Pilot studies

A pilot study involves preliminary data collection, using your planned methods, but with a very small sample. It aims to test out your approach, and identify any details that need to be addressed before the main data collection goes ahead. For example, you could get a small group to fill in your questionnaire, perform a single experiment, or analyse a single novel or document.

When you complete your pilot study you should be cautious about reading too much into the results that you have generated (although these can sometimes be interesting). The real value of your pilot study is what it tells you about your method.

  • Was it easier or harder than you thought it was going to be?
  • Did it take longer than you thought it was going to?
  • Did participants, chemicals, processes behave in the way you expected?
  • What impact did it have on you as a researcher?

Spend time reflecting on the implications that your pilot study might have for your research project, and make the necessary adjustment to your plan. Even if you do not have the time or opportunity to run a formal pilot study, you should try and reflect on your methods after you have started to generate some data.