When a broadcasting organization established a magazine for listeners to its youth radio network, we organized a survey for the magazine's readers. A questionnaire was included in the magazine, offering the chance of a prize for people who filled it in and returned it.
We don't generally recommend this method of distributing questionnaires. It's certainly easy and cheap, but response rates are often so low that you can't draw any valid conclusions about readers of the magazine. If you MUST do this, at least:
1. Offer a generous prize (to attract plenty of responses), and
2. Use a reply paid address (so that people won't have to find or buy a stamp), and
3. Make the questionnaire easily separable from the magazine - insert it loose, or have a perforated strip. Printing it on ordinary pages makes some people reluctant to damage their magazine by tearing out the questionnaire.
Against our better judgement, the editor went ahead with this survey - which was printed in the magazine (cf. item 3 above), and offered the incredibly generous prize of a compact disc (cf. item 1). Not surprisingly, the response rate was a miserable 3%. An earlier misbegotten survey that we helped with (in a magazine for classical music listeners) offered a prize of a $2,000 pair of speakers, and achieved a magnificent 15% response rate.
The main interest of this survey was in the questions, which were more interesting than you see in most surveys. We asked (inter alia)
"What would you like to drive?"
This one attracted a huge variety of answers, ranging from "a silver Lotus with number plate OSCAR (the grouch)" to "a Goggomobil with swirly psychedelic colours and a pair of furry dice on the roof" to "nothing, they are bad for the environment". The younger respondents (under 20) tended to specify exotic vehicles, in a lot of detail, while the older readers (over 25) had - perhaps sadly - much more mundane hopes: "a better car, preferably one younger than me". The most popular models were VW and BMW, and the most popular colours were red, dark blue, black, and dark green.
Our final question was "What is your ultimate dream?"
We meant it figuratively, but quite a few interpreted it literally. The older readers mainly wanted more time with their families, more congenial occupations, and so on. The younger the respondent, the wilder the dream. The under-18s had dreams such as "being a rich psychiatrist, cruising the streets of London in a cream BMW convertible", or "to win $10,000 and spend it all on clothes."
Some respondents just didn't get it. One said "I don't dream. I just sleep." Maybe that was tongue in cheek. Another complained "What a silly question. I had a cool dream a while ago in which I was asked to be the Pope but declined because I'm an atheist."
The commonest themes, among all age groups, were travel, finding a permanent and loving partner, working in the arts (particularly music), and living in the country and/or by the sea.
Despite the survey's miserable response rate, the variety of ultimate dreams gave the magazine's staff some idea of the huge variety of interests and motivations among readers. What a good question! we thought afterwards: let's ask it again, in some other survey. So far, though, we haven't.
- Dennis List