Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Five Actions to Achieve Higher Response Rates in Online Research

The importance of a sufficient response rate in surveys cannot be emphasized enough, since it is crucial for the representativeness of your sample and thus affects the generalizability, reliability and validity of the entire survey. Yet researchers are struggling to achieve appropriate response rates in online research, since the amount of various survey invitations and spam e-mails sent to people is constantly increasing. Fortunately, there are several actions a researcher can do to increase the probability of survey recipients to answer a survey.

Action #1: Design a Relevant and Inspiring Invitation Letter
  • Provide a short description of the survey topic; the survey description should be long enough to arouse the respondent’s curiosity, whereas a too long invitation letter might prevent the recipient from reading it at all. The more relevant the topic is for the recipient, the more likely he or she is to take the survey.
  • Tell the respondent how he or she benefits from taking part in the survey. What will be done based on the research results? Will the survey takers be rewarded with an incentive? Are you going to publish a summary of the survey results for the respondents?
  • Inform about respondent anonymity, especially in cases where the research topic is sensitive.
  • Don’t forget to mention the survey length in minutes. All respondents are afraid of monstrous surveys that might take an hour to respond to.

Action #2: Provide a Good Incentive
  • An incentive is a good and commonly used method to increase the respondents’ motivation to take part in a survey. A generally used incentive is a price draw, where respondents can win products, discount coupons or gift cards. It is also recommendable to tell the respondents where and when the names of lottery winners are published and how the winners are contacted.
  • Make sure that the incentive is equally useful for all respondents. To ensure this, you can offer the winners a possibility to choose from several prize alternatives.
  • A good incentive can increase the representativeness of your final sample, since it might also motivate neutral respondents to take part in a survey.

Action #3: Design a Short and Simple Questionnaire
  • Remember to include a progress bar in your questionnaire; showing how much is left of the survey will minimize the risk of survey takers dropping out of the survey when it starts to feel long.
  • Avoid too many matrix questions in a row, since this might exhaust the respondents; instead try to apply a pleasant mix of different question types.
  • Don’t design surveys that take more than 20 minutes to answer.
  • Create a visually appealing survey, preferably including the company logo and a nice-looking layout.

Action #4: Choose the Publishing Date Carefully
  • The response rates will not be optimal if you send out the survey close to a weekend or when people are having their annual leaves. It is also recommendable to avoid sending out invitations in the afternoon when the respondents might be preparing to go home after work.

Action #5: Leave Enough Time for Field Work and Send out Reminders
  • Although the majority of respondents tend to respond within a few days, a good minimum length for the field work is one to two weeks. This will ensure that also respondents checking their e-mails more seldom have the possibility to answer.
  • It is advisable to send out at least one reminder after 4 field work days. The respondents’ mailboxes might be crowded with other incoming letters, and someone might not have noticed the invitation letter or might not have had time to reply when the invitation was sent out the first time.

Annika Herrgård, M.Sc. Econ (Marketing)

The author has worked in market research for several years and is now working at Webropol as Research Solutions Manager.

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