Tips for Boosting Response Rates
Student participation is critical to survey success. Simply put, more respondents yield better quality data. Sampling error, total completions, and response rates are important measures of data quality, and are important for increasing confidence in the results among a wider audience. LSSSE works with law schools to personalize materials used to contact each student, emphasizing the survey's value for institutional improvement. Law school efforts can effectively supplement the messages sent to students by LSSSE. However, always keep in mind that students' decisions not to participate must be respected.
Each law school needs to assess the campus culture and determine appropriate methods to reach students; there is no one â€œright wayâ€� to increase student participation. Research by survey experts (Salant & Dillman, 1994) indicates two key factors for survey response:
- Perceived importance of the survey (value to the student, perceived legitimacy).
- Level of interest students have in the topic.
Survey publicity such as flyers and media articles as well as incentives provided for participation can help send a message to the whole campus that the data are valuable for institutional improvement. We outline suggestions for increasing response rates below, as well as practices that should not be used because they can result in undue influence on participation.
Acceptable survey promotion practices
- Customizing survey invitation messages with specifics for your campus.
- Including small incentives and lotteries* in contact materials.
- Flyers and press releases.
- More than five direct requests to participate in the survey.
- Direct and personal contact by campus officials with individual students.
- Revoking rights or privileges for non-response (e.g., blocking course or housing registration).
Suggestions for survey incentives
- Offer small incentives (e.g., bookstore gift certificates or tokens for free goods or services) for each respondent. These work best if the incentive is received in advance. For example you could send a voucher by mail or by postcard that can be "cashed in" after completing the survey. These can be difficult to administer, so often law schools choose lotteries or drawing.
- Enter respondents in a drawing, noting the odds of winning (e.g., 1 in 100) in promotional materials. Lottery prize ideas include parking permits, law school memorabilia, or tickets to athletic events.
Suggestions for general campus promotion
- Post flyers on campus.
- Draft a press release.
- Submit an article, or place an ad or insert in the student newspaper.
- Write an editorial for the student newspaper, by a student or administrator, explaining why the survey is important, the purpose of the survey, how the survey can be used as a tool for change on campus, and that the survey is sponsored by the institution. The editorial should emphasize that students' participation is voluntary.
- Produce spots for campus TV and radio stations.
- Set up tables in the student center or union with survey information.
Ethical Considerations in Survey Research
LSSSE is both an institutional improvement effort and a research project, and as such, participation must be fully voluntary. Avoid using excessive measures to increase participation. Participants in research studies should always be informed of their rights relative to their participation and should know any potential risks of involvement in the study. LSSSE provides this information in its contacts with students (see the informed consent statement). Additional efforts you make to increase response rates should never cause students to feel they will be penalized for not participating.
The Belmont Report established Institutional Review Boards (IRB) or Human Subjects Committees (HSC) to regulate research involving human subjects. This report outlined two considerations for beneficence in research: (a) maximize possible benefits, and (b) minimize possible harms.
Inappropriate efforts to increase participation in research fall into two general categories: coercion and undue influence. Coercive interactions are those that imply directly or indirectly that a potential participant might lose rights or privileges for not participating in the study. Explicit examples of coercive measures include requiring students to complete the survey in order to register for classes or graduate. Implicit examples include the use of language such as "you must complete this survey" or "any true State College student would complete this survey."
Undue influence occurs when the incentives used to increase participation become the primary reason why students participate, or when the number or nature of contacts with students to encourage participation is excessive. Students should not perceive that the compensation is so great that they will participate regardless of a sense that completing the survey would be a strong burden to them.
Small incentives provided to each student who completes the survey are generally considered ideal. Larger incentives such as lotteries that draw prize winners from all participants may also be acceptable, but publicity for these efforts should include an estimate of the odds of winning. Survey promotion for these incentives should not emphasize the prizes to a degree that minimizes the requirement of survey participation.
Salant, P., & Dillman, D. A. (1994). How to conduct your own survey. New York: Wiley.
National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research (1979, April 18). The Belmont Report: Ethical principles and guidelines for the protection of human subject of research. Washington, DC: Department of Health, Education, Welfare. http://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/humansubjects/guidance/45cfr46.html