Self-reported data in environmental health studies: Mail vs. Web-based surveys

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Internet has been broadly employed as a facilitator for epidemiological surveys, as a way to provide a more economical and practical alternative to traditional survey modes. A current trend in survey research is to combine Web-based surveys with other survey modes by offering the participant the possibility of choosing his/her preferred response method (i.e. mixed-mode approach). However, studies have also demonstrated that the use of different survey modes may produce different responses to the same questions, posing potential challenges on the use of mixed-mode approaches.

In this paper, we have implemented a statistical comparison between mixed-mode survey responses collected via mail (i.e. paper) and Web methods obtained from a cross-sectional study in non-urban areas of Denmark. Responses provided by mail and Web participants were compared in terms of: 1) the impact of reminder letters in increasing response rates; 2) differences in socio-demographic characteristics between response groups; 3) changes on the likelihood of reporting health symptoms and negative attitudes towards environmental stressors. Comparisons were mainly performed by two sample t-test, Pearson’s Chi-squared test and multinomial logistic regression models.

Among 3104 contacted households, 1066 residents decided to participate on the study. Out of those, 971 selected to respond via mail, whereas 275 preferred the Web method. The majority of socio-demographic characteristics between these two groups of respondents were shown to be statistically different. The use of mailed surveys increased the likelihood of reporting health symptoms and negative attitudes towards environmental stressors, even after controlling for demographic characteristics. Furthermore, the use of reminder letters had a higher positive impact in increasing responses of Web surveys when compared to mail surveys.

Our main findings suggest that the use of mail and Web surveys may produce different responses to the same questions posed to participants, but, at the same time, may reach different groups of respondents, given that the overall characteristics of both groups considerably differ. Therefore, the tradeoff between using mixed-mode survey as a way to increase response rate and obtaining undesirable measurement changes may be attentively considered in future survey studies.
Original languageEnglish
Article number238
JournalBMC Medical Research Methodology
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 12. Dec 2019


  • Data collection
  • Mail survey
  • Mixed-mode surveys
  • Questionnaire
  • Rural residents
  • Survey design
  • Survey mode
  • Web survey


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