Postal Surveys

Letter being posted into postbox Opinion Research Services (ORS) has considerable experience of administering large scale postal surveys on a range of topics, including satisfaction with and views of Council services, emergency services, tenants’ satisfaction and residents’ surveys. Studies often involve very large samples and even some census studies (where everyone in the study area receives a questionnaire). In recent years, we have routinely mailed up to 350,000 questionnaires annually, effectively processing up to 100,000 completed returns.

Postal surveys are an extremely useful and cost effective method of collecting large amounts of information. They are typically sent to a large number of households which gives a high degree of inclusiveness. Postal surveys also allow time for the respondents to reply.

However, there are also disadvantages to postal surveys. Questionnaires need to be fairly short and concise to encourage a good response; and questions need to be simple and easy to understand, so it is difficult to collect information on complex issues using postal surveys. There can be little or no control on who completes the questionnaire; and no postal survey can achieve a random sample, for the respondents are always (by definition) self-selecting.

Because of this, the results of a postal survey cannot be certified as having a determinate error margin at a given level of confidence, for such specifications apply only to random samples. Nonetheless, in our opinion, there are occasions when one has to talk of sound reasoning and indicative survey results rather than strict statistical significance at a determinate confidence level. Data collected from a large-scale postal survey may not be able to be represented as statistically accurate, but this does not mean it cannot qualify as evidence. It is often possible to provide large quantities of robust and reliable information that can be analysed at a high level of desegregation.

Maximising Response Rates

It is vital to maximise the response to postal surveys. We have developed a number of important methods to encourage people to complete and return their questionnaire.

Targeted Reminders
We are able to offer a range of options for reminders and would ideally recommend the distribution of two reminder questionnaires targeted to non-respondents only. We have used this method frequently and found it to be the most effective mechanism. However, single questionnaire remainders, letters or postcards can also be used - especially when the survey is also being conducted online.

User Friendly Designs
We have standard template models of questionnaires which are formatted in a user friendly and professional finish to maximise the response. We seek to ensure that our questionnaires are of a suitable length to encourage a good response.

We generally provide each respondent with a FREEPOST return envelope to encourage a good response.

It is sometimes appropriate to offer respondents some form of prize or incentive to complete and return their questionnaire. This could take the form of a prize draw. Respondents would also be reassured that their contact details would not be associated with the final results and that their answers would remain confidential.

Assistance to Respondents
We typically offer a FREEPHONE telephone helpline for respondents in case they have any queries about the project or require assistance in completing the form. Large print versions of the questionnaire can also be provided on request for people with visual impairment, and where appropraite ORS staff can undertake the survey by telephone with the respondent if necessary.

Language Issues
ORS treats all languages with sensitivity and flexibility recognising the importance of including ethnic minorities in the survey. We are able to offer 0800 FREEPHONE reply service for respondents requiring a survey in a particular language.

Postal Survey Management and Data Processing

ORS manages the entire survey process in-house, liaising directly with the Royal Mail and other providers on the distribution process and dealing with all Freepost returns internally. To enable effective management of the whole process (including targeted reminder questionnaires) all items are individually bar-coded and barcodes from all returned items are scanned by ORS’ survey management system on a daily basis. We are therefore able to monitor progress effectively and have resources to manage thousands of returned items each day.

ORS has a long term relationship with a local commercial printing company, where all our surveys are printed and outward distribution is managed. They have two full-colour presses capable of printing half a million A5 full colour, double-sided leaflets per 10 hour shift. They also have a wide range of finishing equipment for cutting, folding and all other aspects that are required to finish their printed materials; and their separate mailing division is capable of addressing, bar-coding, and finishing approximately 250,000 letters per day ready for collection.

All of the data inputting, verifying and processing is also completed on our own premises and the staff are subject to careful continuous supervision. Data from the returned forms is captured electronically using established systems that we have invested in substantially over recent years. We have an integrated scanning and data extraction system based around two Bell & Howell scanners, each capable of processing 80 duplex pages per minute – enabling tens of thousands of questionnaires to be processed daily when necessary. Since the set up of our Contact Centre, we now have the facilities to run our scanning software from 9.00am till 9.00pm if required as these systems now reside in the same building as our call centre facilities.