Postal surveys versus electronic mail surveys. The tortoise and the hare revisited

Eval Health Prof. 1998 Sep;21(3):395-408. doi: 10.1177/016327879802100306.


The advent of computer-based technology has led to a consideration of change in research methods that exploit the advantages of computer-mediated communications. In survey research, electronic mail (e-mail) has anecdotally shown particular promise as a data collection tool. This article compares traditional postal and nontraditional e-mail surveys within the context of a larger listserv evaluation project in terms of overall return rate, distribution of survey returns over time, response to initial and follow-up mailings, representativeness of respondent groups, thoroughness of survey completion, and the likelihood of respondents to include additional written comments. In summary, whereas postal surveys were shown to be superior to e-mail surveys with regard to response rate, all things being equal, the decision of which to use may be situation-specific, dependent on issues such as survey cost, desire for convenience and timeliness in data collection, and need for higher response rates, among others.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Canada
  • Computer Communication Networks / economics
  • Computer Communication Networks / standards*
  • Correspondence as Topic*
  • Data Collection / economics
  • Data Collection / standards*
  • Faculty, Medical
  • Humans
  • Online Systems
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Surveys and Questionnaires / economics
  • Surveys and Questionnaires / standards*
  • Time Factors
  • United States