A Comparison of Modes of Recruitment for an Online Survey
Julie A. Steen, PhD, University of Central Florida.
Background and Purpose: Developments in internet technology have allowed social work researchers to expand their survey options. Online survey systems are easiest to use when those in the sample are accessible by email. When email addresses are not available to the researcher, recruitment must occur by other means. Recruitment letters can be mailed to those in the sample frame with no publicly available email address. This recruitment letter directs potential respondents to the internet address of the survey. While this process allows researchers to continue using the online survey method, the implications of this recruitment strategy for response rate, demographic composition of the sample, and nature of the survey responses have been unexamined. This study seeks to address this gap by comparing responses based on recruitment mode. Methods: This study's methodology consisted of an online survey regarding perceptions of child maltreatment reports. Recruitment letters were mailed to 232 domestic violence shelters and emailed to another set of 237 domestic violence shelters. Both the mail-recruited and email-recruited groups responded to an identical survey at the same website address. The survey was composed of a number of demographic questions and items that focused on child maltreatment reporting. Comparisons were made between the mail- and email- recruited groups in order to assess for differences in response rate, demographic composition, and nature of responses. Results: The response rate was higher in the sample recruited by email (19%) than the sample recruited by mail (15%). While the distribution of gender was similar across the two recruited groups, the distributions of age and race varied greatly. Educational levels varied slightly between the two groups. Some significant differences also emerged in the nature of responses, with the mail-recruited group perceiving more frequent negative impacts resulting from child maltreatment reports. Conclusions and Implications: This study has several implications for social work research. First, researchers should be aware of the low response rates frequently found in online research both within this study and the research literature. Further, researchers should note that use of a mailed recruitment letter for online surveys can result in even lower response rates. Secondly, the demographic nature of the population should be considered before using mail-based recruitment strategies for online surveys. The use of a paper-based recruitment letter poses a barrier to potential respondents that may be more easily overcome by those having a higher level of comfort with internet technology. Thus, populations with older ages and lower educational levels may be less able to overcome the burdens posed by requiring respondents to type in the address rather than simply clicking on a link in an email. Third, researchers should be cognizant of possible variations in responses according to recruitment mode. Participant perception of the level of privacy inherent in a particular survey method may impact social desirability bias. Some may feel uncomfortable clicking on an emailed link in fear of the possibility of being tracked. These three considerations should guide social work researchers in the selection of survey venue and recruitment mode.