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Pilot studies

Chapter 11, Page 265

Piloting and pre-testing questions

  • It is desirable, if at all possible, to conduct a pilot study before administering a self-completion questionnaire or structured/semi-structured interview
  • Piloting has a role in ensuring that the research instrument as a whole functions well
  • Pilot studies may be particularly crucial in relation to research based on the self-completion questionnaire, since there will not be an interviewer present to clear up any confusion
  • The pilot should not be carried out on people who might be members of the sample to be employed in the full study
  • If possible, it is best to find a small set of respondents who are comparable to members of the population from which the sample for the full study will be drawn
  • Open questions of the kind used in qualitative interviewing may also benefit from piloting and have a useful role in relation to the formulation of fixed-choice questions in structured interviews and self-completion questionnaires
  • Since the self-completion questionnaire is by definition self-administered then the importance of piloting is even more crucial to effective question design and reliable data collection than with the structured interview

Pilot Studies in Survey Research

  • Can use open questions to generate fixed-choice answers in studies employing mainly closed questions
  • Can provide interviewers with some experience of, and greater confidence in, using an interview schedule
  • Allow questions where (virtually) everyone replies in the same way to be identified
  • May identify questions that make respondents feel uncomfortable or cause them to lose interest at certain junctures
  • May identify questions that seem not to be understood or questions that are often not answered
  • May determine the adequacy of instructions to interviewers or to respondents completing self-completion questionnaires
  • May identify how well the questions flow and whether it is necessary to move some of them around

Web link: - 'The importance of pilot studies', by Edwin R. van Teijlingen and Vanora Hundley from Social Research Update, Department of Sociology, University of Surrey, good discussion of rationales for, procedures and problems in pilot studies.