Methods to increase response to postal and electronic questionnaires facilitated by Associate Professor Jane Smith


Edwards PJ, Roberts I, Clarke MJ, DiGuiseppi C, Wentz R, Kwan I, Cooper R, Felix LM, Pratap S.  Methods to increase response to postal and electronic questionnaires. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009(3):MR000008. Epub 2009/07/10.


Our Interest in this:

Surveys are a commonly used method in GP research. The systematic review title speaks for itself,  and was chosen to find out  what helps and what hinders.

This Cochrane review is 474 pages long and provides many comparisons of the significant impact of many different things including the types of communications, the words included in email subject line, incentives, pictures, signatures, gender, types of questions, and even threats.

Discussion points

Many surveys are delivered electronically now, so information about postal questionnaires may not be as relevant now.
We discovered a mix of “easy to guess” as well as less obvious things that change response rates.

Facts discovered:

Incentive rewards work especially  when  attached to the questionnaires rather than given after a response is received, but the value of the reward is not that important.

Monetary ones work better than non monetary ones with paper based surveys. Non monetary rewards (including money value vouchers) work with electronic ones.

Shorter questionnaires have higher response rates, even one page compared to  2 pages makes a difference.

Photos of investigators attached to emails improve responses, but it is not clear if they have to be particularly attractive ones or not, but there is a suggestion, that looking good may be advantageous.

Interesting questions are more likely to be answered.

Closed questions get higher response rates, but if repeated surveys sent open and closed questions response rates differ less.

Gender of researcher and signature may make difference, females had better responses, but we wondered if this would depend on the topics asked about.

“Veiled threats” improve survey returns, only one study on university hall residents.

Not including the word “survey” in the email subject line also improves the response rate.

Following up and reminding recipients works to a varying extent, phone calls appear less effective than mail or email.



There are many ways we can improve the likelihood of getting our surveys completed and returned.

These include rewarding recipients with incentives,  making surveys shorter and questions more interesting, and sending reminders.

Despite it’s length the review is  interesting to read.