Vol. 13 No. 2 | ISSN: 0834-1729
Research Note:
The Influence of Colour and Incentives on Mail Survey Response Rates
by Chanelle Gallant
A study examining social democratic values and class, which was conducted during the summer of 1997, has produced unexpected findings concerning response rates. For this study, self-administered questionnaires were distributed to 150 randomly-chosen residents of a Toronto student housing cooperative – 56 of whom responded.

One of the methodological aims of this study was to determine the influence of questionnaire colour and incentives on response rates for mail surveys. As it turned out, respondents who received either a questionnaire printed on green paper or a white questionnaire with a lollipop included as an incentive were significantly more likely to respond to the survey than respondents who received a white questionnaire but no incentive. The response rate for the control group (white questionnaire with no incentive) was 23.5%. For the white questionnaire with an incentive enclosed, the response rate increased to 41.1%, and for the green questionnaire, to 47.9%. This amounts to an increase in response rates of 17.6% for the incentive questionnaire and 24.4% for the green questionnaire. This rate of return is substantially greater than that usually found in mail surveys.

These findings concerning the influence of questionnaire colour and non-monetary incentives support existing theory and research, yet this study showed an unusually strong effect. In their meta-analysis of factors influencing response rates, Fox, Crask and Kim (1988) found that colour increased response rates by an average of 2%. In a meta-analysis of the effects of incentives on response rates, Church (1993) found that non-monetary incentives yielded a 7.9% increase on average.

I believe that the increased response rate in this study may be due to the unique characteristics of the group under study: young post-secondary students. This group appears to be strongly enticed by bright colours and candy. These observations suggest that researchers may have underestimated the influence of non-monetary incentives and coloured questionnaires on post-secondary students. Given the low cost of these strategies and their impressive return rates, future research might be significantly enhanced with the implementation of such measures.

Table 1: Percentage Distribution of Questionnaire Type and Response Rates
Response Survey Type
White, No Incentive White,With Incentive Green
Returned 23.5% 41.1% 47.9%
Not Returned 76.5% 58.9% 51.1%
TOTAL 100% 100% 100%
Number of Cases 51 51 48
1. Church, A. Incentives in Mail Surveys: A Meta-Analysis. Public Opinion Quarterly. 1993; 57: 62-79.
2. Fox R. J., M. Crask and J. Kim. Mail Survey Response Rate. Public Opinion Quarterly. 1988; 52: 467-491.
1This discussion is based on work I conducted as part of an independent reading course under the supervision of Professor Katherine Bischoping in July and August of 1997.
Chanelle Gallant is an MA candidate in the Graduate Programme in Sociology at York University.
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