Part 1: Maximize the Quality of Your Market Research Participants

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This four-part newsletter is dedicated to specific screener writing strategies that will help to enhance screeners in order to maximize the quality respondents for a qualitative market research study.

The execution of a successful and insightful focus group begins long before respondents arrive at the focus group facility. Overall success is heavily dependent on the initial stages of research and development that originates from the carefully chosen screener questions submitted to the market research firm charged with recruitment.

By the time these questions reach the hands of the project managers at the recruiting firm in the form of a screener, clients’ agendas, goals, and expectations are usually clear. While recognizing that a lot of creative thought and hard work has gone into the creation of the screener, it goes without saying though, no piece of work is ever perfect. Over the years, companies who offer recruitment services have seen the good along with the not so good and we would like to share some tips on how screeners can be formulated to find the highest quality respondents possible.

Part 1: Maximize the Quality of Your Participants

It is extremely important that all questions conceal overall research objectives. Keeping the topic of the study a mystery for as long as possible is ideal to eliminate participant guessing and data inaccuracies. Certain types of questions are notorious for giving this information away. For this reason, we suggest avoiding “yes and no” enquiries. These sorts of questions make it easier for respondents to discern what the topic may be, and adjust their answers even if their answers are not a true representation of their life so as to maximize their chances of being selected as a participant. This example below is an excerpt from a screener on the topic of “quitting smoking”.


Are you thinking about quitting smoking?
a. Yes [Continue]
b. No [Terminate]
c. I don’t smoke [Terminate]

This question inadvertently reveals that the topic of the study is about quitting smoking. A respondent who wants to sneak into the study may answer “yes” in order to make it past this question, even if he isn’t a smoker. There is a chance they are going to make it past this question, even if they aren’t a smoker. Knowing this information, they have a higher chance of knowing how to falsify the rest of their answers just to participate in the study.


What are your smoking habits?
a. I do not smoke [Terminate]
b. I only smoke when in social situations [Terminate]
c. I smoke regularly and I’m currently trying to quit [Continue]
d. I smoke regularly and am not currently trying to quit [Terminate]

Creating different scenarios makes it difficult for respondents to guess what the survey is about, which ultimately leads to qualified participants.

Another tip is to include questions that eliminate repeated participation. This is helpful because having respondents who participate in one or more studies of the same topic can bias the results of the research. Having previous knowledge can also affect the opinions of other participants in a focus group which can lead to inaccurate responses. A more challenging way to ask this question would be to provide a list of topics, and inquire if respondents have participated in any. Recruiters would terminate based on the answer that was applicable to the current market research study. For example, in a study about vitamins:

Which, if any, of the following types of research studies have you participated in during the past 3 months? (Select all that apply.)

a. Vitamins or health supplements [Terminate]
b. Pet supplies [Continue]
c. Refrigerated dairy products [Continue]
d. Salty snacks or chips [Continue]
e. Meal replacement, sports, or nutritional bars / shakes [Terminate]
f. None of the above [Continue]

Furthermore, we suggest that agencies that contract recruitment ask their recruiting companies how they are managing repeat respondents. It is important to make sure that recruiting companies have the right procedures in place to uphold high standards for qualified respondents.

Stay tuned for next month’s newsletter, about setting the stage for potential flexibility in the specs.