As covered in Section 6.3, when an appropriate mailing list or easy mechanism for collecting self-completed questionnaires exists, postal or self-completion questionnaires can be a useful tool for primary data collection.
This is particularly true for executives working on a small budget, or in markets where response rates are likely to be good. Industrial researchers often achieve good response rates from buyers or suppliers. Mail-order companies also use this technique to good effect. Self-completion questionnaires are widely used by hotels and other service-supplying institutions. One of the features of response to postal or self-completion questionnaires is that they are more likely to come from individuals with an interest in the subject, so if this is the group whose views are required the method is particularly appropriate._
The rate of response to postal or self-completion questionnaires is influenced by the covering letter introducing and explaining the purposes of the questionnaire, and also by sending reminder letters to non-respondents to postal questionnaires. At least as much attention should be given to the design of these letters as is given to the questionnaire itself. The letter should be personalized as far as possible, and indicate to the potential respondent the relevance of the enquiry to his or her personal interests and the importance of his or her personal response. Small incentives can also be used to encourage response. These comments apply equally to the introductory part of an e-mail containing a self-completion questionnaire.
As far as length is concerned, if the subject is one of great interest to respondents they may well be prepared to complete a lengthy questionnaire. However, since there is no interviewer present to encourage completion, it is wise to assume that less ground can be covered in a postal or self-completion questionnaire than in a personal interview. The layout should be such that it is easy to answer the questions and easy to follow the sequence, particularly when different questions need to be answered depending on the response to a filter question.
In thinking about question sequence, it must be remembered that some of the facilities available in a personally administered questionnaire are not available in a postal or self-completion questionnaire. For example, it is not possible to ask general questions about a product group and then funnel down to specific questions about a particular brand. Since respondents are able to read through the whole questionnaire before answering any questions, their awareness of the specific brand being researched may influence responses to earlier questions. However, an advantage is that being able to look through the whole questionnaire, and complete it in their own time, can produce more thoughtful responses than a personal interview.
In general, a postal or self-completion questionnaire should give the appearance of being relatively quick, easy and interesting to complete. Precoded dichotomous or multiple-choice questions should be used as much as possible so that the respondent only has to mark responses. The respondent should think, 'I might as well do that now' rather than, 'That looks as if it needs thinking about - I'll have a go at it tomorrow'. The latter is the questionnaire that probably will not be completed at all.
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