Nonresponse to online surveys has been a notable concern of survey methodologists, who continue to implement strategies and incentives to boost returns. Don Dillman’s methods emphasize tailored designs to maximize response rates, and this paper assesses how mailed notification designs and requested deadlines for completion influence online survey response rates. Using a target population of rural Kansans, this paper assesses how minor changes in printed notifications are connected to participation in an online survey. Postcards were mailed to private water well owners inviting recipients to complete a 40-item online questionnaire about their water usage; notifications varied in their personalization of the mailing label, the timeline put forth to complete the questionnaire, and the color of ink used in a photocopied signature. Return rates across notifications were similar (around 3 percent), although notifications with blue signatures, shorter deadlines, and the phrase “or current resident” in the recipients’ addresses received better responses than those with red signatures, longer deadlines, and personalized addresses. This study found no significant correlations between response rates and the manipulated postcard characteristics.
Each questionnaire was about 80 to 90 percent complete, regardless of the activation in the request response function in the online survey. Strategies for surveying older, rural populations with less familiarity with the internet could improve the returns of online surveys, and understanding how invitations’ stylistic variations influence response rates can inform researchers how to minimize nonresponse for online surveys among populations with relatively low levels of internet access.