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Screener Questions to Find Great Research Participants

9 min read
Ahmad Benny

Written by Ahmad Benny

18 April, 2023

Recruiting participants for user experience research is a formidable hurdle in any burgeoning project. It can be a lengthy, tedious process — full of rejections, reschedules, and no-shows.

But, one foolproof way to guarantee your UX research study proceeds smoothly with little fuss is to filter out the bad apples early on. 

That’s where screener questions come in.

Screener questions are the gatekeepers of the UX research recruitment process. They act as a filter that prevents unqualified or otherwise unsuitable participants from participating in your study. 

That means you won’t have to spend ages trawling through hundreds of applications just to find a few good ones or dealing with the disappointment of participants dropping out midway.

If you want to know how to draft the perfect screener questions that help you find the cream of the crop, then read on!

What Are Screener Questions?

Screening questions (also known as “screeners”) are what stand between you and a bunch of unreliable, unengaged participants. They have targeted questions that potential participants answer before they can take part in your UX research study.

The questions help you gain valuable insights into the participants’ background, experience, and overall suitability for the project. Then, based on their answers, you can decide if they’re a good fit and ‘screen out’ those who don’t fit the bill.

Screener questions generally come in two varieties –

Open-ended Screener Questions

Open-ended questions are great for capturing freeform responses in a UX research study. They help uncover the ‘why’ behind a particular behavior, feeling, or opinion.

Just like how life coaches ask open-ended questions to uncover the root of an issue, UX researchers can use these questions to encourage potential participants to open up and share candidly about the “why” behind their actions and experiences. This helps you gain a deeper understanding of your participants, as well as their preferences, values, beliefs, and motivators.

Closed-ended Screener Questions

While open-ended screener questions help you understand the ‘why,’ closed-ended questions answer the ‘what’ of a particular situation. They have limited possible answers, like yes/no options, multiple choice questions, and rating scales.

These screener questions help test assumptions, uncover patterns, and gather quantitative data. You can use them to determine whether participants have the skills or expertise required to participate in your UX research study or have prior experience with a particular product or technology.

How to Craft Effective Screener Questionnaires?

Crafting effective screener surveys is an art form in itself. You’ve got to be careful to strike the perfect balance between being too lenient (leading to unreliable data and participants) and too strict (which means you end up screening out all the good participants too). That’s why it helps to arm yourself with the right knowledge before you begin. Here are some tips to get you started: 

Identify The Broader Themes of Your UX Research:

Establishing your research goals is essential before you start drafting your screener questions. That means taking a step back and thinking about the purpose of your study, the types of participants you need, and the insights you hope to gain. 

These goals will help you nail down the details of your screener survey, such as which questions to ask, what type of answer options to include, and so on. For example, if you’re researching customer checkout experiences, you’ll want to ask participants whether they’ve ever completed an online purchase, how frequently they shop online, and other related questions. 

Know your ideal participant:

Without a clear definition of your target persona, writing effective screener questions will be impossible. Take a close look at the target audience criteria and pinpoint the exact demographics, attitudes, behaviors, or contexts that would make a participant eligible for your study.

For example, suppose you’re product testing mobile gaming apps. In that case, you’ll want your screener to target participants who frequently play mobile games for at least 20 minutes a day and are familiar with the design of current gaming apps. You can use this profile info to fine-tune your screener questions and really hone in on the right participants. 

Stay Away from Leading Questions:

Leading questions suggest a certain response or entice the participant to choose a particular answer. But your screener survey won’t be helpful if all it does is reinforce your own assumptions—so resist the temptation to lead your respondents in a specific direction.

Instead, use neutral wording that allows participants to answer freely and honestly. Try to be as impartial as possible and avoid using phrases like “Don’t you think” or “Wouldn’t you agree?”. For example, a question like “Do you think this product is easy to use?” could be rephrased to “How would you rate your experience using this product?” This allows participants to answer based on their own experience rather than a suggestion.

Be careful of what you reveal:

Screening questions that make the purpose of the study obvious can lead to distorted responses from participants. Even if you don’t necessarily reveal the product or service you are researching, giving away too much background info in your screener questions can still tip participants off and make them more likely to exaggerate their responses or give you the answers they think you want to hear.

The aim is to give potential participants enough context to understand the study without revealing the specifics. That’s why it helps to be vague and broad in your screener survey’s phrasing. For instance, if you’re researching a mobile gaming app, instead of telling them it’s an app for mobile gamers, you might say it’s a study about mobile entertainment.

Arrange your questions logically:

The order of your screener questions matters. Like any other type of survey, your screener should follow a logical flow. That means grouping related questions together and ordering them from highest priority to lowest.

