An Experimental Examination of the Content of Persuasion Letters on Nonresponse Rates and Survey Estimates in a Nonresponse Follow-Up Study


  • Kristen Olson University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • James M. Lepkowski University of Michigan
  • David H. Garabrant University of Michigan



survey research, nonresponse, nonresponse bias, persuasion letters


Nonresponse follow-up studies are often conducted to understand whether respondents and nonrespondents differ on survey variables of interest in sample surveys. Methods used to recruit respondents often differ between nonresponse follow-up studies and main studies. One method is persuasion letters sent from study staff to nonrespondents that are tailored to the types of concerns raised by the respondent and recorded in paradata about the survey recruitment process. This study examined whether tailored persuasion letters yield higher response rates in nonresponse follow-up and whether respondents to a nonresponse follow-up differ depending on the content of the persuasion letter. Nonrespondents to the University of Michigan Dioxin Exposure Study, a survey of adults conducted in 2004 and 2005 in five counties in Michigan, were randomly assigned to either an appeal to help the community or tailored types of persuasion letters. No difference in response rates to the letter types was found, but meaningful differences in the survey variables appeared between nonrespondents responding to the follow-up and respondents to the main interview. These differences also occurred between the two groups receiving different types of letters. The community appeal letter appeared to address unvoiced concerns and brought a different sample of nonrespondents compared to the tailored letters.

Author Biographies

Kristen Olson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology and Survey Research and Methodology Program

James M. Lepkowski, University of Michigan

Professor, Department of Biostatistics Research Professor, Institute for Social Research Research Professor, University of Maryland Director, Program in Survey Methodology

David H. Garabrant, University of Michigan

Professor Emeritus, Environmental Health Sciences Professor Emeritus, Epidemiology Associate Professor Emeritus, Emergency Medicine




How to Cite

Olson, K., Lepkowski, J. M., & Garabrant, D. H. (2011). An Experimental Examination of the Content of Persuasion Letters on Nonresponse Rates and Survey Estimates in a Nonresponse Follow-Up Study. Survey Research Methods, 5(1), 21–26.




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