A touch of reality: The time and non-labor financial costs of mail surveys

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Michael E. Lawson
Ronald G. Stover


An important issue in mail surveys is the response rate. An influential guide for planning and conducting mail surveys to obtain response rates as high as 75 percent is Don Dillman's (1978) Mail and Telephone
Surveys: The Total Design Method. While effective, the procedures he describes are surprisingly demanding both in terms of time and labor. During the course of a regional mail survey on agricultural biotechnology, detailed records of the time and non-labor financial costs of using his procedures were compiled. They are categorized in this paper into fifteen different phases, and the time and non-labor costs of each phase are listed. The total time taken for the survey was approximately 300 hours at a total cost of close to $1 0,500. Following all but the final step of Dillman's ( 1978) procedures resulted in a lower than expected response rate of 33 percent. We attribute this to possible antipathy stemming from of an excessively surveyed sample of farmers. Supporting this view is a response rate of 49 percent from the organic farmers in our sample- a group that has not been as extensively surveyed.

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