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Achieve a Good Response Rate

When conducting surveys, one of the biggest challenges is getting enough people to take your survey so that your results are useful.

Some general advice for promoting a good response rate follows.  Because a good design also promotes a good response rate, this page includes some advice also available on How to Write a Good Survey.  

1. Advertise your survey.  Advertise your survey. Consider multiple relevant strategies for promoting the survey to intended respondents. Surveys can be publicized through media such as The Prodigy (UC Merced student newspaper), Panorama Newsletter (for faculty and staff), e-mail, social networking, message boards, and posters. Notices and reminders to students by members of the staff (e.g., residence advisors) and faculty (e.g., department chairs) can also be effective.

2. Collaborate and coordinate with others for whom the survey topic is of interest.  For example, if your survey concerns the effectiveness of a program or service, seek involvement from those who provide that program or service when creating your questions, advertising your survey, and interpreting your findings.  Often those who are highly knowledgeable and involved in a particular process can help to elevate the quality and usefulness of your data collection project.

3. Limit the competition. Ensure your survey does not compete with other surveys on campus, particularly those targeting the same or similar population. Toward that end, review the campus Survey Calendar.

4. Be attentive to the time of year. Consider the demands on and habits of the population you wish to survey. For instance, the opening weeks of the semester, study days, and exam periods, are not effective times to survey students

5. If possible, guarantee the anonymity of survey respondents. In anonymous surveys, a response should not be tied to an individual identifier – ever. This differs from confidentiality, when results are tied to identifying information but only the investigators can identify the responses of individuals.

6. Keep your survey as short and concise as possible.

7. Write questions that meaningful and interesting to the respondent. Someone is more likely to respond if s/he is involved and interested in the topic.

8. Communicate impact. Let survey respondents know how and why their response will make a contribution.

9. Share results with respondents. Make survey results and reports available to survey respondents.

10. Incentivize response.

Important notice: California law limits the use of lotteries to assign prizes/incentives.  If respondents can only be entered into the prize/incentive drawing by participating in the survey, this violates the law. Raffles, drawings, and lotteries are acceptable if there are procedures to ensure that any individual who is invited to participate but declines or fails to complete the study is given equal opportunity of winning.  Likewise there must be procedures to include non-invited individuals in the drawing.  For example, in your study advertisement/invitation you could state that those who complete the survey will be automatically entered in the prize/incentive drawing but then include instructions for alternative means of entry (e.g., send a letter to the survey administrator requesting to be entered, etc.).

Incentives that are not regulated by the CA law

  • Provide an incentive to all invitees or all respondents
  • Donate money on behalf of all respondents to some cause/organization
  • Offer a token upon completion of the survey (e.g. a gift card, "complete this survey to receive a $5.00 gift card to the...), rather than offering a chance to win a prize in a drawing.

Incentive amounts:

The University is required by IRS regulations to submit 1099 forms for all individuals paid $600 or more in a calendar year, which could be an issue in cases where an incentive payment is large and/or where there is reason to anticipate that the individual will receive multiple incentive payments that might cumulatively exceed that amount. 

There are UC Business & Finance Bulletins that govern the University’s provision of gifts, including gift-cards, to employees and non-employees.  BFB-G-42 governs gifts to NON-employees (including gifts to a student or volunteer for participation in a research study, completion of a survey or questionnaire, or for participation in another University-sponsored event).   BFB-G-41 governs providing non-cash awards and gifts to UC employees, student employees, and academics.  BFB-G-41 specifies that the per-person limit for prizes and gifts to employees is $75, to avoid having the amount be taxable.

For questions about the legality of your incentive, contact Elisabeth Gunther – Senior Legal Counsel at UC Merced.