While it may not be the sexiest part of research and might conjure up images of a never-ending survey or a trip to the doctor, a screener can really make or break your project. At the core of any qualitative research study are the people with whom you talk. So how do you make sure that you’re talking to the right ones and not putting all that time in the field and gorgeous deliverables to waste?

1. Be Intentional and Keep It Simple

As you’re thinking about who you want to meet with and start sketching those initial specs, ask yourself what is essential and what will break your project. It’s easy to come up with a laundry list of nice-to-haves, but they can actually detract from your project.

A few years ago, I was working on a food project with a very long and robust screener. It seemed like we had everything covered, but it ended up becoming so narrow that nobody was qualifying. The client remembered a woman they had met with from a previous study who was exactly who we needed to talk to for the project. When we reached out to her to see if she would be available to participate, she too disqualified on the screener. By setting our criteria too tightly, we were missing out on even the best candidates.

Further, you need to be mindful of a respondent’s time. If your screener is too long, people will stop midway, and then you’ve greatly limited your sample.

2.  Go Deeper Than the Demos

Sometimes you’ll find people that are perfect on paper, but they might make for a tough couple hours in-person. Every screener should have at least one open-ended question with some follow-ups in order to make sure the respondent is articulate and able to answer questions with some depth. While screeners are often taken online, it’s important for this step to be done via phone.

At Ignite 360, we go a step further and have one of our “casting agents” do what we call a secondary screening or audition in order to make sure we are getting the right people.

3. Look for Behavior vs. Aspirations

While it’s easy to gather basic demographics, it can be tricky when you’re trying to get into psychographics. Writing attitudinal statements and asking how well they describe/don’t describe a respondent can be a useful strategy, but it’s important to make sure they are behavioral based. If you want to meet with fitness enthusiasts, you’ll need to make sure you get people that are actually living and practicing these behaviors. I might strive to work out every day, but if I’m really doing it once a month, I’m probably not the right person to talk to.