In researching your question, I tried to stay away from results
gleaned by surveys directed at specific groups; i.e., employees, CEOs,
union membership, etc., and to concentrate on more general, community
The first statistic I found was from CustomInsight, a company that
designs and administers surveys. The following excerpt from their
website offers a typical response rate between 10% - 30%.
The survey interface of CustomInsight is designed to help maximize
survey response rates, but the task of getting as many respondents as
possible is largely up to you. Response rates vary widely for
different types of surveys. Customer satisfaction surveys and market
research surveys often have response rates in the 10% - 30% range.
Employee surveys typically have a response rate of 25% - 60%. But
regardless of the type of survey you are conducting, you can have a
major effect on the number of respondents who complete your survey.
Maximizing Survey Responses
Searching further I found a medical survey conducted in the UK, that
was measuring, of all things, the effect of high quality paper on
response rate. It offers the following figures:
The response rate for the recipients of high quality paper was 43/195
(22%) and 57/194 (29%) for standard quality paper.
Their conclusion was that paper quality does not affect response rate,
but the 22% - 29% figures track with expected averages.
Effect of paper quality on the response rate to a postal survey: A
randomised controlled trial
A study published on the website of the Institute for Social Research,
examining social democratic values and class, which was conducted
during the summer of 1997 in Toronto, revealed that incentive and
color had a large effect on response rate:
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.
The control group response rate of 23.5% is right in line with the
other studies I have found.
The Influence of Colour and Incentives on Mail Survey Response Rates
by Chanelle Gallant
By far the most useful and informative website that I found was that
of NCS Pearson. NCS Pearson is a company that provides survey,
assessment and testing solutions to education, healthcare, business
and government clients. They are a wealth of information on surveys,
what can be expected from them, and what can be done to improve
response rates. Here is an excerpt from their site:
Our customers frequently ask us what kind of response rate they can
expect for their survey. Unfortunately, given the vast number of
variables with the potential to affect response rates, it can be
difficult to estimate. This issue explores approaches generally used
to affect response rates through reviewing some of the research
literature. Most of the approaches described below focus on increasing
audience notice and completion of your survey. As a baseline, consider
that the majority of mail surveys distributed by NCS achieve a
response rate between 15% and 25%.
As you can see from the above, once again the typical response rate is
in the 20% range. You may wish to read their advice regarding
pre-notification, reminders and remailing of surveys to increase
response rates for this or future surveys. The studies they cite show
considerable increases in response rate, using these techniques. There
is much additional good information on type of mail, follow-up and
incentives. I spent some time browsing their entire site, and found it
to be a very informative resource on all aspects of surveys.
Survey Research Tools
Increasing Response Rates
Here is one additional piece of information to help you judge the
success of your response rate. Focus 25 Research and Consulting:
offers the following guarantee:
Highest response rates: Our typical response rate (percent of valid
sample returning a survey) is between 30% and 60%. Your response rate
is guaranteed to exceed 20%.
I hope that this information will help you to judge the success of
your survey responses. It would seem that anything greater than 20%
would be considered a success, and, should you wish, there are
probably still some things (follow-ups, reminders, remailing) that you
can do to improve on the figure.
Should you have any questions on any of the above, please do not
hesitate to ask for clarification. Good luck on your survey.
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