Who Sends the Email? Using Electronic Surveys in Violence Research

Introduction: Students aged 16–24 years are at greatest risk for interpersonal violence and the resulting short and long-term health consequences. Electronic survey methodology is well suited for research related to interpersonal violence. Yet methodological questions remain about best practices in using electronic surveys. While researchers often indicate that potential participants receive multiple emails as reminders to complete the survey, little mention is made of the sender of the recruitment email. The purpose of this analysis is to describe the response rates from three violence-focused research studies when the recruitment emails are sent from a campus office, researcher or survey sampling firm.

Methods: Three violence-focused studies were conducted about interpersonal violence among college students in the United States. Seven universities and a survey sampling firm were used to recruit potential participants to complete an electronic survey. The sender of the recruitment emails varied within and across the each of the studies depending on institutional review boards and university protocols.

Results: An overall response rate of 30% was noted for the 3 studies. Universities in which researcher-initiated recruitment emails were used had higher response rates compared to universities where campus officials sent the recruitment emails. Researchers found lower response rates to electronic surveys at Historically Black Colleges or Universities and that other methods were needed to improve response rates.

Conclusion: The sender of recruitment emails for electronic surveys may be an important factor in response rates for violence-focused research. For researchers identification of best practices for survey methodology is needed to promote accurate disclosure and increase response rates.