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Surveys and Non Response

The Importance of Response Rates

A high response rate is the key to legitimizing a survey's results. When a survey elicits responses from a large percentage of its target population, the findings are seen as more accurate. Low response rates, on the other hand, can damage the credibility of a survey's results, because the sample is less likely to represent the overall target population.

Low response rates are a continuing problem for survey organizations. Some people simply refuse to participate in surveys, while others, for a wide range of reasons, cannot participate. Still, a well-designed survey, coupled with incentives and techniques to elicit response, can help guarantee a healthy response rate.

Reasons for Non-Response

There are many reasons why people might choose not to respond to a survey. Sometimes time is a factor. People may feel they can't spare the time to participate in a survey. Others may see a survey as a nuisance, particularly telephone and mail surveys. However, some factors that can cause non-response lie in the hands of the surveyors themselves, and can thus be avoided. The following list includes some of the pitfalls that can lead to non-response:

Once a target population is identified, the next step is to choose a survey method that increases the likelihood they will participate. For example, a telephone survey is probably not the best method for reaching a target population that consists of low-income, rural people. Although nearly all Americans have telephones, low-income rural people are the most likely not to have them. In this case a telephone survey can lead to skewed results.

Methods That Can Induce Response

Just as there are ways to avoid causing non-response, there are numerous proven methods that can stimulate response. Some of the methods survey organizations use to help increase response rates include the following:

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