How to Improve Your Response Rate When You Conduct a Survey

Most times, a dissertation requires data collected from a targeted group of people. Lucky are those who use archival data or secondary databases. For those of you who must conduct a survey, here are a few tips.
Tip #1: Create a good questionnaire

  • Did I hear a “Well, duh?” Of course, your questionnaire is good.
  • To make sure, check out another blog here called Top Three Mistakes People Make in Writing Questionnaires. Make sure you have your demographics at the end, you do not ask open-ended questions, and your response options are appropriate.
  • This, first and foremost, will help boost your response rate!

Tip #2: Target appropriate groups

  • More and more clients are using social media to elicit study participants. Doing so can provide the potential for hundreds or thousands of responses.
  • However, it is important to make sure you are targeting the appropriate groups. Are you interested in middle school teachers? People who live in Atlanta? Student nurses who work in rural areas?
  • Go to specific Facebook groups or Twitter “Twibes” to find respondents who share the demographic you want to target. However, even some of those members may not fit your criteria. Be sure to include at the beginning of your questionnaire filtering questions that will separate the wheat from the chaff. If potential respondents do not fit your criteria, kick them out of the questionnaire…very politely…and thank them for their interest.
  • Go to professional associations. Many groups are eager to provide a helping hand to researchers. Some, such as the American Education Research Association, ask members if they would be willing to participate in relevant research in their field. Be prepared to provide a copy of your proposal or concept paper that explains the purpose of your research, research questions, and the questionnaire.
  • Here is one caveat. Many organizations will provide you access (sometimes at a cost) to their membership. However, THEY will forward your email recruitment (with a link to your questionnaire) to the targeted group. Therefore, you do not have total control over your survey’s administration. Be prepared to pay more for each reminder you ask them to send out (see below for how important reminders are).
  • Make sure the responders cannot access the questionnaire after they have completed it. Survey Monkey and Qualtrics will allow access to participants for as long as they take to complete the questionnaire. The platforms then deny them access after they finish, if you select the appropriate options before beginning the survey.

Tip #3: Conduct the survey yourself (unless you use a professional association…see Tip #2)

  • If you plan to ask potential participants to either use a paper/pencil questionnaire or access the questionnaire on a mobile device, do it yourself.
  • No one cares more about the quality and veracity of your data than yourself. It is important to you to make a personal appeal and ask for potential participants’ help completing your study. Asking a principal to put your questionnaire in the teachers’ inbox in the teachers lounge or a nurse manager to disseminate your questionnaire to nurses in a meeting will NOT provide you with a good response rate or good data.
  • The data may take longer to collect, and you may have to travel miles before you rest each day, but you will be happier when the survey process is completed.

Tip #4: Write a compelling recruitment introduction/letter/email

  • Do not start your letter with you. Instead, provide a salient reason they should be providing their input (i.e., Medical errors are the third-leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer. I contacted you because you are a valuable member of …)
  • They want to know what you are studying and why it is important to them. Tell them why you contacted them (i.e., You are a member of XYZ organization, and your input will provide important data for my research in ABC).
  • Give them instructions to access the questionnaire. Put the link at the end of the email before your closing salutation.
  • Inform them of the confidentiality or anonymity (in the case of social media and third-party professional associations) of their responses.
  • Provide contact information if they want to ask you or your committee questions about your study.

Tip #5: Send follow-up requests every FOUR days

  • I like to start a survey on Monday or Tuesday. Send it out during the night so it is in their inbox when they open their email. Do NOT provide an end date for responses to be submitted. You are sending reminder emails. They should not be concerned with your deadlines.
  • Do NOT stop the survey if you get good response in your first wave! There are those who got busy and forgot, who must think about it, or simply did not see the email. You want responses from everyone, not just the early birds.
  • Four days later (Thursday or Friday), send a reminder. Remind them of the study, thank those who have already responded, and again, implore those who have not responded to click on the link.
  • Send a second reminder four days later, on Monday or Tuesday of the next week.
  • If you must send a third reminder (fourth email), you might want to reconsider your target audience, your recruitment procedures (including third-party vendors and your letter), or the nature of the questionnaire.
  • Close your survey after two weeks.