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William F. Connell School of Nursing

Sampling student responses to surveys on violence

by corinne steinbrenner

Online surveys are considered particularly well suited to research on interpersonal violence, but getting responses may depend on who’s asking, according to a new study by Assistant Professor Melissa Sutherland and collaborators from two other nursing schools. “Who Sends the E-mail? Using Electronic Surveys in Violence Research” suggests that college students may be likelier to respond to e-mails from individual researchers asking them to participate in online surveys than to e-mail requests sent by campus officials or survey-sampling firms. The study appeared in the August issue of the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine.

Researchers reviewed e-mail response rates of students from seven universities who had been asked to participate in three studies of interpersonal violence. The students were invited and later reminded by e-mail to answer the surveys. All of the e-mails used the same subject line, but the identity of the sender varied. Some messages came from an individual researcher, others from a central campus office, such as the dean of students, and others listed a survey-sampling company as the sender. The messages from researchers had a mean response rate of 41 percent, compared to 15.5 percent for those from campus offices, and less than 1 percent for those from the survey-sampling company.

Three of the schools involved in these studies are historically black colleges or universities. As a secondary finding, the researchers noted consistently lower response rates at these schools, and suggested that pen and paper surveys may be a more effective way to complete research there.