A randomised controlled trial to assess the effectiveness of offering study results as an incentive to increase response rates to postal questionnaires [ISRCTN26118436]

BMC Med Res Methodol. 2005 Oct 26;5:34. doi: 10.1186/1471-2288-5-34.


Background: Postal questionnaires are widely used to collect outcome data on participants. However, a poor response to questionnaires will reduce the statistical power of the study and may introduce bias. A meta analysis of ten trials offering study results, largely in the fields of education and marketing, was shown to be ineffective, with the odds ratio for response with offering research findings is 0.92 (95% CI 0.75 to 1.11). However uncertainty still exists as it is uncertain whether results from such trials can be extrapolated to that of a health care setting. The aim of this study was to assess whether offering participants study results increases the response rates to postal questionnaires.

Methods: 1038 women aged over 70 years were remotely randomised by computer in a 3:1 ratio. 250 participants did not receive the offer of knowing the results of the trial and 788 participants were offered the results of the trial in a postal questionnaire. The main outcome measure was response rate. Chi square test was used to evaluate the overall differences in response rate between the two groups. An adjusted analysis, adjusting for whether the participant was taking calcium and age was also undertaken.

Results: The response rates were not significantly different Odds Ratio 0.88 (95% confidence intervals 0.48 to 1.63) p = 0.69.

Conclusion: Offering study results to women living in the community aged over 70 does not increase response rates to postal questionnaires. Although researchers have an ethical obligation to offer participants study results, since 10% of women did not wish to receive the results, investigators should give participants the option to opt out of receiving the study's results.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Calcium, Dietary / administration & dosage
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Dietary Supplements / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Fractures, Spontaneous / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination*
  • Motivation*
  • Patient Selection
  • Postal Service / statistics & numerical data*
  • Research Subjects / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires / statistics & numerical data*
  • Treatment Outcome*
  • United Kingdom
  • Vitamin D / administration & dosage


  • Calcium, Dietary
  • Vitamin D

Associated data

  • ISRCTN/ISRCTN26118436