is also hard to detect since a large portion of respondent bias occurs through an unconscious lack of knowledge on the respondents’ part. Screening questions can remove respondent bias by terminating potential respondents based on their level of knowledge or credentials in the given subject.

How to Use Screening Questions

The following list takes a closer look at four ways screening questions are currently used to terminate potential respondents from a study:

1) Survey the Correct Demographics: The first and most common method of using screening questions is to ensure that the correct target demographic fills out the survey. This is part of the reason why most surveys have preliminary questions asking for personal information like age, annual household income, gender, province or state of residence, etc. Each of these questions is used to develop a group of respondents that match the target audience of the study, and terminate any outlying candidates. For example, a study researching the current employment situation for youth in Ontario may include a screening question based on age as well as one based on province of residence.
2) Legal Issues: Many times, surveys will include screening questions because of legality and privacy issues. The most common screener used for legal reasons is age. Many organizations have strict rules to abide by when it comes to surveying children. For example, the Canadian Government requires the consent of a responsible adult before allowing a child (under the age of 13) to respond to a government funded survey. This is easier to deal with over the phone or through panels. However, online intercept studies randomly survey visitors to a website, making it impossible know details about the respondent beforehand. Screening questions allow you to cover your legal bases by eliminating unknown respondents based on preliminary survey questions.
3) Measure Credentials: It is not uncommon for researchers to target specialized groups and professionals in their surveys. These studies are usually very specific in nature and require strict screening in order to ensure only qualified people are allowed to respond to the survey. An example of a survey requiring a credential screening question would be one collecting information on dentists’ preferred brands of toothpaste. Of course, it is important that only dentists are allowed access in this study. Because of this, a screening question may ask for the date graduation and name of the school of each respondent attended to receive their dentistry certificate. Regardless, the credential screening question should involve a question that verifies or allows the researcher to verify that the respondent belongs in the study. Some other examples of surveys that may require a credential screener would be ones that need responses from veterans, doctors, business clients, etc.
4) Measure Knowledge: Some surveys require knowledge testing screening questions. This may be the least common form of screener, but can be of incredible use for surveys that need a sample with a certain amount of knowledge in a given subject. The difference between a screener question based on credentials and one based on knowledge is that the former asks for confirmation on the respondent’s belonging to a special group, whereas the latter forces the respondent to provide a correct answer to a question. Usually, knowledge based screeners are needed in situations where respondents cannot prove themselves to the researcher through some form of credential. For example, a survey studying the preferences of only ‘true’ hockey fans could implement a series of hockey trivia questions as screeners. This way only the most ‘die-hard fans’ will be able to give their input on the survey.

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