Journal of Official Statistics, Vol.4, No.3, 1988. pp. 241249

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The Effects of Response-Stimulating Factors on Response Rates and Data Quality in Mail Surveys A Test of Dillman's Total Design Method

Dillman's Total Design Method (TDM) for mail surveys has proved effectual in attaining high response rates in the U.S.A. The TDM, however, has two drawbacks: its relatively high costs of a mail survey and its susceptibility to response errors. We tested the ability of the TDM techniques to increase response rates. Furthermore, the influence of the TDM on the response error was investigated. In this experiment, the effects of personalization of the cover letter and a final reminder by certified mail were tested on a sample of the Dutch population. If the TDM is followed completely the response rate in the Netherlands is comparable to the response rate in the U.S.A (70%). Omission of personalizing the cover letter or sending a reminder by certified mail results in a significantly lower response rate. Using the TDM in toto does not lead to responses of inferior quality. We find that a reminder by certified mail in combination with a personalized cover letter does not result in more socially desirable answers, more item non-response, or a more deviating response pattern. However, the use of only a personalized cover letter, i.e., without a certified mailing, did result in more socially desirable answers.

Mail survey; Total Design Method, TDM; personalization of cover letter; reminder by certified mail; non-response error; response error.

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