5 common mistakes when writing screener questions and how to avoid them

Some quick tips on writing better screeners

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By Ace Bevacqua, February 19, 2020

Writing screener questions.

It’s an everyday part of life as a UXer or researcher of any kind, really. And at first glance, screeners seem straightforward enough. Draft up some questions that help to either qualify or disqualify people from taking part in your research, whether that’s a survey, an interview or something in between.

At Askable, we live and breathe screeners. Our product is essentially based around them and after having fulfilled thousands of bookings and finding hundreds of thousands of people for these bookings, we have read our fair share.

So here we go – 5 of the most common mistakes made when writing screeners – oh and how to avoid them 😛

  1. Using closed ended questions too often

What’s the quickest way of knowing if someone went on a holiday in the last 6 months… You ask them, right? “Have you been on a holiday in the last 6 months – Yes or No?”. Duh.

But actually, a question worded in this way is signposting the answer you’re looking for, which may lead to false answers! And also, the answer doesn’t give you any extra information about that person’s travel habits, etc.

So, perhaps a better way to ask the question would be: “When was the last time you went on a holiday?” Provide multiple choices. This also gives you that added info, like if it was a month ago or 5 months ago, in this case.

  1. Using open ended questions at the wrong time

Open ended questions in screeners can be great, but only for certain info. Avoid using them when you have a strict criteria. But instead, use them for getting inside your applicant’s head a bit more. An example would be to ask as a follow up to the example above “Tell me about where you went on your last holiday”.

Open ended questions are also fine, when the answers could vary wildly. A good example is “What is your occupation”. There are simply way too many possible responses to have as a multi choice.

  1. Using industry jargon

How many people in the general public know what EV stands for? It’s Electric Vehicle by the way.

Or how about the term ‘Financial Services’? Are we talking about a bank or payments company or an accountant?

Work off the lowest common denominator, assume the applicant doesn’t know anything about your industry. Because often, they don’t or they think of it differently to you. When we live and breathe a topic, it’s all too easy to forget that others do not.

  1. Too many screeners

We often write too many screener questions for a number of reasons. Sometimes we do it because we forget that screener questions are just that – to screen. Not to survey! Don’t start adding questions in there that are actually part of your research.

Other times it can be because our criteria is just way too narrow. Whatever the reason, a good rule of thumb is to never have more than 15 and the less the better.

  1. Not trusting the majority

We have learnt this time and time again at Askable – most people are good and honest! We even have a saying now for it – “default to honesty”.

Don’t get overly concerned that your screeners give too much away. Of course, keep it vague, but don’t go crazy. The 99% of people in our experience won’t take advantage of you. So serve the 99 and not the 1.

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