Most problems with questionnaire analysis can be traced back to the design phase of the project. Well-defined goals are the best way to assure a good questionnaire design. When the goals of a study can be expressed in a few clear and concise sentences, the design of the questionnaire becomes considerably easier. The questionnaire is developed to directly address the goals of the study.
One of the best ways to clarify your study goals is to decide how you intend to use the information. Do this before you begin designing the study. This sounds obvious, but many researchers neglect this task. Why do research if the results will not be used?
Make it convenient. The easier it is for the respondent to complete the questionnaire the better. Always include a self-addressed postage-paid envelope. Envelopes with postage stamps get better response than business reply envelopes (although they are more expensive since you also pay for the non-respondents).
The final test of a questionnaire is to try it on representatives of the target audience. If there are problems with the questionnaire, they almost always show up here. If possible, be present while a respondent is completing the questionnaire and tell her that it is okay to ask you for clarification of any item. The questions she asks are indicative of problems in the questionnaire (i.e., the questions on the questionnaire must be without any ambiguity because there will be no chance to clarify a question when the survey is mailed).
The signature of the person signing the cover letter has been investigated by several researchers. Ethnic sounding names and the status of the researcher (professor or graduate student) do not affect response. One investigator found that a cover letter signed by the owner of a marina produced better response than one signed by the sales manager. The literature is mixed regarding whether a hand-written signature works better than one that is mimeographed. Two researchers reported that mimeographed signatures worked as well as a hand-written one, while another reported that hand-written signatures produced better response. Another investigator found that cover letters signed with green ink increased response by over 10 percent.
Many studies have attempted to determine if there is a difference between respondents and nonrespondents. Some researchers have reported that people who respond to surveys answer questions differently than those who do not. Others have found that late responders answer differently than early responders, and that the differences may be due to the different levels of interest in the subject matter. One researcher, who examined a volunteer organization, reported that those more actively involved in the organization were more likely to respond.
Most researchers view nonresponse bias as a continuum, ranging from fast responders to slow responders (with nonresponders defining the end of the continuum). In fact, one study used extrapolation to estimate the magnitude of bias created by nonresponse. Another group of researchers argue that nonresponse should not be viewed as a continuum, and that late respondents do not provide a suitable basis for estimating the characteristics of nonrespondents.