Getting a high response rate is an important part of trusting the information you get from a questionnaire. Don Dillman, a guru of questionnaire research, says that to get a good response rate it helps to see questionnaires as part of a social exchange. Social Exchange Theory is the theory that “people are more likely to comply with a request from someone else if they believe and trust that the rewards for complying with that request will eventually exceed the costs of complying.”1 Specifically he says that when designing your questionnaires, distributing them, or communicating about them, you need to think specifically about ways to lower the perceived cost of responding to the questionnaire, and increase perceived rewards and perceived trust.
What do we mean by perceived cost, rewards and trust? A cost might be the amount of time it takes to do the survey, but the perceived cost is how long that survey feels to the person answering it. For example, if the survey is interesting, it could be perceived as taking less time than a shorter, but confusing or poorly worded survey. A reward could be an actual monetary reward, or it could be the reward of knowing that you are participating in something that will make important change happen. Perceived trust could be trusting that the organization will make good use of your responses.
Today I will only focus on questionnaire design — in future blog posts we will write about how social exchange theory can be used in communicating about and distributing your questionnaires.
One of the things I like about social exchange theory in questionnaire design is that normally I would be looking at the questions I’m writing in terms of how to get the information that I want. This is fine of course, but by looking at the questions from a social exchange perspective, I can also be thinking about ways I might write questions to improve someone’s likelihood of completing the survey.
Ask yourself these three questions:
Here are some ideas that might get you started as you think about applying social exchange theory to your questionnaire design.
For more information, see:
NNLM Evaluation Office: Booklet 3 in Planning and Evaluating Health Information Outreach Projects series: Collecting and Analyzing Evaluation Data https://nnlm.gov/neo/guides/bookletThree508
NEO Shop Talk Blog posts on Questionnaires: https://news.nnlm.gov/neo/category/questionnaires-and-surveys/. Some
NEO Questionnaire Tools and Resources Guide on Data Collecting: https://nnlm.gov/neo/guides/tools-and-resources/data-collection
1 Dillman, Don A., et al. Internet, Phone, Mail, and Mixed-Mode Surveys : The Tailored Design Method, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central, p. 24.