Don�t Skip The Pretest

When schedules surrounding a research project are demanding, a common suggestion is to cut short or even do away with the pretest, in which a relatively small number of respondents, typically between 25 and 75, are surveyed. But the pretest serves several purposes which warrant paying it due attention, even when the time frame is tight.

From the standpoint of the client, the pretest offers an opportunity to improve the survey instrument.�This is especially true in the case of phone surveys, where clients can listen to phone calls. Monitoring the pretest offers opportunities to:

  • Identify potential problems with the survey.�These are brought to light when respondents get confused by a particular terminology or phrasing of a question.�Sometimes, interviewers experience problems such as needing to repeat questions and needing to correct misinterpretations of questions.

  • Identify additional opportunities to collect feedback regarding different aspects of the survey topic that had not yet been considered.�This often occurs in sections of the survey where the respondents want to say more or volunteer other information during the interview.

The pretest also allows researchers to avoid costly miscues by identifying any programming or other related data collection issues that might otherwise only be identified upon completion of the study. Any potential issues either in survey design, programming, or data collection are much more manageable if identified after 30 completed surveys as opposed to 300.

From a statistical standpoint, no matter how talented the researcher, the pretest will often bring to light potential sources of bias and error in the survey design.

The pretest also can be used to narrow a larger list of attributes regarding a desired topic to a much smaller set, dropping weaker items off the list before the survey is fielded to the larger sample.

Other purposes of the pretest are to see if respondent interest is aroused by the survey, if respondent attention can be maintained and if the survey has a natural flow.

When all is said and done, if the resulting survey changes are deemed substantial enough, often a second pretest is warranted in order to do some last polishing and trimming of the survey instrument.

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