Jan 212009

A good survey response rate can be tricky to achieve.

You know your respondents are busy people, and you’ve heard that a proliferation of surveys has led to ‘survey fatigue’.

Yet your clients’ feedback is critical to the continued funding of your project. 

Remember the last time you received an email asking you to ‘complete a quick survey’, or you opened an envelope to find a questionnaire inside, or you answered the phone to hear the dreaded “Please could you spare a few minutes…”.

How did you feel?

The trick to getting a good survey response is to put yourself in the shoes of the recipient. Then you can identify what would make you (ie your respondents) more motivated to participate.

Three tried and tested strategies to increase your response rate

1. Provide an incentive

People are busy, they need a good reason to give up time to answer your questions. Providing an incentive is a good ‘carrot’ to attract people who may be swithering whether or not to take part in your survey.

Incentives can take many forms: from money to vouchers to goods to a free service or subscription

  • Check your organisation/funders policy on incentives – if it excludes spending money on them, either find something you can offer ‘in kind’, or get an organisation or business to donate the incentive.
  • Consider the target group for your survey, and brainstorm a list of things they would value. I have used gift vouchers, money, books, and a free session.
  • Describe your incentive in an attractive way, and highlight it early on in the Introduction to your survey.
2. Make it easy

The easier your questionnaire is to complete, the more people will fill it in. Any barriers provide an excuse to ‘put it on one side’. We heard of a researcher who received a questionnaire 6 years after the close of the survey!

  • Start with a question which is very easy to respond to.
  • Use ‘tick box’ responses for the majority of questions.
  • For postal surveys, provide a ‘post paid’ return envelope.
3. Keep it short

The shorter your survey, the more responses you are likely to get. This is particularly the case with a printed questionnaire, where the respondent can immediately see how ‘long’ it is.

  • Test your questionnaire with a few ‘real’ respondents to find out how long it takes to complete. If it’s more than 10 minutes consider pruning your questions (though an acceptable time will vary for different audiences).
  • Include the time the questionnaire will take to complete in the Introduction to the survey.
  • Be creative with layout to make the questionnaire look ‘short’.

The bottom line: By providing an incentive, and making your questionnaire quick and easy to complete, you will increase the number of people who respond. This in turn makes the feedback from your survey more robust.

© May Johnstone, 2009, Project Perspectives.co.uk. Please feel free to circulate this article provided it is used in its entirety, including this acknowledgement.

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