Survey response rates are a function of the:

  1. Clarity of instructions, purpose and questions
  2. Motivation of the respondent to respond
  3. Interest of the respondent in the survey
  4. Survey length and ease of completing the survey
  5. Incentives and rewards for completion

Using Exchange and Incentives to Increase Online Survey Response Rates

The process of using survey techniques to obtain information from potential respondents can be viewed as a special case of social exchange. Very simply, social exchange theory asserts that the actions of individuals are motivated by the return (or rewards) these actions are expected to, or usually do, bring from others.

Whether a given behavior occurs is a function of the perceived costs of completing a survey and the rewards (not necessarily monetary) one expects to receive as a result of completing the survey.

Under this theory, survey response rate is increased by meeting three conditions:

  1. The costs for survey response must be minimized.
  2. The rewards for survey response must be maximized.
  3. There must be a belief by potential respondents that such rewards will, in fact, be provided.

Larger incentives for survey completion will generally produce larger response rates. These incentives are often offered in the form of random drawings or incentives to the first 100 respondents to the survey. Respondents generally do not understand the probabilities of winning and like the case of lotteries, respond better to the change of a very attractive incentive. Incentives distributed as drawings allow the researcher to control the costs of the survey and spread the budgeted amount across a large number of respondents.

Using Cognitive Dissonance to Increase Online Survey Response Rates

Cognitive dissonance theory when applied to increasing survey response, integrates a broad range of research efforts on inducement techniques for survey response. As used to explain survey response, the theory postulates that reducing dissonance is an important component of the respond/not respond decision by potential survey respondents.

The process is triggered by receipt of a questionnaire and cover letter asking for participation. Assuming that failure to respond might be inconsistent with a person’s self-perception of being a helpful person, or perhaps at least one who honors reasonable requests, failure to respond will produce a state of dissonance that the potential respondent seeks to reduce by becoming a survey respondent.

Using Self-Perception to Increase Online Survey Response Rates

Self-perception theory asserts that people infer attitudes and knowledge of themselves through interpretations made about the causes of their behavior.

Interpretations are made on the basis of self-observation. To the extent that a person’s decision to respond to a survey is attributed to internal causes and is not perceived as due to circumstantial pressures, a positive attitude toward survey response develops.

These attitudes (self-perception) then affect subsequent behavior. The self-perception paradigm has been extended to the broad issue of online survey response. To increase the precision of this paradigm, the concepts of salience (importance of behaviors one has attended to), favorability (the affect or feeling generated by a given behavioral experience), and availability (information in memory) are utilized.

In addition, researchers should create labels (i.e., helpful, kind, generous) to enhance the effects of online survey response. Labeling involves assisting the prospective respondents to classify themselves based on their behavior such that they will act in a manner consistent with the characterization.

Self-perception would predict that using an invitation letter to label behavior as helpful would cause that person to view himself or herself as the kind of person who engages in such behavior; therefore, the likelihood of later label consistent behavior is increased.