Taking off with a pilot: the importance of testing research instruments

Jane Brooks, Debbie Reed, Barbara Savage

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


    There are few published reports describing the implications, benefits and disadvantages of performing pilot studies prior to carrying out ‘live’ research, which might give the impression that pilot studies have minimal value. When pilots are mentioned in research papers, often it is simply stated that a pilot study was carried out, without giving details about what changes were made and why, about practical problems encountered by the researcher, or what was learnt through the piloting activity. Drawing on relevant literature and the authors’ experience of piloting surveys and interviews prior to a study investigating patient and carer involvement, this paper examines the reasons for conducting pilot studies, considers the advantages and potential limitations of undertaking pilot studies and reflects on the practical issues in order to share the lessons learned. In common with all research studies, pilot studies should be planned and carried out carefully. They should have clearly defined objectives, for example, to assess the feasibility of, and to test the assumptions that have influenced the questionnaire or interview design and survey process. In addition to testing the research instruments themselves, pilot studies provide the opportunity to: identify how long the surveys and interviews take to complete, practice performing detailed quantitative and/or qualitative analysis to assist in evaluating the question areas, provide useful information about the research environment and allow opportunities for reflection to inform the main research study and potentially increase the likelihood of success. The authors conclude that testing research methods through a pilot study is important and needs attention when planning research. This paper demonstrates the usefulness of testing research instruments before a main study and suggests that it would be helpful to others, particularly new researchers, to have access to detailed reports describing the learning from and practical implications of pilot studies to inform their research designs.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationProceedings of the 15th European Conference on Research Methodology for Business and Management Studies (ECRM 2016)
    EditorsVladlena Benson, Gragkiskos Filippaios
    Place of PublicationReading, UK
    PublisherAcademic Conferences and Publishing International Limited
    Number of pages9
    ISBN (Print)978-1-910810-94-1
    Publication statusPublished - 9 Jun 2016
    Event15th European Conference on Research Methodology for Business and Management Studies - Kingston University London, Kingston, United Kingdom
    Duration: 9 Jun 201610 Jun 2016
    Conference number: 15


    Conference15th European Conference on Research Methodology for Business and Management Studies
    Abbreviated titleECRM 2016
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


    • Research Methods
    • Pilot Testing


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