Ballpoint Pens as Incentives with Mail Questionnaires – Results of a Survey Experiment

Marcus Heise


The results of meta-analyses carried out in studies designed to  examine the effectiveness of different types of incentives routinely applied in numerous Anglo-American survey research projects to secure higher response rates have led to the following general conclusion: monetary incentives (i.e. cash) perform better than non-monetary incentives (e.g.small-sized gifts). Comparatively few such studies have been conducted in Germany and they cover only a rather limited range of monetary or money-related incentives. The current paper seeks to go beyond such limitations by testing the assumption that, in the caseof surveys covering rather more intimate and morally relevant issues, less expensive nonmonetary incentives might be quite effective in increasing the response rate. This studywas carried out within the context of a larger research project (“Self-Expressive Forms and Functions of Personal Conscience in Every-Day Life”) conducted at the University of Halle-Wittenberg and based on a random sample of 4000 people drawn from the city registry in Halle (Saale). These individuals were then randomly assigned to a control group (without an incentive) or a test group (presented with a ballpoint pen, i.e. a non-monetary incentive), each made up of 2000 people. Our data analysis showed that the gift of a ballpoint pen affected the willingness to respond, the speed of the response, and the completeness of the surveys that were returned. Furthermore, no negative effects were detected on the composition of the sample that was obtained. Even though the effect of the non-monetary incentive was revealed to be fairly small in comparison with the effect of monetary incentives observed in other studies, the use of small in-kind incentives can be advantageous in certain survey designs. Inexpensive, nonmonetary incentives may serve as a possible substitute for follow-up contact in study-designs that face a variety of limitations such as budget-restrictions or regulations on data protection.


mail questionnaire, experiment, non-monetary incentive, response rate, response speed

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Copyright (c) 2016 Marcus Heise

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