For example, if you’re conducting a study on airline travel, you should start by asking about the participant’s experience level with air travel. Then, you can follow it up with a question about the frequency of their trips or which airlines they usually fly. That way, you can quickly eliminate any participants who don’t meet the criteria and steer them toward the end of the survey. 

Examples of Screener Questions

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The questions you’ll include in your screener survey will depend on the purpose of your study and the criteria you’re looking to filter for. But if you need an extra dose of inspiration, here are a few sample screener questions to help guide your own survey design. 

I. Demographic 

Demographics are helpful for understanding who your participants are and what their backgrounds look like.

  • What is the highest level of education you have completed?
  • What is your current employment status?

II. Firmographic 

Occupational questions can help you learn more about the type of jobs your participants have and how their work experience may influence their responses.

  • What industry are you currently working in?
  • Which job title best describes you?

III. Product Proficiency

Questions around product or service familiarity can help you determine whether participants have used it before and how knowledgeable they are about it.

• On a scale from 1 to 5, how knowledgeable would you say you are about (name of the product)?

• Which of these tools have you used in the past? (Select all that apply)

IV. Frequency of Use or Action

These questions help you assess how often participants do a particular task or action, which is especially useful when you’re looking to screen for users who regularly do something or used to behave in a certain way and then discontinued it.

• How often did you use (name of the product) in the past month? 

• When was the last time you used (name of the product)? 

V. Technical Know-how

If your research involves advanced or new technology, you may want to screen participants based on their technical comfort level or expertise with the technology involved.

• On a scale from 1 to 5, how comfortable are you with using (name of technology)?

• How much experience do you have with (name of technology)?

Tools to Help You Conduct Screener Surveys

Once you have your survey questions drafted up, you’ll need the help of reliable and easy-to-use tools to create, distribute and analyze your screener study. Here are a few suggestions to help with the task:

Survey Conducting and Distribution Platform

Of course, you can’t conduct a screener survey without a survey platform. A good survey platform should provide intuitive survey design tools and options to customize your surveys. This makes it easier to add and remove questions, create surveys from pre-existing templates, and test your survey before sending it out. 

The survey platform should also offer a wide range of distribution options to ensure your surveys reach the right audience in the most convenient and cost-effective way possible. It should also provide robust reporting and analysis tools to help you get the most out of your data. 

Task Management Apps

You can’t coordinate and monitor all the elements of your screener survey on your own. That’s why you need to make use of task management apps. As the name suggests, these apps enable you to keep track of all tasks related to your screener study in one place. Task management apps also allow you to set deadlines and assign tasks to team members. This makes it easier for you to monitor the progress of your study and ensure that things are running smoothly.

You’ll find plenty of premium task management apps available on the market. Explore your options and find a tool that best suits your needs. But if you don’t have the budget to invest in a fancy tool or the time to get your team acquainted with a new app, then you can always rely on the all-powerful Google Sheets to keep track of your tasks. Google Sheets is an excellent alternative for teams that don’t need all the bells and whistles of premium task management solutions. Just choose a suitable template from the vast collection of Google Sheets templates available online and start tracking your tasks right away.

Workflow Automation Software

With workflow automation software, you can create automatic triggers that will take action on your behalf and help streamline the search for qualified participants for your screener survey. This means you won’t have to manually go through every response to send participants down different paths based on their answers.

For example, you could integrate your chosen automation tool with your survey platform and set up a rule that automatically disqualifies participants who answer “No” to a specific question. Or route participants to different surveys or tasks in your study based on their answers. 

Usability Testing Tools

If you want to incorporate usability testing into your screener survey, then a tool like Loop11 would come in handy. These tools enable you to quickly capture user feedback on prototypes, wireframes, and other designs. 

Usability testing tools provide a suite of features like click maps, heatmaps, user recordings, and more that help you better understand how participants interact with the prototype or design being tested. Plus, most usability testing tools also come with built-in integrations to popular UX research and survey platforms, making switching between your study’s survey and testing stages effortless.

Survey Analysis Programs

Gone are the days when you had to manually analyze survey data. Today’s tech-driven world has several tools that make data analysis a breeze. Disruptive trends like artificial intelligence and machine learning have led to the development of many robust data analysis tools.

Using survey data analysis tools, you can automatically sift through your open-ended survey responses and extract insights from them in a matter of seconds. Some survey analysis programs even come with pre-designed templates to help you quickly analyze text responses by employing keyword extraction, topic analysis, and sentiment analysis techniques. This eliminates the need for manual analysis of text responses and gives you a much clearer view of your survey results.

Weed Out the Wrong Candidates With Screener Questions

Finding the best participants for your UX research project starts with crafting effective screener questions. With the right questions, you can effortlessly weed out the wrong participants and ensure that your study is successful from the very start. So don’t skimp on this important step — put in the time and effort to make sure your screener questions are up to scratch!

Ahmad Benny

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