From Trial to Triumph: Harnessing the Potential of Pilot Surveys in Research

Pilot surveys help researchers flawlessly execute and fine-tune their research by ironing out any possible cause of errors or mishaps. Learn how to conduct successful pilot surveys with this article!

Tanvi Moitra
July 6, 2023
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Having a personal crystal ball to foresee the future would be great. But unfortunately, we can’t, making us prone to error and misguidance. In the research world, the best way to avoid mistakes is by conducting pilot surveys.

Pilot surveys help researchers flawlessly execute and fine-tune their research by ironing out any possible cause of errors or mishaps. Testing your survey before launching the final version can help you - 1) evaluate the efficacy of your survey, 2) get valuable insights into the feasibility of the study design, 3) identify any potential obstacles, 4) collect data seamlessly and 5) optimize the final survey according to the learnings. 

In this article, you will learn all about pilot surveys and how to leverage them to conduct effective and actionable research. 

What is a Pilot Survey?

A pilot survey is a survey that researchers conduct using a considerably smaller sample size as compared to the actual target audience. This mini-survey helps remove any potential obstacles and provides insights about the efficacy of the final survey.

What is a pilot survey?

Uses of a Pilot Survey

Pilot surveys can be used to -

  • Apply it to a smaller sample size that will not participate in the final survey.
  • Evaluate all the responses collected from this group as the first results of your study.
  • Use the pilot survey to ask questions about the respondent’s experience and opinions about the survey.
  • Address any issues after collecting and analyzing the results from the pilot survey. You can optimize your final survey and gather insights seamlessly.

A pilot survey will help you analyze if your survey-

  • Is respondent-friendly
  • Has any logistical issue
  • Requires any special training of personnel
  • Is accessible to all participants
  • Is prone to any data gathering issues


Advantages of a Pilot Survey

Pilot surveys are a great way to prepare for any foreseeable obstacles in your final survey. Here are a few other advantages of conducting pilot surveys-

  • Uncover any issues with the survey questions. For example- any negatively affecting survey questions that may trigger the respondent, beside-the-point questions that don’t provide useful information, usage of complex language etc. 
  • It saves you from a domino effect of errors, saving time, effort and resources. 
  • It helps you understand the efficacy of your research method and evaluate whether it is the right method for you.
  • Provides an opportunity for you to evaluate which research method will work for you without jumping head first with any popular method.
  • You can get more ideas about the kind of questions you want to ask for more targeted insights 
  • Helps you to identify and address any obstacles which may cause problems in the long term.

Disadvantages of a Pilot Survey

Conducting a pilot survey may be your best bet to avoid any troubles in the large-scale survey, but it is not foolproof. Analysis of pilot survey data is prone to inaccuracy and misinterpretation.

Also, pilot surveys are conducted on a small sample size of your target audience. Taking the data gathered as a benchmark will not give you the full-picture and may lead to poor decision-making. 

How to Conduct a Successful Pilot Survey

Conducting a successful pilot survey consists of 7 main steps- 

1. Planning

The planning phase is the foundation of your pilot survey. Set clear objectives, choose simple and easy to understand survey question types, identify the right target audience and sample size, choose the method of data collection and sort out other logistics. 

2. Designing

Designing a pilot survey needs to be an agile process as it is critical to provide a seamless survey experience to the respondents. In this step, you should - 1) develop your questionnaire and discussion guide, 2) ensure that your survey questions are aligned to provide valuable insights, 3) implement measure to increase reliability of the results, and 4) make the survey method easy to access, attempt and understand.

3. Implementing

Implementation entails recruiting the panel, gathering data and monitoring any issues that arise during the process. 


4. Analyzing 

Analysis of data is a make or break step. This phase entails cleaning and collating the gathered data, mapping patterns, eliminating bias and testing the validity and usability of the gathered data. You might consider using an online research platform to analyze data as it make the entire process way more seamless and quick. 

5. Interpreting

This step is crucial as it helps you make better decisions for the long-scale research study. You should chalk out the preliminary conclusions, identify the survey design’s strengths and weaknesses and optimize your survey accordingly. 

6. Reporting 

This step includes documenting all the survey data, collating and visually presenting key findings and insights and discussing the improvements and changes that need to be made. 

Sample Pilot Survey Questions

A pilot survey helps highlight the gaps and potential obstacles that might hamper your large-scale survey. The best way to get a few extra insights are by asking these questions at the end-

1. Length of the pilot survey

Evaluating the length of your survey can help you avoid fatigue in respondents and provide a better experience to them. It will enable you to make necessary changes like adjusting the number of questions, segment them into sections and make the questions more inclusive. 

For example, ask- 

“How long did it take for you to complete our survey?”

Try to keep the survey length below 5 minutes and ideally 3 minutes. 

2. Wording of the questions

The survey questions you ask should be simple and easy to comprehend. Using complex language and strange words will only foster confusion and lead to inaccurate insights. 

For example, ask-

“Did you feel that the language used in the survey was complex?”

3. Difficulty level

Choose survey questions which are easy to answer. Using difficult survey question types will lead to respondents dropping off and low response rates. 

For example, ask- 

“Did you find the survey questions difficult to answer?”

4. Respondent experience

Providing your respondents with a seamless experience ensures you get the maximum responses and reliable results. 

For example, ask- 

“What did you think of the survey design?”

“Did you have a good experience?”

“Did you like answering the survey questions?”

“How can we improve your survey experience?”


Pilot surveys are the unsung heroes in the complex world of research, where data is the key to unlocking insights. They discreetly pave the path for success. These small-scale tests enable researchers to improve their processes, spot possible risks, and guarantee the successful completion of their study. By utilizing the power of pilot surveys, researchers can gain insightful knowledge that strengthens research designs, and ultimately results in significant research findings. Remember the importance of the pilot survey when you begin your research journey because it will help you successfully launch your large-scale research confidently.


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Want to conduct lean and unbiased research? Try out Entropik's tech behavioral research platform today!
Want to conduct lean and unbiased research? Try out Entropik's tech behavioral research platform today!
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Author Bio

Tanvi Moitra
Tanvi can usually be found anxiously treading the office floor to get her content reviewed, here at Entropik. When not absorbed by researching and writing, she loves to read, go for a swim, play badminton, paint, and otherwise spend too much time bingeing on the Office and cuddling her German Shepherd, Whiskey. An absolute foodie, she would love to cook and bake for you and even give you the best dessert suggestions in the office.

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