Both in experimental and in descriptive research, a pilot study is a small-scale version or trial run of the main study. A pilot study has to be carried out under the same conditions of the main study. Otherwise carrying out a pilot study would not make much sense, since the main goal is to trace possible sources of error to avoid those in your main study. There are at least three good reasons for carrying out a pilot study before you carry out the full-scale experiment:

  1. Functionality check of the study design by testing

  2. a) research tools and methods regarding adequacy

    When choosing tools and methods for data collection, you should always consider your study aim(s): What do you really want to measure in your study? By which means can you achieve these aims? With a pilot study, you can check whether your methods and tools are optimal for your purposes.

    b) study feasibility

    A pilot study will show you if your study design works the way you planned. Maybe you will have to introduce some modifications, for example, regarding the experimental setting.

  3. Collecting preliminary results
  4. A pilot study will give you some first tentative results which may show at least the potential trends in the future outcome of the main study. This will let you read more about the possible ways to interpret these results.

  5. Increasing research reliability

By doing a pilot study, the reliability of your research project will increase. Other researchers and (maybe even funding) institutions maybecome more interested in your project.

Take your time for a pilot study. It is one of the best investments of time and effort in order to make an excellent main study trial.

Further reading

Altman, D., Burton, N., Cuthill, I., Festing, M., Hutton, J. & L. Playle (2006). Why do a pilot study. National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research. URL:

Gilbert, N. (2001). The importance of pilot studies. Social Research Update, 35, URL:

Neunzig, W. (2002). Estudios empíricos en traducción: apuntes metodológicos. In F. Alves (Hrsg.): O proceso de traducão. Cadernos de Traducão, 10, 75-96.