Understanding the resilience of mail-back survey methods: An analysis of 20 years of change in response rates to national park surveys

  • Rookey B
  • Le L
  • Littlejohn M
 et al. 
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Coverage and response rate challenges facing telephone and internet surveys have encouraged scientists to reconsider mail data collection methods. Although response rates to telephone surveys have declined sharply in the last 20 years, it is unclear how response rates to mail have fared during this time. This study analyzes 179 mail-back surveys of visitors to US National Parks from 1988 to 2007, which used virtually the same administration procedures throughout the period. Results show that response rates, based on only those who initially agreed to return a questionnaire, have remained at a high level with a 76% average while the number of questions and pages steadily increased. Despite this rise in response burden, rates have declined only moderately from about 80% in the late 1980s to about 70% more recently. The roles of additional contacts and survey salience in maintaining high response rates are examined. Results suggest that mail-back surveys for obtaining information from quasi-general public populations remain an effective data collection procedure.

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  • Bryan D. Rookey

  • Lena Le

  • Margaret Littlejohn

  • Don A. Dillman

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