Screener surveys are a proven way to conduct more efficient and effective UX research. By filtering out the wrong candidates ahead of time, you're ensuring you only hear from the most relevant, qualified, and thoughtful respondents.
Read on for a step-by-step guide to writing a great screener survey. We'll share screener survey questions and examples, along with best practices that can save you serious time and money.
A screener survey (also called screening questions or just screeners) is a series of questions at the beginning of your survey that give you more information about the potential respondent, their characteristics, experience, and more.
They allow you to filter out the people you don’t want to take your survey (if you use them effectively when you invite subjects to apply to your research study)—so you can get more responses from the people you do want to hear from.
For example, if your survey is designed to learn more about how power users use your web app, you’ll want a screener that filters out new users and those who use your mobile app exclusively.
By eliminating those users from your survey, you can hear more from the users you’re looking for — and get more of the data you really need.
Related read: The complete guide to survey research
Screener questions break down into 4 main buckets:
Let’s look at a few examples of each.
Select your most recent annual income:
Have you ever used an app to find recipes to cook?
How often do you tackle accounting tasks for your business?
When was the last time you purchased shoes online?
Do you work in any of the following industries?
Have you worked in X industry?
How long have you worked in your current industry?
Have you ever used X category product?
How long have you used X product?
How many times per week do you log into N app?
Please rank your level of experience with our product:
The value of a well-written screener survey is pretty straightforward—you’re able to identify quality participants who can speak to the pain or problem you’re trying to understand.
Beyond that, a well-executed screener enables you to:
“When iterating on a product or service, you want to use feedback from your target audience, not just anyone who ends up in your survey,” consultant and researcher Kirsten Lee Hill said. “For instance, if I have a product for college students and I want to better understand their needs, wants, and experience, I don't want to seek feedback from a working adult in their mid-thirties.”
Screener surveys can be incredibly valuable, but they don’t have to be complicated or involved. Adding just a handful of questions to help narrow down your candidates makes a big difference if you do it right—and you can do that in 3 quick steps.
Pulling screener questions out of thin air won’t get you closer to the people you need to hear from, and neither will copy and pasting questions from someone else’s survey. To write an effective screener, you need to start by getting really clear about who you’re looking for:
What characteristics do the respondents you want to talk to share?
What field do they work in?
What are their goals?
What habits do they possess?
Do they currently use your product or service?
Are they power users or casual users? How do you define each?
Screeners are as much about weeding out poor-fit respondents as they are about identifying the great fits. That’s why you need to have a clear picture of the kind of people you don’t want in your survey, too.
Ask yourself the same questions from Step 1—from the perspective of the respondents you don’t need to hear from.
Having these characteristics in mind during Step 3 is a great place to start. From there, you can write screener questions specifically designed to spotlight the respondents you don’t want.
Once you have a profile of who you want to target (and who you don’t), consider that your roadmap for writing your screener survey. Each point listed above should have at least one question to weed out potential candidates who don’t fit that criteria and spotlight the people who do.
For example, let’s say you want to hear from people who’ve recently purchased a new home. Your screener might filter for that by asking:
Are you a homeowner?
And follow up with this question:
When did you purchase your current home?
Here’s another example: Let’s say you don’t want to hear from people who already use your product. Your screener can filter current users out with a simple yes or no question:
Have you ever used X product?
If your product has changed a lot, you can add a follow-up like this:
When was the last time you used X product?
You can also include what’s known as ‘red herring questions’ to weed out respondents who don’t have the expertise they say they do. Here’s an example from Lucid:
What is the standard markup language of the World Wide Web?
Red herring questions seem obvious to the type of respondents you’re looking for—but they’re far from obvious to people only pretending to have that expertise. So, you can automatically eliminate any candidates who answer incorrectly.
As you can see, a great screener survey doesn’t have to be super involved—but it does need to be targeted, clear, and free from bias. Here are a few tips to ensure your questions from Step 2 above will effectively screen out the wrong candidates.
One of the biggest mistakes survey beginners make is to phrase questions in a way that makes the answer you’re looking for obvious—in a way that leads respondents to the ‘right’ answer.
Broad and obvious questions often don’t actually help you eliminate any potential candidates. A question like “Do you wear red shoes?” for example, isn’t that useful—because you’ll find nearly everyone says they wear red shoes.
Here’s another example of what not to do:
On a scale of 1-10, how much do you love using our mobile app?
This question leads respondents to a particular point of view—that they love your app and it’s easy for them to use.
Ask this instead:
On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being ‘extremely difficult’ and 10 being ‘effortless’, please rate your experience using our mobile app.
To find the most qualified respondents, make sure you’re asking for information in multiple ways. For example: you might ask whether they wear shoes at all, or what kinds of shoes they wear. Then ask what color of shoe they like to wear, what color they’re wearing right now, and which colors they currently own.
It’s important to ask demographic questions so that you can understand who you’re talking to. But once you get beyond the basics, focus your attention on the behavioral and qualitative screener questions that will add vital context to your survey.
While closed questions ensure your screener is quick and easy for people to fill out, you should always include at least one open-ended question in every screener survey.
Why? Because you aren’t just looking for respondents who fit your profile — you’re also looking for people who will provide thoughtful answers to your survey. Those are the respondents worth their weight in Dogecoin.
Give them an opportunity to show that with an open-ended screener question, so you can filter in attentive respondents and filter out more flippant candidates.
A well-written screener ensures you spend less time wading through useless survey responses and more time putting ultra valuable insights to good use in your UX. With the tips above, you’re ready to get started.
Creating screener surveys is super easy using Great Question and our guided templates — click here to get started at GreatQuestion.co.
Looking for a little help with your screener survey? Feel free to send them to me for review.
Ned is the co-founder and CEO of Great Question. He has been a technology entrepreneur for over a decade and after three successful exits, he’s founded his biggest passion project to date, focused on customer research. With Great Question he helps product, design and research teams better understand their customers and build something people want.