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The Impact of Visual Design in Survey Cover Letters on Response and Web Take‐Up Rates

William Mockovak


Cover letters for mailed survey forms can differ in a variety of ways. Previous research suggests that visual design can impact response, and that the effects might even be negative. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to continue this line of research and investigate the impact of a unique visual design for a cover letter, while holding the information content constant. Whereas the possible types of visual design changes are numerous, this study looked at the impact of only one type of approach (Information Mapping©), which has been shown to improve the usability of written materials in a variety of written materials. A sample of 1,000 addresses was randomly assigned to either an experimental or control condition (500 in each), and the response rate was analyzed after one mailing attempt. Results showed no statistically significant difference between groups in response rates (overall response was 27.6 percent). A secondary objective was to determine how many respondents would opt to use a simple Web-reporting option when one was clearly offered in the cover letter. Only 2.6 percent chose the Web option, with ten times as many choosing to respond using the mail.