An investigation of the effects of survey appeals upon response rates and response bias in an organizational opinion survey



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This study investigated the effects of survey appeals upon response rates and response bias in an organizational survey of present and voluntarily terminated employees. Three types of appeals were examined: an altruistic appeal which emphasized how others would benefit from the subject responding; an egoistic appeal which emphasized the importance of the subject's opinion and that the survey provided an opportunity for him to state his opinions; and a selected sample appeal which described the subject as having a special role and responsibility in the survey since only a few individuals had been selected to participate. The three appeals differed in terms of the degree to which responsibility was attributed and the degree to which responding was made salient for the subject. The effects of individual appeals and combinations of appeals were examined. It was hypothesized that the selected sample appeal, because of its attributional component, would result in the highest response rate. This hypothesis was partially confirmed. The selected sample appeal, alone or in combination with the other appeals, was found to be significantly more effective in eliciting survey response from present employees. However, similar results were not obtained for the terminated employee sample. The present results lend some support to Miller, Brickman and Bolen's findings that attribution is more effective than persuasion in eliciting compliance. Other hypotheses regarding the interaction of appeals and subject satisfaction were not confirmed. Response bias as a result of nonrepresentative samples was also investigated. Both the present and terminated respondent samples were found to lack representativeness in terms of subject demographic characteristics. However, appeal letters which resulted in representative subsamples were identified. Potential sources of response bias in terms of subject satisfaction were found in both the present and terminated samples. The effect of this bias upon individual survey items was found to be minimal. The findings indicate that appeal letters are an effective means by which individuals may be motivated to respond to a survey. Moreover, the results indicate that when selecting an appeal the characteristics of the population of concern are an important consideration. This study attempted to address a heretofore neglected question in survey research — why a particular survey appeal may be effective. The findings suggest some possible answers; however, further investigation is needed.