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  • Writer's pictureC.E.K. & Partners

Conducting an Online Survey or Focus Group? Here are 5 Reasons Why the Screener Matters.

Every day we design and conduct market research studies for privately owned companies to leading health systems and Fortune 500 companies. We recently shared tips for writing an effective online survey, which you can read here.

When collecting data and insights, whether for a quantitative online survey (such as a brand tracking study, an annual customer satisfaction survey or an NPS study) or for a qualitative study such as focus groups online or in-person, the participant screener matters.

What is a market research screener?

Screening questions are those that determine whether or a not a person qualifies (e.g., age, gender, purchasing habits) to participate in your market research study whether it is focus group or online survey. The idea is to filter out unsuitable candidates upfront and quickly.

For example, if you want to conduct market research study of moms with young children, a few screening questions might include:

S1. Please indicate your gender.

  1. Female

  2. Male

TERMINATE if S1 = b “Male”

S2. Are there children (under age 18) living in your household?

  1. Yes

  2. No

TERMINATE if S3a = b “No”

If the market research is focused on moms, males would not qualify for the study. And if the women who participate must have children under the age of 18, those who don’t would be screened out by the above questions.


1. Identify the right participants.

Whether you’re working from a customer list or tapping into a research panel, the right screener questions will ensure that your study has the right participants. You won’t want to have a woman without a child show up to a focus group designed to explore their preferences when seeking healthcare for their kid, and you definitely don’t want a dad showing up when it is focused on moms.

2. Stay on budget.

When designing market research studies, it takes time to schedule and recruit participants for a focus group, and it can get expensive when you consider recruitment incentives. Often it can cost $100 per person or even more. Screeners weed out the wrong people from being invited to participate, ensuring you are using your resources—time and money—wisely.

The same holds true with a survey. You don’t pay for someone completing a survey if they don’t make it through the screener, but without a screener you’ll end up paying for people to complete your survey whose responses are of little or no value. For example, if you want to interview dog owners, but a cat owner responds, their responses will not be helpful in evaluating a new flea and tick collar designed for dogs.

3. Eliminate bias.

Another critical screener question disqualifies those who may have deep knowledge of an industry. Their knowledge or expertise could bias their responses. If you want to ensure healthcare professionals do not make it through your market research screener, here’s an example of a question that is masked:

Do you or anyone in your family work in the following industries?

  1. Health insurance

  2. Banking

  3. Hospital

  4. Hospitality

  5. Retail

  6. Marketing

  7. Retail estate

Disqualifying respondents who select 1, 2 and 6 would eliminate bias. We eliminate those in advertising and marketing since they have more experience with market research studies.

4. Confirm respondents.

When working with any panel or existing customer list, you will want to screen to confirm status. As people age they change age brackets and marital status, add children and change jobs. Beyond ensuring the customer is still a current one, screeners allow you to confirm whether their personal or business demographics make the person a good fit for your research study.

5. Ease of data analysis.

When the right people are included in your market research study, your data and insights will be higher quality. With better data there’s less that needs to be filtered out, which simplifies the data compilation and analysis stages.


There are different types of screener questions. Here are just two examples:

Exclusion questions. These allow you to quickly weed out those who don’t meet the criteria to participate in your study.

Filtering questions. If you need a certain quota, say 50% females and 50% males, you will need a screener to help with that. As you reach the quota of 150 females out of 300 completes, you won’t want to accept and have to pay for completes from any additional females. At that point, they would be screened out.

DOs and DON’Ts: Tips for screener questions:

  • Do put screener questions up front, before the start of the actual survey.

  • Do include enough screener questions to ensure you qualify those who make the cut.

  • Don’t use leading questions. Instead make sure the questions are masked as in our example above.

  • Don’t limit screeners to yes or no responses, but seek more precision. If someone has bought a streaming video service, how often do they watch it? This will help ensure light and heavy users can filter your responses.

Ready to write a screener? Or still want more market research tips for your online survey or focus groups?


Looking for help with writing your online survey or conducting focus groups in Atlanta? We know market research requires expertise—that’s exactly why we’re here to help.

Let's talk. Contact us today.

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