The Impact of Topic Interest on Mail Survey Response Behaviour

Charles L. Martin 
W Frank Barton School of Business

background

Non-response biases

Non-response occurs when individuals selected into the sample do not participate in the survey. A bias is created when these non-respondents' would-be responses differ from the responses of those who do participate in the survey. The magnitude of such a bias can greatly increase when survey response rates are low; hence survey researchers are justifiably concerned when studies reveal that survey response rates have steadily declined since the early 1950s (DeMaio 1980; Schlossberg 1991; Steeh 1981).

Understandably, survey researchers have tried to combat this downward trend in response rates by examining the effectiveness of numerous approaches to encourage response. Prenotification, follow-up contacts, and monetary incentives are three techniques that generally increase response rates by a few percentage points (see reviews by Fox, Crask & Kim 1988; Herberlein & Baumgartner 1978; Kanuk & Berenson 1975; Linsky 1975; Scott 1961). Other researchers have proposed methodologies to estimate the effect of non-response bias (Armstrong & Overton 1977; Filion 1975). As illustrated by the hypothetical study shown below, ignoring the potential for non-response bias can lead researchers to unjustified inferences.

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