The overall success of your survey depends greatly on a good quality response rate. The higher the response rate, the more representative the survey will be of the total population. Ideally, a higher than anticipated response rate will bring more assurance and reliability to the survey results. A higher response rate also allows more robust statistical calculations to be performed. In contrast, a response rate that falls short of the anticipated response rate may bring into question the dependability and representativeness of the survey data. Receiving a low response rate from your survey will skew the results due to response bias, as certain types of people are more likely to respond to surveys than others, so certain views may triumph.
By following these simple guidelines, you can considerably increase the number of respondents who complete your survey. Here are some actions you can take to maximize response rates.
Provide prior notification
Potential respondents should be made aware of the importance of the forthcoming survey through email, phone, social media outlets, mail, newsletters, or through other means of professional communication. It is important to draw the respondents’ attention to the purpose of the survey and the survey’s potential benefits. When the survey arrives through its distribution channel (via online, paper, mobile, email, etc.), it will receive a better reception.
Make a good first impression
The immediate impression made when the survey arrives is very important. If sending via mail, make sure the survey arrives in an envelope with your logo prominently displayed and use white envelopes, not brown. If a paper survey, when possible, hand deliver and personally collect the questionnaires. For mailed paper surveys, do not include any other information other than the survey itself. For online or mobile surveys, make sure the opening page is clean, contains your company logo, and contains clear instructions for completion.
Content and quality of the cover letter
Keep the cover letter of a paper survey or the opening screen of an online survey simple. Use this opportunity only to explain the purpose of the survey and assure the target population that their answers will be kept in strict confidence. Personalize the content by addressing it to specific individuals where possible.
High-quality survey design
The design and appearance of the survey is of critical importance. Make sure the wording is clear and prepared in such a way that engages the respondent. When available, use skilled researchers to design the survey. Many survey software companies provide in-house services to assist you with survey design, administration, and data collection. If conducting a paper survey, use high quality paper and a minimum of ten-point font size as a standard. Additionally, be sure to include a pre-paid pre-addressed envelope that is the correct size for the survey. Keep the questionnaire as short as possible. Ask only questions that are essential to your research objectives. Limit the number of open questions in your survey. Open questions take more time to complete and often have a negative effect, as respondents see them as an indication that the research has not been fully thought through.
Try using incentives
An incentive can be prepaid or promised on completion of the survey. A potential incentive can be monetary funds or an entry to a prize drawing. If the incentive is a prize, the prize should match the interests of the target population. For example, coupons or vouchers for reduced or free goods or services would be ideal for a general population survey. A drawing for an Apple iPad may be an ideal incentive for a high profile survey of hard to reach technical users.
Make sure the survey is accessible
If administering a paper survey, make sure large print copies of the questionnaire are made available to those respondents who require them. If your survey population is likely to include people whose first language is not English, include translated content on the cover letter or opening page of the online survey detailing where they can obtain a translated copy of the survey, speak to someone who can interview the respondent in their native language, or complete a translated online version of the survey. Some survey software providers have sophisticated translation capabilities.
Provide contact information
For some surveys, it may be necessary to set-up a telephone helpline for respondents to contact you. Provide a contact name if possible and ensure there is an automated service available with a stated response time to inquiries. Inform the main switchboard, general inquiry lines, and other departments of the survey – respondents are likely to call other parts of your organization about the questionnaire (even if you include the specific number). Provide respondents with the telephone helpline details or with an email address to send inquires.
In telephone and face-to-face surveys, skilled interviewers will increase response rates. Although more costly, they are trained in refusal conversion or persuasion. Online surveys or mobile surveys are easy to administer, cost effective, and timely – however, it usually takes a broader population to collect the desired amount of responses. Make sure the manner in which you administer your survey reaches your target population. For example, a survey of the general population will thrive in online survey administration. However, a survey of veterinarians who care for reptiles in central New York City would be better administered via telephone or face-to-face interview.
Coordinate reminder postcards, letters, phone calls, emails, social media messages to be sent to non-respondents. It’s best to include a copy of or link to the survey with each reminder. For surveys where you have telephone details, you may follow-up with telephone calls at different times of the day. Closely monitor the response so that remedial action can be taken if necessary.
Adhere to professional guidelines
To make sure that your research is effective, consider the appropriate current professional standards and guidelines, or use a researcher who is a member of a professional organization.