Effect of survey instrument on participation in a follow-up study: A randomization study of a mailed questionnaire versus a computer-assisted telephone interview

Carissa M. Rocheleau, Paul A. Romitti, Stacey Hockett Sherlock, Wayne T. Sanderson, Erin M. Bell, Charlotte Druschel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Many epidemiological and public health surveys report increasing difficulty obtaining high participation rates. We conducted a pilot follow-up study to determine whether a mailed or telephone survey would better facilitate data collection in a subset of respondents to an earlier telephone survey conducted as part of the National Birth Defects Prevention Study. Methods. We randomly assigned 392 eligible mothers to receive a self-administered, mailed questionnaire (MQ) or a computer-assisted telephone interview (CATI) using similar recruitment protocols. If mothers gave permission to contact the fathers, fathers were recruited to complete the same instrument (MQ or CATI) as mothers. Results: Mothers contacted for the MQ, within all demographic strata examined, were more likely to participate than those contacted for the CATI (86.6% vs. 70.6%). The median response time for mothers completing the MQ was 17days, compared to 29days for mothers completing the CATI. Mothers completing the MQ also required fewer reminder calls or letters to finish participation versus those assigned to the CATI (median 3 versus 6), though they were less likely to give permission to contact the father (75.0% vs. 85.8%). Fathers contacted for the MQ, however, had higher participation compared to fathers contacted for the CATI (85.2% vs. 54.5%). Fathers recruited to the MQ also had a shorter response time (median 17days) and required fewer reminder calls and letters (median 3 reminders) than those completing the CATI (medians 28days and 6 reminders). Conclusions: We concluded that offering a MQ substantially improved participation rates and reduced recruitment effort compared to a CATI in this study. While a CATI has the advantage of being able to clarify answers to complex questions or eligibility requirements, our experience suggests that a MQ might be a good survey option for some studies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number579
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank Kara Grasty and Holly Erschens from The University of Iowa for their assistance in recruitment and interviewing participants, and Tanner Wenzel from The University of Iowa for designing the recruitment tracking databases and programming the CATI. This work was funded by grants sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U50CCU713238/ U01DD000492 and U50CCU223184/ U01DD0004870). Dr. Rocheleau also received dissertation support from the Heartland Center for Occupational Safety and Health at the University of Iowa, a NIOSH-funded Education and Research Center. No funding body had any role in the design, collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; nor was any funding body involved in the writing of the manuscript or in the decision to submit the manuscript for publication. The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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