Using Screening Questions to Find the Right Audience

What Is a Screening Question? How Do You Use It to Find Your Target Audience?

The screening question is one of the most useful tools to help you find the target audience for your survey. Whether you have a list of users you want to respond, or you are trying to reach a new audience, screening questions – when properly designed – can “filter out” those users who are not relevant to your target sample.

What is a Screening Question?

A screening question is a question placed at the beginning of the survey that is designed to qualify, or disqualify a respondent from taking the survey, depending on their answer. It is one of the most important tools a researcher has to identify the right sample that will provide valuable insights that meet the objectives of the study.

Screening questions can be tailored to find a specific sample based on different criteria, such as

A specific population – Parents of 3 or more children

“Do you have children?”

Yes – 1

Yes – 2

Yes – 3 or more



People with certain opinions – “Do you support or oppose abortion?”

I believe in women’s right to abortion

I am pro-life

I am undecided/have no opinion


People with specific behaviors  – “Are you a smoker?”

Yes – up to 1 pack a day

Yes – 1 pack or more a day

No – I use vaping technology

No – I chew tobacco

No – I don’t use any tobacco products


Or even people with similar experiences – “Did you watch the Super Bowl?”

Yes – I watched at home

Yes – I watched at a bar

No – I didn’t watch


You want to try to avoid questions with “Yes” or “No” answers, as this may lead to false-positives. Make the user sort through a few answers, and then you can select specific criteria of who should take your survey.


What are the benefits of screening questions?

Screening questions, when properly designed, can reduce cost – by eliminating respondents who don’t match certain criteria from taking a survey.

Screening questions can improve data quality and analysis by reducing the time it takes to filter out unwanted participants. E.g. If you want responses from people who are not routine survey-takers to get a pure response, you may ask “Have you taken an online survey in the past 6 months?”

A well formulated screening question will reduce respondent bias – by disqualifying those who don’t answer a question in a certain way, or aren’t knowledgeable about a subject. For example, If you are looking for people without a college degree, you may ask “Do you have a 2-year, 4-year or other advanced degree?” and only accept the negative response.

A screening question will also manage the respondent’s expectations – to be specific about what the survey is about, and whether the respondent qualifies. E.g. A survey about beagles is very specific, vs a survey about “pets” where they may not want to answer questions on cats.


Screening questions establish the foundation for valid and reliable data collection, and can maximize the likelihood of obtaining honest answers related to your survey objectives.