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IMPROVING RESPONSE RATES: DILLMAN'S TOTAL DESIGN METHOD

For convenience and cost effectiveness, mailed surveys are still an excellent way to collect a lot of data on a representative sample of respondents. And if you’re studying hard-to- get people (like physicians or university deans), mailed surveys are the best way to go. The way to increase response rates in mailed surveys is to use Don Dillman’s Tailored Design Method (Dillman 1978; Dillman, Smyth, and Christian 2009).

Professional mailed surveys on consumer behavior and political attitudes done in the United States, following Dillman’s method achieve a return rate of 50% to 70% (Dillman, Smyth, and Christian 2009:236). What happens when you ask people really threatening questions? In the Netherlands, Nederhof (1985) conducted a mail survey on attitudes toward suicide and achieved a 65% response rate. Pretty impressive. Outside of North

America and northern Europe, Jussaume and Yamada (1990) achieved a response rate of 56% in Kobe, Japan, and de Rada (2001) had a response rate of 61% in mostly rural Navarra Province in Spain.

Dillman’s method is very subtle and has many well-tested components. Full instructions are in Dillman’s book (Dillman, Smyth, and Christian 2009), but here is an overview of the main steps.

 
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