Journal Article

Using Publicly Available Directories to Trace Survey Nonresponders and Calculate Adjusted Response Rates

Bart J. Harvey, Annette L. Wilkins, Gillian A. Hawker, Elizabeth M. Badley, Peter C. Coyte, Richard H. Glazier, J. Ivan Williams and James G. Wright

in American Journal of Epidemiology

Published on behalf of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Volume 158, issue 10, pages 1007-1011
Published in print November 2003 | ISSN: 0002-9262
Published online November 2003 | e-ISSN: 1476-6256 | DOI:
Using Publicly Available Directories to Trace Survey Nonresponders and Calculate Adjusted Response Rates

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In population-based surveys, sample lists are often out of date by the time data collection begins. Consequently, response rates, and the perceived validity of the survey, may be compromised by the unknowing inclusion of ineligible subjects. A strategy to address this issue is ascertainment of survey nonrespondents’ eligibility status, enabling post hoc adjustment of response rates. In 1995–1996, population surveys were carried out in two Ontario, Canada, communities. Despite intensive follow-up, the status of 8,949 (18.6%) of the 48,218 potential subjects in these surveys remained unknown. In response, 500 “unknowns” from each community were randomly selected for tracing by using publicly available telephone directories and, where applicable, city directories. These tracing efforts classified persons into one of three groups: “ineligible” (moved before the mailing), “true nonresponder” (present when the survey was mailed), and “remains unknown” (no directory listing found). Publicly available directories clarified the status of 76.0% of potential participants, reducing the proportion of “unknowns” from 18.6% to 4.6%. Applying the estimated proportions of “ineligibles” from each area resulted in response rates adjusted from 63.8% to 71.2% and from 72.8% to 74.9% in the survey areas. Publicly available directories were used to successfully trace the majority of survey nonresponders, thus strengthening confidence in the survey’s results.

Keywords: contact tracing; data collection; directories; eligibility determination; nonrespondents

Journal Article.  2853 words. 

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology

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