Reasons for non-response
Get help from

If the road is not yet clear to you,

we will show you the way how to get through.

Research Coaches World Wide

Non-response, reasons for -

There are many reasons for not participating in an investigation. If you know those reasons, you can take action to reduce non-response.

Reasons for not participating in the study can be divided into two categories: unable to participate and not sufficiently motivated to participate. The problem of poor motivation only occurs in people and possibly in animals that have to show certain behaviour.

Being unable

Examples of being unable to: A blind person cannot complete a survey and a deaf cannot be interviewed by telephone. Someone who does not control the language can be difficult to interview. Such problems can be solved by taking another medium. Blind people can listen to the questions and give their opinions. An appeal can be made to third parties such as neighbours, friends or relatives. Another solution is to translate the questionnaire into Braille. A deaf person can get the questionnaire on paper. Persons who do not control the language can get the questionnaire in their native language. The latter in particular is a point for attention. Certainly when research is conducted among the population, it is often established that the majority of the authentic population has responded and that the opinion of large groups of ethnic minorities is not heard. This can be seen as a form of unauthorized failure: the research results reflect the opinion of the authentic population and the results are not representative of the population as a whole.

Not motivated

The motivation problem is very different. Anyone who is confronted with the question whether he wants to do a research at a specific time will not be eager to join. The researcher can best assume that nobody wants to participate spontaneously in the research, and that he has to persuade the person to get his cooperation. What are the possibilities he has?

The first determining factor is the subject of research. If someone is involved in the subject, the chance of cooperation is greater. If questions have to be answered about the safety in their own street or the shopping centre where the groceries are collected, then the chance to participate is greater than if questions have to be answered about the brand awareness of shoe polish and shoelaces. In this case, internal motivation is used.

If the subject is not sufficiently appealing, the researcher can seek cooperation by calling for an external motivational trigger. In this case, the respondent is presenting a gift, that is, something small as a thank-you for the cooperation. The gift must really be something small. If it is too much, getting a gift is more important than the accurate answer to the questions or performing an activity. Instead of a small gift for everyone, a chance to receive a big gift might be chosen: every thousandth respondent receives a trip or a television or something similar. The motivation is now more determined by taking part in a lottery free of charge than by working on a sensible research. In general, the quality of the answers to the questions given by external motivation is lower than the answers given on internal motivation. The second determining factor is the amount of time that the potential respondent must invest. If this is limited it is more likely that he will participate. If an extensive investment is required, then the motivation to participate will decrease.

In relation to the investment aspect, the moment the investment is required. If the prospective respondent has to wait a while, a little time investment is hardly a problem. If the potential respondent is very busy then any investment in the present is too much. The person will refuse or postpone participation in the investigation.

No social commitment

The third determining factor is the appeal to social behavior. This can take on three forms: internally moved social behavior, socially desirable behavior and social pressure. For example, in a comparative study between patients and healthy people, healthy people will only participate for social reasons. In case of internally-moved social behavior, one spontaneously reports on this, and is entirely free to choose. In socially desirable behavior, the researcher appeals to social behavior by explicitly reporting this as a form of good deed. Under social pressure, the potential respondent does not really want to participate in the research, but a refusal may harm his image. This happens, for example, when a person is asked to participate in an investigation when he is meeting friends or family. He will get a lower status as a socially moved person if he would refuse at the time.

A bad introduction

The fourth factor is a good introduction. Invitations to fill in a questionnaire should only be sent with a name. The impersonal sending of a questionnaire to individuals or companies will not get responses. Furthermore, the person who opens the delivered mail or letter, has to be motivated in the first three sentences. Promoting is the addition of a response envelope with the address of the research company. Although the anonymity of the respondent at a good research agency is always guaranteed, many people fear that their answers will be used for other purposes. It is therefore advisable to send the answer anonymously, but this is not always possible (for example, if follow-up research is required).

During telephone interviews the first three sentences are of great importance. Some put the horn down after the first (often too long) sentence. The introduction should be no longer than 10 seconds. After that, the surveyor might answer some questions of the interviewee. When all questions has been answered, the surveyor will return to the formal tone because all questions must be read in the same way. It helps if someone has sent a letter to the person stating that they are being contacted by telephone to participate in an investigation.

A good introduction is of great importance when one realizes that advertising agencies and telemarketing agencies report unsolicited. If they receive 0.5 to 2% response by their actions, that is good enough for them. Telemarketing agencies also tend to introduce their activities as an investigation.

Finally, it should be mentioned that in some countries people have the right not to be approached for telephone investigation. The research agency must therefore first screen the file for addresses that cannot be accessed.

Related topics to reasons for non-response:

Do scientific research. Read these must-have manuals:

Research-Coaches - Manuals

Return to the index of this dictionary


My goal is to teach you how to conduct good research.


Good research provides you with better information.
With better information, you can make better decisions.
With better decisions, you can create a healthier, wealthier and freer world,
for people, fauna and flora, for current and future generations.

That is why I think it is important that  you know how to do your research well.