Including a pen and/or cover letter, containing social incentive text, had no effect on questionnaire response rate: a factorial randomised controlled Study within a Trial [version 1; peer review: awaiting peer review]

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Postal questionnaires are frequently used in randomised controlled trials to collect outcome data on participants; however, poor response can introduce bias, affect generalisability and validity, and reduce statistical power. The objective of this study was to assess whether a pen and/or social incentive text cover letter sent with a postal follow-up questionnaire increased response rates in a trial.
Method: A two-by-two factorial randomised controlled trial was embedded within the OTIS host trial. Participants due their 12-month (final) follow-up questionnaire were randomised to be sent: a pen; a social incentive text cover letter; both; or neither. The primary outcome measure was the proportion of participants in each group who returned the questionnaire. Secondary outcomes were: time to return, completeness of the questionnaire, necessity of a reminder letter, and the cost effectiveness.

The overall 12-month questionnaire response rate was 721 out of 755 (95.5%). Neither the pen nor social incentive cover letter had a statistically significant effect on response rate: pen 95.2% vs. no pen 95.8%, adjusted OR 0.90 (95% CI 0.45 to 1.80; p=0.77); social incentive cover letter 95.2% vs. no social incentive cover letter 95.8%, adjusted OR 0.84 (95% CI 0.42 to 1.69, p=0.63). No statistically significant differences were observed between either of the intervention groups on time to response, need for a reminder or completeness. Therefore, neither intervention was cost-effective.

We found no evidence of a difference in response rates associated with the inclusion of a pen and/or social incentive cover letter with the final follow-up postal questionnaire of the host trial. However, when these results are combined with previous SWATs, the meta-analysis evidence remains that including a pen increases response rates. The social incentive cover letter warrants further investigation to determine effectiveness.
Original languageEnglish
Article number623
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jun 2020

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© 2020 James S et al.

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