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J Clin Epidemiol. 2003 Jan;56(1):10-6.

Does questionnaire structure influence response in postal surveys?

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Keele University, Primary Care Sciences Research Centre, Hornbeam Building, Keele, Staffordshire ST5 5BG, UK.


This study tested the effect of questionnaire structure on response, speed of return, and content of answers in a postal survey. All 259 patients aged 30-59 years who consulted with back pain at four UK general practices from March to June 2001 were randomly allocated to receive either a traditionally or chronologically structured self-completion questionnaire. The response was higher and the returns quicker (P =.05) for the chronologic questionnaire. There were no statistically significant differences in completion rates or scores on the SF-36, Chronic Pain Grade, Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, or Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire between the two types of questionnaire, and test-retest reliability was high for all scales. Changing questionnaire structure to make questions chronologic does not substantially affect the answers given, but may make a questionnaire more acceptable and easier to complete and speed up returns.

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